Legionella: Are You Keeping Your Employees Safe?
Legionella is a bacteria that causes people to have an infection – this is also technically known as a ‘pathogenic bacteria’. The symptoms are varied, but all relate to pneumonia, and the end result is called legionnaires’ disease. To contract the disease, patients have to have breathed in small droplets of water containing legionella bacteria; sprays and mists are the biggest culprit. If your water systems contain legionella as many do, your employees could be at risk of developing legionnaires’ disease which is very serious, and in some cases can be fatal.
The Documents To Read
There are two documents that, as an employer, you should read to learn more about legionella and what it can do, as well as how to control it. These are:
· The Approved Code of Practice L8: The Control of Legionella Bacteria in Water Systems (which can be downloaded here)
· The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) (which can be read here)
In essence, these documents, both specifically and in terms of general health and safety, confirm that you should ensure everyone in your building is protected from legionella and the health risks associated with it. They also say that you should carry out (or have someone qualified carry out) a risk assessment, and then implement control measures outlined in the risk assessment to minimise or eliminate the threat of legionella bacteria within the building.
Where Do You Find Legionella?
The most common place to find legionella bacteria is in manmade water systems. These include domestic cold water systems, cold water storage tanks, hot water systems, calorifiers, air conditioning systems, cooling towers, showers, and spa/whirlpool baths.
In reality, legionella bacteria can thrive in any kind of water that is kept at a constant temperature of between 20 and 50 degrees.
What Makes It More Likely You’ll Have Legionella Bacteria?
All water systems have the potential to house legionella, but there are some factors that make its discovery much more likely. These include:
· Temperatures of between 20 and 50 degrees
· Water droplets being dispersed into the air
· Water that has been stored
· Water that has been recirculated
· Water that contains sludge, rust, or other debris (this is a source of nutrients for legionella)
Control Measures For Legionella
Some control measures are simple for you to undertake yourself, and others require (ideally, although this is not the law) a qualified expert in legionella control to deal with them. To begin with, you must appoint a responsible person, a manager, who will take charge of the legionella control process, even if they don’t carry out the work themselves.
The next step is a legionella risk assessment. Again, you can do this yourself, but unless you know what you are looking for, your risk assessment won’t tell you much. A professional who understands what to look for and what problems you have that might cause legionella bacteria to proliferate is a much better option. They won’t just carry out the risk assessment, but they will also offer solutions to the control issues and even help to implement them. They might also carry out legionella water testing to see whether you have any of the bacteria already.
These risk assessments should be reviewed periodically, and especially if anything changes within the building such as any new pipework is laid or the building changes hands and/or use.
Staff should also be trained about legionella. This does not have to be indepth training, but should include details about what legionella is, how it causes harm, where it can be found, and which areas it is more likely to be discovered. It is also important to talk about how to control legionella. This way, whatever tasks your staff are asked to carry out (cleaning of shower heads, temperature checks, having the water temperature higher or lower than usual) they will understand the importance of it. This training should be carried out by an expert.
Finally, it is the responsible person’s job to maintain good records regarding the legionella control within the building. This means collating together the temperature audit results, testing results, clean/chlorination certificates, training certificates, and the risk assessment so that if and when it is needed it can all be found. These items must be kept up to date, and your legionella control specialist can help you with that.