legionella faq

Legionella FAQ

Legionella contamination and infection is an increasingly widespread problem. However, many people are still unaware of basic information about the disease. And, many business owners and landlords aren’t aware of what their legal obligations are when it comes to keeping people safe.

What is Legionella and Legionnaire’s disease?

Legionnaire’s disease is a potentially fatal kind of pneumonia, caused by infection with Legionella bacteria.

Is Legionella contagious?

Legionella is an infectious disease, meaning that it’s an infection caused by bacteria. However, it’s not contagious. This means that someone can contract an infection if they’re exposed to the bacteria, but an infected person can’t pass the infection on to another person. The only way to contract Legionella is through direct exposure to the bacteria via a contaminated water source.

How do people contract Legionella infections?

Legionella bacteria are commonly found in low numbers in natural water sources. They’re also often present in low numbers in man-made water systems.

In low numbers, the presence of Legionella in man-made water systems isn’t dangerous. But under certain conditions, Legionella bacteria may grow in numbers to the point where exposure to water spray or steam from a contaminated source may result in infection.

Who is at risk of Legionella infection?

Anyone is potentially at risk if they’re exposed to Legionella bacteria. However, the risk is low for most people, even if they work in a place with a contaminated water system.

Some people have a higher risk of Legionella infection, including older adults, people who are already ill, and people with a weakened immune system.

Is there a Legionella risk at my workplace?

Legionella bacteria can grow in any water system, whether natural or man-made, as long as the environmental conditions are right. There may be a Legionella risk in your workplace’s water system if it meets the following conditions:

  • Water is stored or recirculated in any part of the system.
  • Water temperature is between 20 and 45 degrees Celsius in any part of the system.
  • There are nutrient sources such as rust, scale, sludge, sediment, or organic matter.
  • The system allows for exposure to water droplets or steam; for instance a shower or cooling tower aerosol.

What are the objectives of Legionella management?

The main goal of Legionella management is to reduce the risk of contamination in water systems. This helps ensure that people who use those systems will not contract Legionnaire’s disease.

Do I have a legal obligation to manage Legionella?

Yes. If you’re a landlord, employer, or business-owner, you have legal obligations to identify, assess, and manage Legionella risk in a property you own or workplace you are responsible for.

This includes carrying out a Legionella risk assessment to identify, describe, and assess any sources of risk in the water system.

What is a Legionella risk assessment?

Either the business/property owner, or another competent person*, must carry out a risk assessment to determine the level of Legionella risk in a water system. The risk assessment should:

  • Identify the competent person undertaking the risk assessment.
  • Describe the water system.
  • List any potential sources of risk.
  • List any controls that are currently in place to control Legionella risk.
  • List any inspection and monitoring practices currently in place.
  • Record results of inspections and monitoring practices and schedule the next review date.

*Note: a competent person means someone who understands the water system and risk assessment practices.

Do I have to have a Legionella risk assessment carried out?

Yes. Both landlords and employers/business owners are legally required to have a Legionella risk assessment performed.

What are the penalties of not having a Legionella Risk Assessment?

Failure to carry out a Legionella risk assessment is a breach of Health and Safety law. If a tenant or worker contracts Legionnaire’s disease in your rental property of workplace, you are legally responsible—and in this instance, the fines are unlimited, meaning there’s no cap on the amount you could be fined.

What steps should I take to manage risk?

If your risk assessment shows that the risk is low or negligible, you may not need to do anything, apart from a periodic review of the assessment.

However, if there is a significant Legionella risk, you’ll need to implement plants to control the risk and monitor Legionella levels.

How can Legionella risk be managed?

A wide range of controls and checked can be used to control Legionella growth. These include:

  • Temperature control: ensuring that cold water is stored below 20 degrees, and hot water retains a consistent temperature of 50 to 60 degrees.
  • Stagnation control: introducing routine water flushing programmes, and reducing water storage volumes.
  • Chemical control: chemical control can be used when other methods aren’t sufficient.

Do I need to keep records?

Any workplace with five or more employees is required to keep records of significant findings of risk assessments and tests. Records should:

  • Identify the person or people who are responsible for risk assessments, tests, and any other aspects of managing Legionella risk.
  • List significant findings of Legionella risk assessments.
  • Detail Legionella risk management plans and their implementation.
  • Include dates of inspections, tests, and checks, and their results.

Records must be retained for two years. Records of dates and results of inspections must be retained for five years.

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