As more and more workplaces open up following the latest round of lockdowns there are lots of things that employers need to consider, to ensure employees and visitors to their premises remain safe.
One-way systems have become the norm in many workplaces and the use of face masks and other Covid-19 related measures have become a part of everyday life but there are other issues that employers need to consider.
One that we wanted to concentrate on today is the possibility that legionella risks have developed at your workplace during the course of the pandemic.
Employers, self-employed people and people in control of premises, such as landlords, have a duty to protect people by identifying and controlling risks associated with legionella.
For example, most letting agencies will insist that landlords of rented properties have a legionella assessment on a change of tenancy to ensure the new tenant is entering a safe property.
If your building was closed or has had reduced occupancy during the pandemic, water system stagnation can occur due to lack of use, increasing the risks of Legionnaires’ disease.
To counteract this, you should review the risk assessment you have in place and manage legionella risks when you reinstate a water system or start using it again and also when you restart certain types of air conditioning units. Small wall or ceiling-mounted units with closed cooling systems should not present a risk. However, larger units may present a risk if they have improperly drained condensate trays, or humidifier or evaporative cooling sections where water can stagnate, becoming a reservoir for bacteria to grow.
Why do I need to consider the risk of legionella?
Legionellosis is the 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.
People contract Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling small droplets of water, suspended in the air, containing the bacteria.
Businesses which fail to comply with Health and Safety Executive (HSE) legislation on controlling the risks associated with the water-borne bacteria, Legionella, risk facing prosecution and potentially huge fines.
To give you an idea of the size of fines that organisations face, in December 2018 Tendring District Council was fined £27,000 after an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the Lifestyles leisure centre in Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex in November 2016 left a man fighting for his life.
A few months earlier, in April 2018, Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust was fined £300,000 after failing to control the risk to patients from exposure to legionella bacteria in its water systems. The prosecution followed the death of a patient at Bath’s Royal United Hospital in July 2015 which prompted an investigation by the HSE. It found the trust had failed to put in place all of the necessary precautions to minimise the risk to patients in the annex to the William Budd ward from exposure to legionella since the annex was opened in 2009. Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and as well as being fined was ordered to pay costs of £37,451.78.
The HSE has recently published guidance about managing legionella risks during the coronavirus pandemic so it is a safe assumption that this is very much on the organisation’s radar. As a result, it would be wise for workplaces to make sure they are not only protecting their employees and visitors from this potentially deadly disease but also their organisations from the risk of prosecution.
There is a wealth of information available on the HSE website about identifying and managing the risks, preventing or controlling the risks, keeping records and specific risk systems here
The HSE has also produced a detailed Approved Code of Practice and Guidance on the control of legionella bacteria in water systems which is available here
However, we understand that this can be a lot to deal with for company bosses – particularly those who are in the midst of welcoming back more people to their workplaces for the first time in months.
So, if you need help getting a handle on this problem contact our experienced team of health and safety consultants. We assist organisations with every aspect of their health and safety needs to ensure they comply with health and safety regulations.
We will work closely with your business to identify risks in your workplace and provide advice on how they can be controlled so you have peace of mind, knowing that we have ensured you are meeting your legal obligations.