Health and safety: legionella contamination at work

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A multinational automotive parts manufacture was fined £80,000 for breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and Section 3(1) of the Act and ordered to pay £45,000 costs after workers and members of the public were put at risk of exposure to the potentially fatal waterborne Legionella bacteria.

If you have the potential for legionella contamination of your water systems and means of the contaminated water being released to atmosphere in aerosol (small water droplets) form making it breathable, it is advisable to get further advice from a legionella expert (accreditation with the legionella control association for example) to make appropriate provisions, which can then be reflected in your arrangements/policy.

The following will need to be addressed where applicable first:

A risk assessment for legionella would be expected in the following circumstances where there is a reasonably foreseeable risk of exposure to legionella bacteria:

  • Water systems which include a cooling tower
  • Water systems which include an evaporative condenser
  • Hot and cold water systems
  • Other plant and systems containing water above 20 degrees centigrade and which has the potential to release a spray or aerosol during its operation or while it is being maintained

The risk of legionella is heightened in the following conditions:

  • Some or all parts of the system have water between 20-45 degrees centigrade.
  • Dispersal of breathable water droplets is possible
  • Stored and/or recirculated water is present
  • Such deposits as sludge, scale and biofilm is present and supports bacterial growth providing nutrients for the legionella bacteria

The term water system is taken to include all plant/equipment and all associated components. The system should be considered as a whole, and not as individual component parts. ‘’Deadlegs’’, pipe and intermittently used system parts must also be considered in the risk assessment.

A duty holder is required to implement arrangements to prevent the growth of legionella bacteria in their water systems in accordance with the HSE’s ‘Approved Code of Practice (ACoP L8) – Legionnaires Disease: The Control of Legionella Bacteria in Water Systems’.

Additional guidance or requirements may exist depending upon industry sector, for example, in a healthcare establishment it would be sensible to also refer to Health Technical Memorandum 04-01: The Control of Legionella, Hygiene, “Safe” Hot Water, Cold Water and Drinking Water Systems.

Your arrangements should include:

  • Assessment of Legionnaires’ disease risk and preparation of a scheme for preventing or controlling the risk, conducted by a competent contractor (e.g. a member of the legionella control association).
  • Appointment of a ‘responsible person’ with authority and responsibility for day to day implementation of the universal precautions and testing specified in the HSE’s ACoP L8 and any particular precautions specified in the risk assessment
  • The maintenance of records of all applicable maintenance and testing which are carried out in locations identified in your legionella assessment [note that records must be readily available at the location to which the records refer] together with a copy of the risk assessment and details of the competent person who conducted it
  • Monitoring by senior person overseeing implementation of your policy or person conducting regular facilities/Health and Safety audits, to check the records and confirm that the precautions identified have been implemented.

All plumbing alterations should be carried out by trained plumbers in order to ensure compliance with water regulations and byelaws.

Given the nature of the work, you are advised to employ the services of a competent individual or firm to carry out your legionella assessment. Once this is done, if it is the case that arrangements such as those detailed above are to be implemented, this will need to be incorporated into a policy statement that will detail your measures as advised from the risk assessment and identify who will be responsible for what aspect.

It may be the case that the company you employ to carry out the assessment will also assist with your policy during this liaison. If not, once your arrangements are confirmed and in place, Avensure can look at incorporating these into a policy that reflects the actions you have taken to address the risk of legionella where it is applicable to your business.

For more information about me, come see my profile: Lee Churchill

If any of the issues raised in this article affect your business, please give us a call to discuss your options. We are happy to advise and find a solution that works for you and your business: 0800 912 7152

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Elena Boura