Did you know it’s a legal requirement to provide clean fresh air and water to your residents? Gary Nicholls, MD of Swiftclean Building Services, and co-author of TR/19, the widely recognised industry guide to ventilation hygiene, outlines what you need to do to comply.
When running a care home, you have several legal responsibilities that may not be immediately obvious. Several of these are concerned with your air and water supplies.
Legionnaire’s disease is a ‘flu-like illness, caused by water-borne legionella bacteria, and to which the elderly, frail or infirm are particularly vulnerable. Some people will recover from it, but it can be lethal. In order to ensure a safe, clean water supply you must comply with the requirements of L8, Approved Code of Practice and guidance for the control of legionella, issued by the HSE.
You also have a legal duty under Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 to provide a safe environment for employees as well as residents and visitors. Care homes which have served other purposes in the past are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of legionella, often because the plumbing system has been changed and adapted over the years to accommodate the new purpose. You must be sure that there are no ‘dead’ areas in the system where water does not circulate freely. You must, by law, have an up to date risk assessment for legionella, and it is wise to review this regularly.
Any pipework, taps or showerheads that have not been used for more than a week, perhaps while a room is unoccupied, must be flushed through before use again, without causing undue spray to occur. Water tanks must also be kept clean and adequately screened from the effects of solar gain. Tepid water provides an ideal breeding ground for legionella. Tanks should be cleaned regularly and any rust, debris, birds or rodents removed. If necessary the tank should be disinfected, refurbished or replaced to ensure a clean water supply. Water from your system in some cases should be tested regularly to detect the presence of legionella.
All work must be carried out in accordance with Legionella Control Association (LCA) code of conduct. The penalties for negligence in legionella control are severe; limitless fines for the organisation and, if neglect is proven, a possible custodial sentence for the responsible person.
Another essential area for compliance is the annual testing of fire dampers. These are sets of steel louvres which are installed within ventilation ductwork at the point where the ductwork passes through a fire resistant rated internal wall. The opening in the wall creates a potential opening through which fire can travel, using the ductwork as a channel. The louvres should shut automatically to close off this route, delaying or halting the fire, so there is time to evacuate residents and staff to safety. Because they are a potential life saver, you must have fire dampers tested annually, in accordance with BS:9999.
Your kitchen extract ductwork is also a potentially serious fire hazard. As food is cooked for your residents, airborne fat, oil and grease travels through the extract ductwork. As it cools, it leaves grease deposits on the insides of the ductwork. A surprisingly thin layer of this grease can represent a fire hazard. The grease itself can fuel a fire, while the ductwork provides a chimney through which it can spread to other parts of the building. The grease layer must be controlled within an average of 200 microns across the surface of the ductwork; this is about half the thickness of an average business card. Even an otherwise spotless kitchen can harbour grease deposits within the ductwork, so it must be removed regularly, in accordance with TR/19, the leading guidance document for ventilation hygiene, which is issued by the Building & Engineering Services Association (BESA.)
TR/19 contains handy tables to tell you how frequently your ductwork should be cleaned, depending on the rate of grease build up or initially on how often and for how many hours the kitchen is used for cooking. In a care home, there will obviously be a fairly high demand for meals and consequently, quite heavy use of the kitchen. It is essential that the kitchen ductwork is also accessible for TR/19 compliance cleaning, so if there are insufficient access points, you may need to have additional access doors retrofitted.
Your laundry extract system may also pose a fire risk. During the drying process for bedding, clothes and other items, lint, fibres and dust collect in the ventilation ductwork for the driers. An accumulation of dust, lint and fibres is highly flammable and drier extract fires are all too frequent in the UK. These fibrous deposits must be removed on a regular basis, this time in compliance with Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, in order to minimise this fire risk.
If you have a mechanical ventilation system, that should also be cleaned regularly in accordance with TR/19, simply to ensure fresher air and a healthy indoor environment. This also requires you to classify your ventilation systems according to the function they serve as high, medium or low. If you have a clinically sterile area, this would probably need a high classification, while bedrooms and living areas would be medium. A boiler room might need a low classification.
To provide ventilation, kitchen extract or laundry ductwork cleaning you will need a specialist provider, especially if additional access doors are required to be retrofitted. As compliance in these areas is a legal responsibility, you must have your compliance clearly documented. You may need this evidence in your defence, should the worst ever happen. It is worth bearing in mind that if negligence if proved, your insurance company is unlikely to pay out, so it may be impossible to continue your business.
We provide robust documentation of all our services. This includes before and after photography so you can demonstrate that you have complied with your legal responsibilities. You may need this as a defence against prosecution. You should always choose a member of the LCA for legionella control services and for TR/19 compliance, a competent, expert member of BESA. Swiftclean is also recognised as an expert provider by AXA Insurance.
That way, you, your staff and your residents can all breathe easily.