Due to the recent confinement and lockdown in the United Kingdom with most institution and business premises temporarily closed, health and safety tests may not have been performed including Legionella bacteria testing. But we still have to comply with safety laws; organisations and businesses have a duty of care to protect their workers and employees as well as customers and visitors from exposure to the risk of Legionella bacteria.
What exactly is Legionella?
Legionnaires’ disease, caused by Legionella bacteria, is a fatal form of pneumonia caused by the inhalation of contaminated water droplets containing Legionella. Most hot and cold-water systems can provide an environment where Legionella bacteria can grow.
Where conditions are favourable, like suitable growth temperatures; water droplets generated and dispersed; water stored etc, then Legionella bacteria can multiply, hence increasing the actual risk of exposure. The organism can colonise any water system so they require risks to be managed efficiently.
There are currently no vaccines that can actually prevent Legionnaires’ disease. The key to preventing Legionella and Legionnaires’ disease is to ensure that building managers and owners maintain the water systems in working order to minimise the risk of Legionella growth.
Is Legionella training mandatory?
Some buildings and premises will need in-house Legionella experts who will need to complete a training course. Legionella training is actually a legal requirement for individuals who have a level of responsibility when it comes to the control and prevention of Legionella. The Health and Safety Executive or HSE, on their L8 guidance about Legionella states that poor management, lack of training and insufficient communication are contributory factors when it comes to outbreaks of legionnaires’ disease. It is extremely important that the individuals involved in evaluating risks and implementing precautions are sufficiently trained, competent and fully aware of their responsibilities.
Current regulations require workers to make full use of those control measures. Workers are required to implement arrangements for the management of safety and health, to have access to reliable safety advice and to provide workers with sufficient information, training and instruction.
The Health and Safety Executive or HSE highlights the importance of suitable Legionella training of relevant members of the staff by bringing up the question: are the roles of all members of the staff involved in the control clearly defined and have they received suitable training?
The Legionella training frequency should be proportionate to workers’ ability to retain information about the bacteria. New employees starting with certain level of responsibility when it comes to Legionella control and prevention need to receive suitable training upon starting their role. It is recommended that training for relevant members of the staff is carried out once per year in order to refresh knowledge.
Legionella is different to other bacteria. Legionnaires’ disease is a fatal type of pneumonia, usually contracted by inhaling airborne water droplets containing viable Legionella bacteria. These droplets can be created, for instance, by water outlets, wet air conditioning and hydrotherapy baths, among other things.
Testing for Legionella
While the implemented control measures might need to be adapted to ever-changing circumstances, the responsible individual needs to be able to demonstrate control of the risks to a reasonably practicable level.
Legionella can usually colonise water systems that remain at temperatures between twenty and forty-five degrees Celsius, where a nutrient source is available enabling growth. As many companies and large firms increasingly move to remote and homeworking arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for water in several office and commercial buildings will be considerably reduced. As demand goes down, the risk of stagnation increases. With lower turnover we can definitely see increases in temperatures of the water as pipes warm to ambient levels. This risk might be increased even further as the available maintenance engineers is reduced due to illness, lockdowns or travel restrictions.
It is advisable to continue providing access to your building or site to enable the engineer of your choice to maintain Legionella testing services and, whether or not the staff or engineer is provided access, to continue communicating with service providers, they will be able to advise you on suitable adaptations to the control scheme in response to the potential change in circumstances and increase in risk.