BUNZL Cleaning & Hygiene Supplies Blog

Preventing Legionnaires Disease: Safety Eyewash & Emergency Showers

To keep workplaces safe, controlling legionella in emergency showers and eyewash stations is a completely necessary process. The nature of this equipment means that businesses requiring them should be able to use them with little cause for concern.

However, eyewashes and emergency showers can harbour legionella bacteria, and they house the perfect environment to encourage them to spread. But all hope is not lost – there are a few steps you can take to prevent it from multiplying, to keep your employees safe from harm.

What is legionnaires disease?

Legionnaires disease is contracted when legionella bacteria, found in water droplets or aerosols, are inhaled into the lungs. Legionella itself is a bacterium that forms in freshwater, such as in lakes or streams. It then works its way into buildings and water systems.

This bacterium is particularly dangerous when it’s sprayed – which is why showers and eyewashes are a notable cause of concern. Every employer, no matter the workplace, has a responsibility to perform a risk assessment, and to make sure their staff and any customers/residents are not in danger.

Are emergency showers and eyewashes at greater risk?

If you don’t work in an industry that requires eyewashes and showers, you might not consider these to be of any greater risk than normal equipment. However, these installations often lay unused for long periods of time, and because of this the water is more likely to become stagnant.

Legionella thrives in still water at a temperature between 20 and 45 degrees Celsius. The water in these sources is often kept between 16 and 38 degrees Celsius. Because of this, they won’t only harbour legionella bacteria, but will encourage it to accumulate.

If an emergency shower or eyewash is not regularly checked, disinfected and flushed, it could lead to an outbreak if forced into use. However, it should be duly noted that whilst you should do as much as you can to prevent legionella from contaminating, concern for these bacteria should never outweigh the primary function of your emergency equipment.

How to prevent legionella growth

To control the spread of legionella, there are a few things you can do.

You should aim to purge any emergency showers or eyewash solutions at least once every six months. However, remember to check any manufacturer instructions and your risk assessment, and do this more frequently if necessary.

Consider installing corrosion-resistant components like stainless steel and plastic in your stations. These are less likely to contaminate the water. Iron is a micronutrient that boosts legionella production, so reducing the amount of iron in your water will decrease the chances of reproduction.

Where you use bottles of water for eyewashing, be sure to clearly mark them with expiration dates. You can also control legionella by washing these bottles thoroughly after usage.

If your emergency shower and eyewash systems are used less than once a week, you should flush them weekly. This will both encourage cleanliness, and also maintain the best performance from your equipment. Once a month, conduct a thorough inspection of any water tanks. Quarterly, perform a full cleaning and disinfection of all tanks and components.

It’s best to set up a dedicated schedule for these operations, to make sure they are done properly when they need to be. They are essential not only for maintaining the cleanliness of your emergency equipment but for making sure they are functional too. Be sure to have alternative facilities, however, should an emergency arise whilst you are cleaning or testing your usual sources.