Covering prosecutions, management and information updates, while the specific activity is very diverse and different, the message could not be clearer on the direction of travel for dutyholders and enforcers. 

Here are some of them:  

1.    Shh, it is only regulations…

The 2013 update of L8 spawned a lot of comment and column inches, although most of them centred on risk assessment and cooling tower cleaning frequencies it seemed.  Few people seemed to be mentioning at all the regulatory additions.

Three new regulations covered by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 strengthened the ACoP and the message sent out is pretty clear when you consider they were:

  • Regulation 7 - Health and safety assistance (competent support)
  • Regulation 10 - Information to employees
  • Regulation 13 - Capabilities and training

2.    An intervening truth

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) ran a "programme of interventions for controlling Legionella risks in workplaces" during 2013/14. A fundamental feature of the programme was that it incorporated a range of intervention approaches including information and guidance as well as inspections.

Of the 1,906 HSE inspections, material breaches were identified at 625 (33%) sites, which led to them serving 418 improvement and 11 prohibition notices in relation to control of Legionella issues.

These included (percentages are approximates):

  • Risk assessment - absent (14%), not up to date/insufficient/in need of review (54%), did not cover all risk factors (10%)
  • Written schemes of control - absent (27%), not up to date/insufficient/in need of review (17%), schematic diagrams not up to date/did not cover all systems (10%)
  • Training - lack of training (27%)
  • Cleaning - cooling tower not clean/no cleaning of system/pack material (23%)
  • Monitoring - monitoring checks late/missed/incorrect (10%)
  • Drift eliminators - drift eliminators missing/dirty/misaligned (10%) 

Even for the known higher hazard systems evaporative cooling systems, it seems there are still a number of common issues at both a management and operational level.

3.    Sit back and enjoy the bubbles

In January 2017, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released the "Control of legionella and other infectious agents in spa-pool systems" (HSG282), adding to the HSG 274 (parts I to III) guidance issued during 2013 and 2014. As the title suggests the document, running to 62 pages, covers not just Legionella but other "infectious microbiological agents at levels which may be harmful to health."

The guidance is aimed at dutyholders (including employers and those who manage and/or operate spa-pool systems), and as well as information on "operating and maintaining commercial-type systems, there is specific advice on domestic-type spa pools or hot tubs used as part of a business activity, for example in holiday park rental units, hotel bedrooms."

Further information and copies of the full document are available for purchase or free to download through the HSE at http://www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/spa-pools.htm

4.    Another fine mess you’ve got yourself into!

Prosecutions for failure to control Legionella are not uncommon, but some of the more recent court cases are seeing a developing trend in enforcement outcomes. The effect of the sentencing guidelines for health, safety and food related offences, introduced in February 2016 can also be seen in the final example.

June 2015 - Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been fined £50,000 for failing to control \legionella. Following the death of a 78 year old patient, a joint investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Sussex Police identified a history of failing to manage Legionella.

August 2015 - Coilcolor Limited, a steel coating company based in Newport, Gwent, was fined a total of £75,000 and £28,393 in costs for long term (5 years) failings to take appropriate measures to control / manage the risks from Legionella bacteria in two cooling towers. The failings included:

  • risks from the operation of the cooling towers had not been assessed;
  • there was no written scheme; 
  • the towers were in poor condition; 
  • drift eliminators to reduce the spread of aerosol were missing; 
  • there was no water treatment programme in place; and 
  • staff had not been trained to appreciate and manage the risks.

January 2016 - Reading Borough Council was fined £100,000 with £20,000 costs following the death of a resident at a care home run by the council in November 2012. Identifying, "there was a history of Legionella problems at the home".

The Health and Safety Executive also reported, "The Legionella training for the key personnel at The Willows was significantly below the standard required. There were inadequate temperature checks and some of those done with respect to Thermostatic Mixer Valves (TMVs) were done incorrectly. Showers were not descaled and disinfected quarterly as required; flushing of little used outlets was reliant on one member of staff and there was no procedure for this to be done in the absence of that member of staff."

September 2016 - G4S Cash Solutions was fined £1.8 million after failing to reduce the risk of Legionnaires' disease from the water systems at its Harlow Cash Centre. An investigation into a non-fatal case of the illness in one of the employees at the cash centre, while local authority environmental health officers found no link to the site as the cause, did identify long term issues including:

  • monitoring and testing of systems was erratic;
  • staff had received inadequate training; and 
  • there were no up to date policies or suitable and sufficient risk assessments in place to safely operate or manage the building's water systems.

Harlow councillor Danny Purton, portfolio holder for environment, commenting on the case said, "The health and safety of our citizens is our number one priority. The fine should send a message to other companies. Legionnaires' disease is a real risk and companies need to take their health and safety duties to their employees and others seriously."

5.    HSE - Health and work strategy and plans

As a development of the "Helping GB work well" strategy launched last year, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) targeted three priority areas in January 2017, these being work-related stress, musculoskeletal disorders and occupational lung disease. 

With an aim to work "in partnership with employers, employees and the wider health and safety community to reduce the incidence rate and number of new cases for these priority areas", the HSE also indicates:

  • Work-related stress is the second most commonly reported cause of occupational ill health in Great Britain, accounting for 37% of all work-related ill-health cases, and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health. 
  • Musculoskeletal disorders are the most common reported cause of occupational ill health in Great Britain, accounting for 41% of all work-related ill-health cases and 34% of all working days lost due to ill health. 
  • Occupational lung disease continues to lead to an estimated 12 000 deaths each year.

For the latter, as well as asbestos and respirable crystalline silica (RCS), Legionella is a target for further work too.

Assurity Consulting are leading experts in workplace health, safety and environmental compliance. As an independent organisation, we can give you completely unbiased advice and support with any of the above areas. For more information on the services we provide, please contact us on tel. +44 (0)1403 269375 or email us. 

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