In this article we ask are showers safe from legionella and other dangerous bacteria? While there is robust legislation in place covering UK businesses requiring them to keep their water systems safe and free from dangerous bacteria such as legionella, you may be surprised to learn that private homes have no such controls.
Are showers safe from legionella?
Every day throughout Britain, thousands of people roll out of bed and head for the shower. It’s a refreshing way to start the day. Yet it could also be putting us in danger.
The reason for this potential danger is the presence of legionella and other nasty bacteria that could cause us harm. While organisms of this nature are usually associated with large and complex water systems, air conditioning, cooling towers, hot tubs and spas, they can thrive in any water system, of any size, given the right conditions… including showers.
What is legionella?
Legionella bacteria is an organism that is found in natural soil and water environments. It can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially fatal form of pneumonia, and other forms of legionellosis.
Legionnaires’ disease can be caught if you breathe in tiny droplets of water suspended in the air (a water spray or aerosol) that have been contaminated with Legionella bacteria. You can’t get it from other people or from drinking contaminated water.
Could household showers be encouraging the spread of legionella?
In the UK all businesses and those responsible for the maintenance of water systems have a legal duty to ensure the water under their control is safe to use and complies with all health and safety legislation including the Health and Safety Executives ACOP L8 which deals specifically with the control of legionella. This includes ensuring Legionella bacteria do not grow beyond safe levels.
However, no such rules are in place to make sure water systems in private homes are suitably maintained and safe to use.
Legionella bacteria will happily grow in temperatures of between 20 – 45 degrees Celsius. Stagnant water also helps to increase the risk, as it is far easier for bacteria to multiply in still water. If a homeowner goes on holiday for a couple of weeks, the shower won’t be used. Any water within that shower hose or head will sit there stagnating, at temperatures likely to encourage legionella to multiply and become a potential health hazard.
Public Health England examined water samples from private homes to identify the legionella risk
Six locations were chosen for the legionella experiment conducted by Public Health England. Over those six locations, 99 showers inside private homes were tested. Samples of water were taken from inside the shower heads, while the water pipes were also swabbed.
… almost 33% of water samples tested positive for legionella
Worryingly almost 33% of the samples tested confirmed legionella was present in the water system. Furthermore, 6% of the samples indicated the levels of legionella seen were considered dangerous. Perhaps more worrying still was evidence of a new strain of legionella none of the researchers had ever seen before in this country.
What can you do to keep your shower clean and safe to use?
Regular cleaning of the shower is important. Dismantle the shower head, remove any limescale, other debris and disinfect it on a regular basis. It doesn’t take long, and it could potentially be a life saver, given the evidence from the Public Health England investigations.
The good news is that if you use your shower daily, the water will not get a chance to become stagnant. However, if you switch between baths and showers, there is a greater risk that the bacteria will get enough time to take hold and grow.
Flushing your shower regularily
One final point – If you’ve been away from home for some time or if your shower has not been used for a while it’s a good idea to flush it. Loosely wrap a plastic bag around the shower head, place it on the shower tray and turn it on and leave it running for a few minutes – this will help to flush it through which has been shown to reduce the build-up of bacteria including legionella. Exit the room to ensure you do not inhale any water spray, as this is how legionella gets into the body.
Expert water safety and legionella risk management solutions
Water Treatment Services offer a range of legionella and water safety risk management solutions to support businesses and those responsible for the safety of engineered water systems in the workplace. Our water safety experts can help you manage your water systems, maintain regulatory compliance and so keep people safe.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained technicians and engineers we can offer specialist water safety and legionella risk assessments, training, water testing and other risk management solutions to businesses throughout the UK and Internationally.
Contact us today to learn how our expert water safety solutions can help you.
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