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Protecting facilities from Legionella

11 April 2022

Internet of Things can protect office water systems from Legionella during periods of reduced use, according to CEO and co-founder of IoT Solutions Group, Emma Mahy.

In December 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that England would enact Plan B measures in response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus across the UK.

As part of Plan B, people were once again advised to limit their social contacts by working from home if they can, which meant thousands of offices were sitting vacant.

However, periods of reduced use pose a considerable threat to the safety of many offices' water systems. When shut down for prolonged periods, the risk of finding harmful bacteria in the water, such as Legionella, which causes the potentially fatal Legionnaires' disease, increases, so sufficient mitigation needs to be in place.

Fortunately, the emergence of Internet of Things [IoT] technology is helping to mitigate the risk of Legionella growing in water systems while 'work from home' advice remains in place. Office facilities managers can have greater confidence in eventually welcoming people back to the workplace safely with remote monitoring.

Traditional methods of Legionella mitigation

All employers and people in control of premises (e.g. landlords) have a legal obligation to identify, monitor, and control the risk of legionella bacteria in their water systems. Failure to mitigate sufficiently can result in significant penalties, even if no outbreak occurs.

The traditional approach to managing legionella risk involves regular site visits for water flow and temperature checks. However, this approach can be costly, inefficient (especially when visiting multiple sites) and inaccurate due to human error and limited information in-between visits.

Alternative methods of managing legionella risk are now being investigated and implemented by forward-thinking facilities managers and water hygiene consultants. IoT solutions for legionella monitoring enable them to maximise the time that monitoring staff can now dedicate to other tasks.

IoT as a risk mitigation solution

IoT has a wide range of potential applications when it comes to temperature monitoring – a typical example being smart thermostats capable of telling homeowners the temperature of their property via their phone. 

The technology also presents the perfect solution for offices because it makes the best use of budgets while providing the best possible protection for staff and visitors alike.

Monitoring devices with IoT functionality can be installed on circulating loops close to sentinel points to assess temperature and flow levels and ensure they remain within normal parameters. 

The data collected from this monitoring can then be relayed automatically via a Low Power Wide Area Network [LPWAN], with no Wi-Fi or mobile internet required. Custom alerts can then be triggered for facilities managers, notifying them of any sudden change in activity that could cause concern.

By removing the need for regular human checks and replacing them with continual temperature measurements, the accuracy of data is greatly improved, and the risk of an outbreak is mitigated significantly as a result. This solution also frees office facilities managers to focus more effort on other tasks and reduce wasted time, water, energy, and costs.

Given the ease with which IoT devices can be installed, requiring no charging or internet connection to function, the amount of human input needed to support the technology is significantly reduced. 

Preventing bacteria growth during future periods of reduced use

Some offices will inevitably experience problems caused by Legionella and other dangerous bacteria in their water systems when workers finally return once Plan B measures are relaxed.

With IoT solutions to monitor water temperatures during periods of reduced use, however, bacteria growth no longer has to be such a challenge for facilities managers. Benefits around time, cost, water and energy savings also support an organisations sustainability goals.

As the pandemic continues to disrupt everyday working life, we could face further advice to work from home and staff shortages that could impact monitoring routines. Therefore, a solution that helps prepare for these incidences would provide considerable benefits to facilities managers and the companies they serve now and moving forward.

Emma Mahy is the CEO and co-founder of IoT Solutions Group