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What does a Responsible Person for Legionella Control do?


Within various types of companies, all of which sit within a diverse number of sectors, you’ll find at least one employee with an extra-curricular remit; yet one which is arguably more important in the grand scheme of things than their own vocational calling. The crucial role they play ensures that safeguards in place to combat the potential formation and spread of legionella bacteria through a company or organisation’s premises, are both strictly and routinely adhered to. Although a cape isn’t the required dress code for the position of ‘responsible person for legionella control’, the fact of the matter often is, that these individuals are the unsung heroes in the continued war raged on a range of bacterial invaders which could, in certain situation and circumstances, prove deadly if their presence went below the radar.

So, with this in mind, what does a responsible person for legionella control actually do all day?

Well, for a start, said person tasked with this additional remit by their employer, doesn’t oversee legionella control around the office/factory/public service clock. However they do keep more than a weather eye on one of the most vital aspects of company health and safety procedure and practice on a regular basis. The position of legionella control person sat within a company should never be underestimated, as without someone suitably responsible and experienced continually monitoring the water storage situation, then the chances for countless strains of waterborne bacteria increases dramatically. And not in favour of us mere mortals. Hence why it’s imperative that firms single out a member of the workforce to not only monitor their water storage facilities, but moreover be adept and recognising any noted discrepancies, alerting others to the changing situation and actioning rehearsed protocols in a timely fashion.

But before we go into any detail about precisely what a responsible person for legionella control actually does, first we must familiarise ourselves with the underlying legislation. In terms of all-consuming governance, the Health and Safety Executive’s Approved Code of Practice which covers the topic of ‘Legionnaires’ disease’ in the text of section L8 of its guideline literature, the HSE clearly insists that it’s an employers’ responsibility to make sure that all necessary safeguards are taken so as to ‘control the risk from exposure to legionella bacteria’. According to paragraph 51 in the official documentation, it’s a business/organisation/public service provider’s prerogative to appoint ‘a competent person (or persons) to take day-to-day responsibility for controlling any identified risk from legionella bacteria, known as the “responsible person”.’

Essentially, a person charged with the governance of a company’s on-going legionella control programme must possess sufficient ‘authority, competence and knowledge’ of the installation, which allows operational procedures to be performed effectively and routinely, as far as the HSE is concerned. In reality this means that the chosen individual appointed to the role must be well versed in acknowledging the signs and symptoms of legionella bacteria (as discovered in potential breeding grounds, such as internal water storage systems), and how to implement both control measures and strategies to deal with any issues which may arise. This typically results from having received training for the position, while at the same time being ever mindful of an employer’s existing – and fundamental - health and safety management structure and policies. 

What qualities constitute a responsible person in this given employment environment then?

Falling directly beneath the role of duty holder within a company, a competent person can be identified who works in tandem with them/on their behalf. Be they one of more employees of the business/organisation, or a third party (such as an outsourced water treatment specialist). The overriding concern is that any responsible persons have a thorough knowledge of legionella bacteria and the risk factors closely associated with its presence in a water system.

A company’s hierarchy has to ask whether the person identified as being responsible for legionella control on the premises are fully aware of the potential sources of legionella, as well as being able to recognise conditions that encourage and nurture growth; not to mention the inherent risks they would present should the bacteria come to bear. Meanwhile is the person tasked with this expansive remit au fait with the accepted precautionary and remedial measures which would need adopting to minimise risk; for example water chlorination and tank repair? And are they in a position to implement them competently?

Looking at the points addressed in the HSE directive, what’s the long and short of it from a responsible person’s perspective?

Reading between the lines, the core disciplines tend to be relatively self-explanatory. In as much as when you look at the question of the post-holder demonstrating ‘sufficient authority, competence and knowledge’, then this refers to the responsible individual been afforded the authority to halt production and/or suggest the implementation of measures to control a manufacturing process, for example, should a risk of legionella be found on site. To impose such public health-centred demands, the post-holder would benefit from a sound understanding (and operational practice) with regards to the water storage system. Which is why in some instances, the responsibility falls to a company/organisation’s senior management.

Elsewhere, and as we touched on above - training is also key; both initial and on-going refresher courses. While simultaneously in-depth knowledge of a firm’s own bespoke health and safety management structure is paramount, if risk control across the board is a priority. At the pit face, so to speak, the responsible person needs to fulfil the following obligations;

  • Routinely check/appraise performance/operation of internal water storage system and its sum parts
  • Routinely inspect the accessible components of the facility, to determine either damage or symptoms of possible bacterial contamination in situ
  • Continual scrutinising of legionella control measures in place, to establish that practices remain fit for purpose and adhere to current HSE directives

And what if the responsible person fails to comply with legionella control protocol or neglects their role? What are the inevitable consequences?

If the importance of legionella control is overlooked, then the consequences can be dire in the event that any bacteria takes root and manages to infiltrate the water storage system and present in various outlets throughout a building where humans interact. Like for instance taps, showers and any other facilities which can produce a water vapour which, when inhaled, can travel to the lungs and trigger the onset of Legionnaires’ disease in an unfortunate victim. Which explains why it’s critical that a post-holder fulfils their obligations within the HSE frameworks of a company/organisation/service-provider, and therein to do all they can to ensure that employees, service users and members of the public aren’t exposed to any harmful bacteria while working/visiting an employer’s business premises.  

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