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Legionella, the law and you… | A Praxis42 Practical4U

Posted by Tracy Seward

Many know the answer to the pub quiz question about the origins of the name of Legionella disease. It was first discovered, as recently as 1976, when a group of American Legionnaires were taken ill at a convention in Philadelphia. In short, it is caused by an organism which favours a combination of water storage (or recirculation), certain temperatures and the presence of rust, scale sludge and other foreign bodies that have entered the system.

The bacteria enters the body through inhalation of water droplets. Regardless of the size of the water system, the risks caused need to be assessed and managed because the resultant form of pneumonia can be fatal. It is particularly high-risk for those aged over 70 years and those with health conditions that make them vulnerable. In addition, it is estimated that 10% of healthy people who contract the disease die as a result of related complications.

For any landlord or business owner, the law is clear with regards to the need to ensure the Health and Safety of any employees, visitors or passers-by the premises. Where the ultimate accountability lies; or as the law terms it, the identity of the ‘Duty Holder’, can be less clear.

For landlords of residential properties, the level of risk of exposure to Legionella is considered to be low if the system is being regularly used. If this is the case, a simple self-assessment will usually suffice; providing the Duty Holder has appointed a competent Responsible Person who is aware of the circumstances at the site, and ensures that they remain aware of any changes or need for controls through assessment.

For example, any foreign bodies getting into the system, or any periods of vacancy, require corrective actions. For Duty Holders responsible for premises such as offices, shops, factories where multiple employees and members of the public are regularly present, pass-by or reside close to, the risk may not be higher than in residential properties. However, the scale of the impact of the presence of the bacteria would typically be magnified; perhaps many times where bacteria was able to be made airborne through suspension in a mist.

One example of an employer which failed to protect its employees was G4S Cash Solutions. The company was fined £1.8 million after failing to reduce the risk of Legionnaires’ disease from its water systems and ensuring that suitable management controls were effective.

A G4S worker was reported to have contracted Legionnaires’ disease which prompted an investigation by environmental health officers who were unable to prove that the worker had contracted the disease at the premises. This uncovered a serious lack of compliance in maintaining water systems at the workplace.

As part of the Health and Safety Risk Assessments which Praxis42 conducts for establishments such as pubs, restaurants, hotels and casinos; school, hospitals and homes, retailers, shops and offices we assess the level of potential risk of Legionella exposure. Where we consider the potential risk to be above an agreed level, our report recommends an escalation to full Legionella Water Risk Assessment. The same applies for our clients for which we undertake COSHH Assessments (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) as the assessment protocol and resultant corrective actions are provided for within the COSHH framework and help develop the Duty Holders Written Scheme.

And finally, in this piece we have used the relevant generic terms such as ‘water systems’ and ‘water storage’ and ‘water recirculation’. Whatever you may have been imagining, be aware that these categories include some manifestations that you may not have considered, but are often higher risk than the obvious toilets and sinks. For example, whirlpool spas, cooling towers, humidifiers, hot water tank-supplied showers and some types of water-cooled air conditioning systems can be among the most fertile breeding grounds for this silent killer…

For more information about Health and Safety Risk Assessments, COSHH Assessments and Legionella Water Risk Assessments contact keith.paxman@praxis42.com

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