When I was around twenty years old, I passed a guy on the street that I did not recognise. He spoke to me to ask if I recognised him and I said that I didn’t...
In actual fact, I did know him but would never have recognised him if he hadn’t spoken to me! He was called Ken and he used to go out with my sister. Ken was painfully thin and gaunt and looked ill and worn. He was only twenty-five and looked about seventy-five. He explained that he had been on a foreign holiday and contracted Legionnaires’ disease and had been very ill. He went on to explain that most people actually die of it. I was shocked and dismayed, but had no understanding what Legionnaires’ disease was, how you got it or indeed anything about it. I always remembered seeing him though.
Since embarking on my health and safety journey over the past thirteen years, I have developed a basic understanding of Legionella and the risks associated with it but would not call myself an expert on the subject. However, I am very privileged to be friends with Mr Jim King, former HSENI Principal Inspector and known authority on the subject of legionella. If you require training on the subject, I can arrange that for you, just ask. In the meantime, let’s talk a little more about legionella.
Legionella is a bacterium that is common in natural water sources such as rivers, lakes and reservoirs, but usually in low numbers. However, the conditions are rarely right for people to catch Legionellosis (a collective term for diseases caused by legionella bacterial including Legionnaires’ disease) from these sources.
Legionella can also be found in purpose-built water systems such as hot and cold-water systems, spa pools, swimming pools, saunas, cooling towers, showers and water storage areas; and outbreaks of Legionellosis are common in these kinds of environments.
The risk is further increased if there are deposits that can support bacterial growth such as rust, scale, sludge or organic matter. The good news is that the risk can be managed by putting in place the right controls and carrying out regular inspections and testing.
According to the HSE, people contract Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling small droplets of water (aerosols), suspended in the air and containing the bacteria. If the water temperature is between 20-45° Celsius it is a perfect condition for growth.
Just think about going back to work premises after lockdown. The weather has been warm and therefore perfect for the growth of legionella. Water systems may not have been treated, showers and washing facilities have not been in use, so therefore the risk of legionella being present in these areas has been greatly increased. The risk to individuals increases with age, with those who are very young and those who are elderly being at the highest risk of infection and medical consequences. The HSE state that the risk is higher for:
Under current Health and Safety legislation, an employer or person in control of premises has a legal duty to take suitable precautions to prevent or control the risk of exposure to legionella. They have a duty to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and put in place controls to eliminate or control the risks. This risk assessment must be carried out by a competent person with the necessary skills to conduct it.
Now, I am going to leave it there and recommend training if Legionella may be a hazard in your workplace. If you and your employees have not had competent training recently, then perhaps now is the perfect time.
The risk of Legionella in certain workplaces is much higher, because of the lock-down situation. Having adequate information, instruction and training will go a long way to reducing that risk and keeping people safe. You will also be meeting your legal duty.
Please feel free to give me a call or email if you would like some information on the training Jim King can provide on Legionella.
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