Legionella | Health and Safety Update
Legionella | Health and Safety Update
In this article, our expert H&S consultant, Colin Jones, looks to discuss legionella in the workplace and offer advice to employers.
What is legionella and where does it come from?
Legionellosis is a collective term for diseases caused by legionella bacteria including the most serious Legionnaires’ disease, as well as the similar but less serious conditions of Pontiac fever and Lochgoilhead fever. Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia and everyone is susceptible to infection. The risk increases with age but some people are at higher risk including:
- people over 45 years of age
- smokers and heavy drinkers
- people suffering from chronic respiratory or kidney disease
- diabetes, lung and heart disease
- anyone with an impaired immune system
Legionella bacteria are widespread in natural water systems, e.g. rivers and ponds. However, the conditions are rarely right for people to catch the disease from these sources. Outbreaks of the illness occur from exposure to legionella growing in purpose-built systems where water is maintained at a temperature high enough to encourage growth, e.g. cooling towers, evaporative condensers, hot and cold water systems and spa pools used in all sorts of premises (work and domestic).
How do people contract legionnaires disease?
People contract Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling small droplets of water (aerosols), suspended in the air, containing the bacteria. Certain conditions increase the risk from legionella if:
- the water temperature in all or some parts of the system may be between 20-45 °C, which is suitable for growth
- it is possible for breathable water droplets to be created and dispersed, for example, aerosol created by a cooling tower, or water outlets
- water is stored and/or re-circulated
- there are deposits that can support bacterial growth providing a source of nutrients for the organism e.g. rust, sludge, scale, organic matter and biofilms
Symptoms of legionnaires disease
The symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to the symptoms of the flu:
- high temperature, feverishness and chills;
- muscle pains;
- headache; and leading on to
- pneumonia, very occasionally
- diarrhoea and signs of mental confusion
Legionnaires’ disease is not known to spread from person to person.
How is legionnaires disease diagnosed and treated?
Legionnaires’ disease is treated with antibiotics. The sooner therapy is started, the less likely the chance of developing serious complications. In many cases, treatment requires hospitalization.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.
- It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- These regulations provide a broad framework for controlling health and safety at work. As well as requiring risk assessments, they also require employers to have access to competent help in applying the provisions of health and safety law; to establish procedures to be followed by any working if situations presenting serious and imminent danger were to arise; and for co-operation and co-ordination where two or more employers or self-employed persons share a workplace.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002
An employer shall not carry out any work which is liable to expose any employees to any substance hazardous to health unless they have –
- made a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk created by that work to the health of those employees and of the steps that need to be taken to meet the requirements of these Regulations; and
- implemented the steps referred to in sub-paragraph (a).
Legionella bacteria are classified as substances hazardous to health and therefore a Legionella risk assessment can be considered a mandatory requirement in all workplace buildings with water systems.
Are there legionella risks in your workplace? Are you unsure of your responsibilities? As an employer, you have a legal duty to keep your employees safe, if you would like to discuss legionella in the workplace further or would like to understand how our team can help you keep on top of your Health and Safety, get in contact with our team of experts today.
T: 0330 107 1037