Building Water Systems – A New Certification

Building Water Systems – A New Certification from the EOCP

Jenni Green, P.Eng

Legionnaires’ disease afflicts and kills more people in the United States than any other reportable waterborne disease, with 52,000 to 70,000 estimated cases annually. Between 3 and 33% of infections lead to death. The name originates from a 1976 Philadelphia outbreak amongst members of the American Legion. There is no vaccine, however it is preventable. It is connected to improperly maintained mechanical systems.  Reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease have increased in the last ten years.

Closer to home, Surrey’s 2018 Legionella outbreak resulted in 14 cases (all hospitalised), including seven in the intensive care unit with two deaths. More Canadian examples include:

  • Moncton, 2019: 16 cases, 15 of whom were hospitalised;
  • Quebec City, 2012: 181 cases with 14 deaths; and
  • Toronto, 2005: 135 cases with 23 deaths.

Most recently, in New Westminster, health officials are still unsure what caused a woman in her 70s to be hospitalized for 28 days after contracting Legionnaires’ disease this summer. The full article which was first published in the New Westminster Record on September 9, 2020, can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/y6kkxved.

Legionella is a genus of bacteria that includes the species L. pneumophila that causes a pneumonia-type illness called Legionnaires’ disease and a mild flu-like illness called Pontiac fever. Legionella are present in water and soil, and multiply quickly in warm water (20-50deg Celsius)

Legionella are associated with the built environment. The bacteria can proliferate in unsatisfactorily maintained plumbing and building mechanical systems and are transmitted through inhalation of contaminated water that has been aerosolised, but not by ingestion of water. Sources include, but are not limited to, cooling towers, swimming pools, domestic water systems, ice-making machines, whirlpool spas, hot springs, and fountains.

Cooling towers, decorative water features, and non-potable water treatment systems (such as for rainwater re-use), are all implicated in Legionella outbreaks. Examples of these systems are shown below.


Figure 1 – Potable water treatment system within a building


Figure 2 – Decorative Water Feature


Figure 3 – Cooling Tower

These systems need to be properly installed, routinely tested and maintained, and reported on, to ensure that corrective action takes place to help prevent outbreaks. Basic Operator training and certification will combine to reduce the number of Legionella outbreaks in BC.

This certification also encompasses potable water systems where anti-corrosives are used.

Pre-requisites for the Building Water System (BWS) Operator certification, and ongoing requirements to maintain the certification will be as follows:

  1. 50 hours of experience working as:
  • In a relevant red seal trade e.g. plumber, boilermaker,
  • Facility Maintenance Technician
  • Professional engineer working in a related field
  • Certified EOCP Operator
  • Water treatment service provider
  • Environmental Health Officer
  • Drinking Water Officer
  • Swimming Pool Operator
  1. Completion of an accredited BWS course
  • Course will two to three days long
  • Cost for course will be approximately $750
  • Course may be in class or online

*Courses are currently be developed by training providers across the province. Accreditation by EOCP will take place later this year.

  1. Examination
    • Web-based or paper
    • $100
    • 50 questions
    • 2 hours long
  2. Maintaining Certification
    • Payment of EOCP annual dues ($99)
    • Completion of 1.2 CEUs (core and related) in every two-year reporting period (first reporting period would be 1st January 2022 to 31st December 2023)

As of January 2022, Building Water System Operator certification will be required in some parts of BC. Please confirm certification requirements with your local jurisdiction.

For more information on the BWS certification, please contact the EOCP office.

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