What is Legionella?

Legionella is a type of bacteria frequently found in natural water systems like rivers and ponds, but usually in low enough numbers that they rarely cause problems to humans. But in purpose-built water systems, conditions can mean that the bacteria multiply, becoming a cause of illness. This can include the obvious industrial type of facility like cooling towers, but anywhere that water is stored can be a problem.

What are the risks?

Legionella bacteria cause what is called Legionellosis, a collective name given to several pneumonia-like illnesses. The most serious of these, Legionnaires Disease, is fatal in approximately 10% of cases. But even the lesser related infections, like Pontiac Fever and Lochgoilhead Fever are unpleasant diseases that cause flu-like symptoms and are best avoided.

Legionnaires’ disease is normally contracted by inhaling small droplets of water, suspended in the air, containing the bacteria. Everyone is susceptible but people over 45 years old, people who are heavy smokers or drinkers, people who are suffering from chronic respiratory disease of kidney disease, and people with an impaired immune system are more high risk.

Who needs to think about controlling Legionella?

If you are an employer, or someone who is the owner or lease holder of a building, then you need to think about controlling Legionella. Properties that have swimming pools, hot tubs, evaporative condensers, refrigerated cabinets, or even just standard hot and cold water systems can see outbreaks of legionella-related illnesses.

Controlling Legionella

The guidelines for legionella control are included in the ACoP L8 – The Control of Legionella Bacteria in Water Systems. According to the guidelines:

  • A risk assessment must be carried out by a competent person to identify all potential sources of Legionella
  • A Legionella prevention and treatment scheme must be written
  • A member of staff must be appointed to be responsible for implementing and managing this scheme
  • All relevant records must be kept
  • The risk assessment must be reviewed regularly, especially if there is any reason to believe that the original risk assessment might no longer be relevant. Management and communication procedures should also be reviewed regularly.

The Legionella Risk Assessment should examine the system as a whole and the environment of the system. It needs to consider things like:

  • The source of the water in the system
  • Possible sources of contamination of the supply water in the premises before it reaches the swimming pool, hot tub, or water system that may present a risk of exposure to Legionella bacteria
  • Any means of disinfection in use
  • Current control measures including monitoring regimes.

What are the results of failing to control Legionella?

If businesses are found to have failed to comply with guidelines resulting in someone contracting Legionnaries’ disease or a Legionella-related infection, they can be found negligent and prosecuted for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

In 2016 G4S was given a £1.8m fine after an employee at one of the firm’s sites contracted Legionnaires’ disease in 2013. While environmental health officers could not establish whether the worker’s disease was caused by legionella bacteria at the site, they found that serious risks with the building’s hot and cold water system had been uncovered in a risk assessment but not addressed.

After an outbreak of Legionnaires’ diseases in 2002 caused by Legionella in the air-conditioning system, which killed 7 people and affected 180 others, Barrow Borough Council and their design services manager, Gillian Beckingham, were charged with manslaughter. They were acquitted in 2006 but the council was fined £125,000 and Ms Beckingham was fined £15,000.

Getting Help

To reduce the risk of Legionella-related illness occurring on your premises, Amalgamate can act as your competent person and provide a Legionella Risk Assessment and Control Scheme. This will not only inform you about the risks at your business, but also give you clear, easy-to-follow guidance on what steps to take to minimise them.

To find out more about Legionella, or get advice on risk assessments and surveys, call us on 0141 244 0181 or email info@amalgamate-safety.com.