legionnaires' disease

Safe From Legionnaires? Insurers Scrutinize Building Reopening Plans

  July 30, 2020

By Dan Hounsell

Maintenance and engineering managers understand the possible impact of Legionnaires’ disease better than most people in their organizations. The illness, which is caused by legionella bacteria that form in facility water systems, can lead to a potentially deadly type of pneumonia among building occupants and visitors.

While the physical impact of Legionnaires’ disease has been well understood, managers and their organizations reopening facilities that have been dormant for months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are coming under greater pressure to step up their Legionnaires’ prevention efforts or face a potential financial hit for their organizations.

Commercial insurers are scrutinizing building managers’ efforts to avoid outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease as they reopen movie theaters, gyms, schools, and offices that had been closed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Reuters. Environmental insurers, which collect roughly $2 billion in annual premiums, would be on the hook for damages if there are outbreaks at buildings they cover.

“Legionella could be the deadliest waterborne illness in the U.S. and another deadly consequence of COVID,” says Veronica Benzinger, environmental service group leader for insurance broker Aon PLC, referring to the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The pandemic shutdown of businesses and schools has led to an unprecedented amount of stagnant water in dormant buildings. It becomes a breeding ground for Legionella bacteria, which can be spread from toilets, sinks, showers and air-conditioning systems.

Some insurers are intensifying Legionnaire’s precautions before adding new clients or renewing coverage, insurers and brokers say. For instance, they might ask customers to document the way they maintain plumbing and cooling systems.

Dan Hounsell is editor-in-chief of Facility Maintenance Decisions.



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