Water Management: Keeping Hotel Guests & Employees Healthy and Safe from Legionella

The Legionella outbreak this past summer that killed one person and resulted in 12 lab-confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease and 63 reported probable cases from people who either stayed or visited an Atlanta, Georgia hotel is a reminder of how deadly and costly an outbreak can be for hotels and resorts. The Atlanta hotel is in litigation with people affected by the outbreak. The lawsuit accuses the hotel of failing to either adopt or follow a water management plan to prevent the spread of the Legionella bacteria.

On the heels of the outbreak, the hotel voluntarily closed temporarily to conduct environmental testing to ensure that there was no threat of Legionella infection. According to the hotel’s general manager, the hotel also performed a thorough cleaning of its entire water distribution system as a precautionary measure, including cleaning, scrubbing and chlorination of all water features.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about one in 10 people with Legionnaires’ disease dies, with about 7,500 cases reported in 2017. A serious type of lung infection, Legionnaires’ disease is caused by the Legionella bacteria, which is naturally found in the environment and usually in fresh water. The bacteria can grow in warm water and can be found in shower heads and faucets, hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, decorative fountains or plumbing systems in large buildings, according to the CDC. Legionella can make people sick when they inhale contaminated water from building water systems that are not adequately maintained. Signs and symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease can include cough, muscle aches, high fever, shortness of breath, and headaches.

The Risk of Legionella at Hotels & Resorts

Hotels and resorts are frequent settings for outbreaks, which is why they should have water management policies and procedures to ensure that Legionella doesn’t grow in their water systems. In fact, with ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 188-2015, Legionella water management programs are now an industry standard for large buildings in the United States.

A multi-step and continuous process, a water management program is designed to:

  • Identify areas in a building where Legionella can grow and spread
  • Reduce risk by managing and monitoring the water system
  • Trigger action when risks are identified

You will find specific risk management measures to control exposures to Legionella here.

The water management program should involve a team of employees, partners and outside experts to develop an effective plan. The team should include: the property owner

building manager/administrator, maintenance or engineering employees, safety officers, equipment or chemical suppliers, contractors/consultants (e.g., water treatment professionals), certified industrial hygienists, microbiologists, environmental health specialists, and state and local health officials.

The CDC recommends that elements of the water management program be reviewed at least once per year. Be sure hotel management reviews and revises the program when any of the following events occur:

  • Data review shows control measures are persistently outside of control limits
  • A major maintenance or water service change occurs, such as new construction
  • Equipment changes (e.g., installation of a new hot tub chlorinator pump)
  • Changes in treatment products (e.g., disinfectants)
  • Changes in water usage (e.g., high and low season for hotel)
  • Changes in the municipal water supply
  • One or more cases of disease are thought to be associated with the system(s)
  • Changes occur in applicable laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines

In addition to having an updated water management program, make sure your hotel and resort insureds have liability insurance, including Umbrella coverage, to respond in the event of a Legionella outbreak at their property. Coverage is required to step in to pay for defense and liability judgments or settlement damages.

Sources: CNN, AP, CDC