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Legionella is a type of bacteria that causes diseases like Pontiac and Lochgoilhead fever and, worst case, Legionnaire’s disease.
Legionnaire’s disease is a severe form of pneumonia and can be deadly. In 2017 alone, 693 cases of Legionnaire’s disease were reported/notified – a 40% increase on 2016’s figure.
When it comes to Legionnaire’s disease, everyone’s susceptible. That said though, individuals who fall into any of the below categories may be at greater risk of contracting it:
Natural water supplies – like rivers, lakes, reservoirs and ponds – host large quantities of the bacteria Legionella. Due to the conditions though, this isn’t where people tend to contract it.
More commonly, Legionnaire’s disease is apparent in places like cooling towers, spa pools, hydrotherapy baths and hot and cold water systems – to name just a few, where temperatures are high enough to support bacteria growth and the network is insufficiently managed.
The optimum temperature for Legionella growth and multiplication is between 20-45°C – with the provision of nutrients, like rust, sludge, scale and biofilms. Anything lower than 20°C is too cool for the bacteria to activate, and anything above 60°C is too hot for it to survive.
Legionnaire’s disease is caught by simply breathing in small droplets of water that contain Legionella particles.
Employees, visitors, customers, clients and anyone else in your premises run the risk of being exposed to contaminated water, and so it’s essential you have appropriate measures in place.
As an employer, it’s your responsibility to control any risks associated with Legionella exposure. To meet these, there’s a five-step process to follow – we’ll delve into each of these now.
A competent person must carry out a thorough risk assessment to assess whether any of your water systems are likely to pose a Legionella hazard.
During the risk assessment, you should look out for things like:
For an in-depth look at how to perform a proper risk assessment, check out our free guide on it here.
Once risks have been identified, it’s time to manage them. Prioritise the risks in terms of how harmful they could be, and consider who will be affected – remember, it’s not just employees and residents; visitors, customers, inspectors and suppliers, for example, could be impacted too.
Your first port of call should be preventing any Legionella risks. For example, if you’re currently using a wet cooling tower which is producing Legionella-infected water droplets, could you switch to a dry air-cooled system?
Essentially, the aim of this exercise is to ensure all your water systems operate in a way that isn’t conducive to the growth and spreading of Legionella.
In the event that you identify a risk that can’t be prevented, you must put appropriate measures in place to control the risk as best you can – if you need a hand working out what these are, get in touch with our Health & Safety experts.
If you’ve got five or more employees on your books, you’re legally required to keep a written record of your risk assessment. Your records should include information like:
Although this isn’t a legal requirement if you have fewer than five employees, it’s still good practice to keep a written record for future reference.
The management process of assessing and continually monitoring your water functions should be completed by a competent person – this could be in the form of a third party specialist.
In addition to steps one to four, there are a couple of other responsibilities to be aware of:
Notification of Cooling Towers and Evaporative Condensers Regulations 1992: if you have a cooling tower or evaporative condenser on your site, you must let your local authority know where it’s situated.
Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations: if you’ve an employee who’s been working on cooling towers and/or hot and cold water systems and you suspect they may have contracted Legionella, you must report it.
How to prevent Legionnaire’s disease
The easiest way to prevent Legionnaire’s disease is by implementing measures that allow you to appropriately regulate your water temperature.
As we touched on earlier, the optimum temperature for Legionnaire’s growth is between 20-45°C. With this in mind, you should ensure:
A nominated competent person should be in charge of regularly monitoring your water temperature, and thoroughly inspecting and cleaning your systems.
When it comes to Legionella, there can be a lot to get your head around – which is where we come in.
With everything from choosing your competent person and conducting risk assessments, to the management and monitoring of hazards, our Health & Safety experts are here to lend a hand and remove the hassle.
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