Legionnaires’ disease, caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila, is a serious and potentially fatal kind of pneumonia. A set of regulations exist to help businesses manage risks associated with the bacteria and the disease. These include guidelines for identifying and managing risk factors and keeping records to ensure that the risks are properly minimised.
Under the right conditions, any water system is a potential source of Legionella bacteria. The bacteria are present in most water sources at low levels. In a water system where the water temperature is between 20 and 45 degrees Celsius, and where water is stored or recirculated, the Legionella population can grow to the point where it poses a risk to people who use the water.
Business owners, and owners of rental properties, have health and safety obligations they need to meet in order to minimise the risk of Legionella exposure. These obligations are detailed in a government-issued publication called “Legionnaires’ disease: The control of Legionella bacteria in water systems”.
The obligations and duties include:
- Carry out a risk assessment to establish what Legionella risks exist within the water system. The risk assessment should be reviewed periodically to ensure it’s still a valid representation of the current level of risk.
- Manage the risk by ensuring that the water system complies with the relevant regulations or appoint someone to do so.
- Continue to maintain and operate the water system so that the risk of Legionella contamination is minimised.
- In a business with five or more employees, you must also keep records of significant findings.
- If there is a cooling tower or evaporative condenser on site, you must notify your local authority in writing. This should include giving details about where it’s located.
Risk assessment and risk management
Risk assessment means examining the water system to identify whether there are any features that increase the likelihood of Legionella growth. For instance, this might include:
- Checking the temperature of water at different locations in the water system. This is important because if the water reaches 20 to 45 degrees Celsius at any point in the system, it can result in Legionella growth, regardless of what water temperatures are like elsewhere.
- Identifying areas where there is a risk of water stagnation. For instance, redundant pipes or dead-end pipes may harbour stagnant water.
- Checking water at different locations in the system for the presence of sediment or organic material which can serve as a source of nutrients for bacteria.
- Identifying fittings and materials that can encourage Legionella growth.
Risks such as water temperature and sediment can be managed with relatively simple measures. However, it’s not always possible to remove redundant pipes or change out fittings and materials. If the risk assessment identifies risks that can’t be managed, they must be controlled, and those controls should be detailed in written records.
Record-keeping is legally required only for a business with five or more employees. However, it’s still a good idea for a business to keep records, even if they have fewer than five employees.
Written records should include information about:
- The person who is responsible for performing the risk assessment, and (if they’re not the same person) the person responsible for risk management.
- Any significant findings from the risk assessment.
- The risk management scheme and how it’s implemented in the water system.
- The dates and results of inspections, tests, and checks carried out on the water and water system.
Written records must be retained while they are current, and for at least two years after. Records that relate to the dates and results of inspections and tests should be retained for at least five years.
Methods of record keeping
Most organisations will develop their own methods of keeping records, devising a system based on whatever works best at the time. This isn’t necessarily the best way to go about keeping records for something this important, however. A workplace Legionella outbreak can have serious consequences, with the potential for employees to become extremely sick. And since Legionnaires’ disease is potentially fatal, accurate and consistent record keeping is essential.
For any organisation, it’s in the best interests of both the company and its employees to use a software-based record-keeping system that standardises the whole process. This ensures that inspections, tests, and checks are carried out the same way every time, and that results are recorded the same way, too. Strict monitoring and record-keeping processes are the best way to ensure that your Legionella management system works consistently to minimise risk and ensure the safety of every employee.
Accuracy and consistency are key
Minimising the risks associated with Legionella is an obligation that it’s easy to overlook. But it’s vital that the job is taken seriously, as Legionnaires’ is a potentially deadly infection.
The good news is that once the risk assessment is completed and management and control measures are set up, it’s just a matter of performing regular checks and keeping accurate records, which should help you avoid Legionella outbreaks at work. With these measures, Legionnaires’ disease is easily prevented.