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Schools: Minimise your legionella risk after the summer holidays

back to school against a differents objects for working.jpeg

School may be out for the summer (yes, we can hear the cheers of countless kids/groans of even more parents from here!), however while families’ attentions now quickly turn to the annual holiday, days out and – cover your ears now if you’re still school age – buying a new uniform for September, those authorities responsible for running traditional educational institutions (I’e, the bricks and mortar and everything found within the structure) are facing up to other priorities. And chief among them is how best to safeguard these typical seats of learning from the potential – and largely unseen- threat of legionella during the close down. The water-borne bacterium which forms legionella occurs naturally in the outdoor environment, notable lakes, rivers and reservoirs, yet it can also take root (and subsequent stranglehold) in schools and other buildings which lay dormant for a prolonged passage of time. Specifically, if said establishments comprise of stored water systems which can heighten the risk, if and when not facilitated on a regular basis.

(Want to learn more about the legal aspects of legionella control? Read our  legionella compliance checklist.)

From taps, drinking water fountains and showers to jet washes, hose pipes, recreational fountains and even humidifiers, the possibility of infectious bacterium building up in the absence of continuous water activities should set alarm bells ringing in those tasked with the monitoring, management and control of legionella within such surrounds. Acknowledging and upholding the existing Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations 2002, schools in general, and head teachers in particular, have an unshakeable duty of care to ensure that the correct – and far-reaching – procedures, practices and protocols are put into place and rigorously enforced by individuals proven competent enough to reduce the threat posted by legionella. But just what form and function do measures to monitor and control the risk take, in terms of manifestation of best practice?

Risk of legionella taking a grip on a school’s water system over the summer holidays should never be underestimated

One of the primary steps which needs to be strictly adhered to from the outset is that of legionella risk assessments being performed with direct regards to all hot and cold water systems in situ on the school’s premises, and if identifying any issues which raise concern, then subsequently carrying out any remedial work to minimise, if not eradicate the threat then and there. All schools, colleges, academies and places of further and higher education are duty-bound under HSE compliancy regulations to both identify and assess all sources of potential compromises to the health and wellbeing of those who use the facilities in question, irrespective of whether they are in attendance or not.

(Want to know what is involved in carrying out a legionella risk assessment  yourself? Find out here.)

In real terms we’re referring to – on a broader scope – taking special care to determine that every stage of the water system within the premises is habitually checked, and in particular any water outlets which are infrequently used (especially over the summer months) are flushed out each and every week, to be on the safe side. Shower heads must also be thoroughly cleaned regularly too, with disinfection and descaling carried out quarterly. When it comes to thermostatic mixing valves and water storage systems, it’s imperative that those charged with scrutinising the school’s water storage and facilitation facilities abides by the individual manufacturer’s instructions’ alongside avoiding stagnant conditions and constantly monitoring – and regulating – the optimum water temperatures.

Examining the actual, physical procedures for the flushing and disinfection of buildings if it’s set to be unused for a perceived period, the following criteria should be fulfilled by those in a position of authority; with reference to protecting against the spectre of legionella:


  • All water outlets in the school/college building should be flushed through weekly, meaning both hot and cold appendages, while records should be kept re: water outlet flushing checklist by the duty holder. This rule of thumb extends to all out-building/sports halls/gyms too, and incorporates all tanks, calorifiers and associated outlets. This action should be recorded at the time, while water samples should also be considered for collection prior to the start of the new term.
  • It’s advisable that the actual implementation of the flushing process should last for a minimum of 2 minutes, maintain what’s generally considered a reasonable flow rate.
  • Obviously, when and where water outlets are frequented, the flushing routines as such is perpetual, and additional flushing isn’t required. However when periods of inactivity are predicted – essentially, when not used for in excess of 4 consecutive days – then flushing is a priority.


  • The head teacher of a school – or an elected representative – is responsible for arranging the disinfection of the school premises, and bringing on board suitably qualified and experienced contractors/companies.
  • Areas/sections of the premises identified as presenting a legionella risk will be automatically withdrawn from any further use, until such time as the disinfection has been completed. Any further flushing of these affected areas will cease with immediate effect, and not be restarted until thorough disinfection has concluded.
  • At the juncture disinfection commences – and with the only exception being the WC’s – the school’s water system will cease to be usable until further notice from the contractors; and only then once they’ve declared the premises safe. Any drinking water required during this period can only be drawn from bottled supplies.
  • Those areas serviced with disinfection methods will be re-instated only after successful completion of the disinfection process, at which point the normal flushing regime will recommence.
  • During the period of disinfection, any individuals whose normal remit involves cleaning of the school premises, will engage in alternative hand-cleaning practices, supplemented by the wearing of protective gloves for personal care.
  • Any other members of staff and/or pupils present at the school during this period of disinfection will be safeguarded from accidental use and/or contaminated water consumption, by way of either all water outlets secured or access denied at point of contact.

In addition to this – and as touched on earlier – exacting records need to be compiled on an on-going basis, comprehensively documenting and maintenance procedures undertaken. Such paperwork needs to be made readily available for inspection under COSHH, and will highlight those individuals responsible, those who performed the legionella risk assessment and who has implemented the precautionary methods.


In summary, it’s vitally important to negate and legionella risk during school holidays and/or periods of restricted water usage, as such passages of time afford bacterial growth the perfect window of opportunity to take root and proliferate, unchallenged, within the school’s water systems and facilities. For those with overall responsibility for the educational establishment, the following questions need to be addressed, in relation to the physical outline of the premises and the network of water system-based assemblage.

For example, do you have any systems/equipment that can create aerosol during normal operation? Think along the lines of showers, spray taps or sprinkler/irrigation systems. Are there any dead legs in your water system? Dead legs are often created during changes in the use of the building, or changes in what a specific room within are used for. An instance of this repurposing would be in the event of a home economics room being changed into a computer room or library, for instance. Or perhaps the school champions a rainwater harvesting water system, and if so then considerations must be made regarding the likelihood of cross contamination to other water supplies. Meanwhile, in your capacity of the key person responsible for the school and the welfare of those employed/taught/visiting the premises, do you know of any water treatment products being used, such as UV or chemicals? All the above points need to be taken into account at every step of the way, when securing a school from the threat of legionella during the summer holidays.

Want to learn further ways on improving your legionella compliance? Check out our free legionella compliance checklist.

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