BrodexTrident Blog

Legionella: What Happens if You do Nothing?

shutterstock_676906624There are a glut of reasons why it’s not fortuitous to turn a blind eye to the threat of legionella, should a potential risk be identified or not. But more than that, it’s an unforgiveable action to do nothing to address the issue of creating a thorough monitoring and maintenance schedule, to essentially guard against the bacteria making its presence felt. As the old adage goes, it’s no good shutting the gate once the horse has bolted, especially so when we’re talking about an end game which could culminate in an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease if practices and protocols aren’t strictly adhered to by all parties concerned.

But of course, despite blogs such as this flagging up the potential dangers that by doing nothing to counter the risk of legionella is not an acceptable option, there will always be someone with the ‘it won’t ever happen to me’ mentality. So with this in mind, we will take a look at some of the possible scenarios a business or organisation might be faced with should they choose to ignore, be complacent or basically not take heed of warnings like this in the first place.

One of the many sectors which could really suffer as a direct consequence of individual service providers not taking a hard line in their approach to water system safety is residential care. When you spare a thought for the often vulnerable people who reside in care homes, who already have underlying health conditions which could seriously impact should they fall victim to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, you quickly begin to see where we’re going with this.

<Learn more about the risks associated with legionella bacteria>

Culpability Discovered in Many Sectors

As a point in question, take the recently reported example of The Willows care home in Reading, which due to insufficient practices in place to minimise the risk of legionella presenting at the establishment, culminated in the tragic death of a 95-year old resident. Reading Crown Court heard how the town’s council-operated home failed to deliver the required health and safety measures which could have avoided this outcome, with the subsequent investigation into the deceased’s death citing showers which hadn’t been descaled or disinfected as per a legionella risk assessment recommendations possibly to blame.

Meanwhile there was circumstantial evidence that the water outlets in the building hadn’t been flushed out routinely, so as to eradicate the build-up of biofilms in the stored water system. Which water treatment experts confirmed can encapsulate the legionella bacteria prior to dispersal via water spray and moisture deposited from the likes of showerheads and taps.

Elsewhere security giant, G4S came under fire of late in light of its shockingly haphazard attitude towards long-standing legionella concerns, dating back some six years from when alarm bells were first sounded by understandably concerned whistle-blowers. In the event it took an employee contracting Legionnaires’ disease in October 2013 to bring the situation at one of G4S’s sites in Essex to both a head, and subsequently, the public’s attention. Although the resultant inquiry by Environmental Health officers couldn’t establish if the worker’s contracting of the disease was triggered by legionella bacteria at the site in which they were employed, what they did find on investigation was a catalogue of what they described as ‘serious risks’ in terms of the premises’ hot and cold water system; and which hadn’t been addressed by the powers that be within the company’s structure. The outcome for G4S came in the shape of a £1.8 million fine, which the firm later appealed against, yet was dismissed given the recurrent fears raised hadn’t been addressed in six years.

Potential Dangers Going Unchallenged by Some Employers

Wherever you look, there’s a case whereby a company, organisation or indeed, service provider has neglected to fully uphold their HSE compliancy and therein protect both their employees and member of the general public, by the same token. Another instance being a Dudley-based engineering firm, whose legionella monitoring fell some way short of governing body expectations, not to mention legal contractibility for the most part. While the site might have been designated legionella free at the time of a comprehensive inspection by the appropriate authorities, what did materialise was the fact that the engineering company failed to have controls in place so as to robustly react to any potential bacterial threats which arose. Pinpointing a tunnel wash facility within the powder coating plant as the number one future risk, the firm was fined £10,000 for the breach in employee health and safety.

After being made aware of this handful of incidents in the past few years, surely what companies and organisations must think long and hard about is the ramifications for not imposing the correct procedures and practices when it comes to their legionella safeguards within on-site water systems. Not just in terms of financial upshots, but of a much wider concern to individuals who could, realistically become exposed to Legionnaires’ disease, is just that; the health perspective.

Find out more about other risk systems you may have on site.

How Do the Law-makers Impose Punishments on Offending Parties?

Typically the authorities responsible for overseeing health and safety infringements here in the UK, measure the seriousness of every breach based on individual circumstances, and conclude what monetary punishments offenders receive by way of a sliding scale. From a starting point of £20k upwards (unlimited top end), the threat of criminal records also loom large over those found guilty, while even custodial sentences of up to 2 years behind bars can and do serve as a deterrent to the more unscrupulous employers/service-providers/organisation heads. If and when someone has lost their lives via the contracting of Legionnaires’ disease whilst in employment/care/hospitality scenarios, then of course perpetuators will be looking at even greater punishments being handed down to them, not least being found guilty of corporate manslaughter. The Crown Prosecution Service do wield the power (in collaboration with the police) to rule cases as manslaughter, under the far-reaching scope of the Corporate Homicide Act 2007, should evidence lead to this conclusion.

So What Can You Do to Avoid Finding Yourself In Such Unimaginable Positions?

Simple, in effect. Monitoring and maintenance will go a long way to ensuring that your water storage system complies with legislation and moreover works to protect those who come into contact with it, courtesy of various outlets located throughout buildings where a dormant risk might not be far away at any one time. After the initial legionella risk assessment carried out by a professional organisation/company, then it’s up to the those whose responsibility it is to safeguard the individuals who work, rest or play within the constructs of the premises to instil a routine set of monitoring practices. From the timely reviewing of water temperatures (with any fluctuations being pivotal in the harvesting of legionella bacteria), investigating tanks for corrosion, scale, deposits and evidence of biofilms forming and the scrutinising of dead legs found within the more complex of water systems, through to regular flushing of systems and application of chlorination and oxidising programmes as a means of disinfection. However, by speaking with experts in the field of water treatment you’ll be able to create an on-going plan of action which will tick all of the above boxes.

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