Legionnaires’ disease suspected cause of illness in the West Midlands

Industry News By Matthew Coombes

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have put out an e-bulletin on the 23rd of September 2020 reporting a recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the West Midlands. In this bulletin they have advised companies that if their building has been fully closed, or had a reduced level of occupancy, your water system could have become stagnant due to lack of use, which can increase the risk of Legionnaires’ disease.

What is Legionnaires’ disease?

Legionnaire’s disease is an infection of the lungs that can be caught by inhaling droplets of water that contain Legionella bacteria. The bacteria can cause an infection that has similar symptoms to a severe flu, such as a cough, fever, aches and pains, chills and shortness of breath.

What are my responsibilities as a Manager or Employer?

HSE’s Approved Code of Practice and Guidance document L8 (ACoP L8) highlights the need for someone within the organisation with a day-to-day responsibility for controlling any identified risk from Legionella bacteria. Employers and those who control premises with any type of hot/cold water services must identify and assess sources of risk; prepare a scheme for preventing or controlling the risk; implement, manage and monitor precautions; keep records and appoint a person who is managerially responsible.

Why has this become a problem recently?

A lot of organisations have had to reduce their occupancy of their building(s) due to the coronavirus, COVID-19.

The government has recently (22nd of September 2020) advised that those who are able to do so continue to work from home, or start working from home. This comes at a time when many employees are still furloughed (on a granted leave of absence from work), or are operating working reduced hours.

All of this reduced personnel capacity within the workplace can then have a knock on effect on the water supply, and the lack of use may increase cause the water to stagnate, increasing the risks of Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionella bacteria is commonly found in places such as air conditioning systems, taps, pipes and toilets. With offices and places of work being closed or having reduced occupancy, there may be no need to activate systems such as air conditioners, and water pipes, these units can then lead to a build u in Legionella bacteria, particularly if the units are closed off circuits.

What can you do to reduce the risk of legionnaires’ disease?

When returning to work it would be a good idea to review your risk assessment for the risks that Legionella bacteria poses to your organisation, especially if you are looking to reinstate a water system, start using one again, or restart some types of air conditioning units.

If you are responsible for the safety of others within your workplace, and you are not aware of the risks that Legionella and Legionnaries’ disease pose then you may need training prior to the return of employees to your organisation.

A good training course for this function is the Legionella ‘Responsible Person’, this is a course that we at ACT offer on an in-house basis. The course covers important topics such as understanding your duties and responsibilities as they are set out in ACoP L8, and how to quantify the risk that Legionella may pose to your organisation to carry out risk assessments. We can train individuals in your organisation at on a date and site of your choosing, and individuals who successfully complete the course will be awarded an International Accreditation Society (iAS) Legionella ‘Responsible Person’ Certificate.

If you would like to find out more about our Legionella Responsible Person course please get in contact with our team via actsales@actassociates.co.uk or give us a call on 01384 447915.

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