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Legionella Control: The High Risk Game Played by Businesses

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Nobody wants to experience a nightmare before Christmas, but that’s precisely what could happen to some unsuspecting/unprepared business owners if they choose to turn a blind eye to the very real threat of the legionella bacterium. Indeed, the approach to the festive season is traditionally one of joy and heightened anticipation, however for one Midlands-based company Yuletide will leave a sourer taste in their mouths than burned Christmas pudding this year, and all because the powers that be ignored the potential risk of Legionnaires’ Disease on the premises of their engineering firm. You see, it’s all very well if and when legionella risk assessment experts fail to find any traces of the highly volatile bacterium during routine checks, yet should the company (although receiving a clean bill of health on that occasion) not have any existing controls in place to identify and tackle future outbreaks, then this is when happy faces are quickly replaced by more concerned expressions. This is precisely what happened in the recent case of a Dudley engineering firm, who were deemed to have breached vital HSE compliance by neglecting to prevent the potential risk of exposure; according to legionella control specialists who carried out examinations of the site.

Despite receiving the green light in terms of its premises being confirmed as Legionella free, a thorough investigation conducted by the HSE determined that the engineer’s had no perceivable controls in place to effectively manage any future threat of the deadly bacteria presenting itself within the business’ water system. The primary area of concern to the team of experts who carried out the examination lay in a tunnel wash located at the powder coating plant, which was said to exhibit the greatest risk of exposure to the workforce should Legionella manifest at a later date.

Fined a sum of £10,000 for the breach, the company admitted responsibility yet offered a somewhat bullish response on receipt of its punishment; which does little to deter from the issues raised. If anything it serves to highlight some firms’ attitude and wanting approach to the subject of Legionella control in the workplace, which duly needs to be addressed. The Health and Safety Executive’s inspector said (after the hearing) that; “This was a case where the company failed to have any controls whatsoever for the management of legionella at the powder coating plant.” The inspector went on to add; “Without identifying and putting in place suitable control measures there is a real risk of Legionnaires’ disease from tunnel washers.” The engineering company replied through the local press, saying; “Whilst the company respects the decision of the court and fully recognises its culpability in not having the required risk assessment paperwork in place, we remain proud of the high standards of operational health and safety we maintain at the business.” The moot point being when they concluded; “Tests for the presence of legionella before and since the breach have proven negative and at no stage was there any evidence that legionella was present in the tunnel wash.”

<Want to learn what is involved in carrying out a legionella risk assessment? Find out here>

Ignoring Threat of Legionella Will Land Negligent Companies in Hot Water, Financially

And don‘t think for one minute that this engineering company being handed a fine is an isolated incident, as in recent times a number of firms and organisations have felt the full force of HSE law, in the form of substantial fines being levied upon them. Take for another example G4S Cash Solutions (UK), who discovered just what the cost is for failing to protect employees from the risk of Legionnaires’ disease. The cost to them being in the region of some £1.8 million in 2016, after being brought to task and successfully prosecuted by Harlow Council at the time; in the aftermath of the council’s Environmental Health Officers uncovering a serious lack of compliance in water system maintenance at the site in question. Elsewhere a Stoke-on-Trent firm were given a fine totalling £1m following the deaths of two men from Legionnaires disease (which also affected 20 other people), which was later proven to having been instigated by the employees having been unwittingly exposed to harmful levels of Legionella bacteria at a hot tub display showroom.

<Recommended Reading: Not sure if you require a legionella risk assessment?>

Bearing all these incidents in mind, it’s therefore imperative that business owners and operators do all they can to ensure that the correct HSE compliance with regards to legionella control measures are strictly adhered to, so as to significantly reduce any potential risk to employees as well as members of the public who might also find themselves, unknowingly in close proximity to contaminated water sources. Regular Legionella risk assessments remains the crucial starting point in any company or organisation’s ongoing duty of care to employees, of which there’s no excuses to set in motion from the get-go. Essentially the predominant reason to perform a Legionella risk assessment is to identify those systems that have a perceived risk of infection, irrespective of whether or not the risk is perceived as low or high. A comprehensive and all-enveloping risk assessment should always comprise of the following areas as a bare minimum; An executive summary, management and responsibility structure, site introductions and systems information, site documentation and reviews, detail-led site specific risk assessment, recommended written control scheme, compendium of recommendations and remedial actions list, asset register (including all water systems assessed) and schematic drawings and photographic evidence.

Nothing should be left to chance when it comes to safeguarding employee health and ensuring that the necessary practices, procedures and protocols are in place to protect everyone against the potential threat of Legionella bacterium in the workplace. Failure to comply can and will, as established above, lead to financial punishments being metered out, no matter the size or type of business found to show culpability.

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