Since first being identified following the outbreak at the convention of the American Legion in Philadelphia in 1976 much work has gone into identifying what conditions favour the growth and proliferation of the bacteria in man-made water systems.
Although Legionella Pneumophila and other related bacteria are naturally occurring organisms, the diseases they cause are wholly preventable through good management, maintenance and design.
Management procedures to identify and assess the risk of Legionellosis and to record all actions, and engineering and maintenance solutions to remove and reduce those risks identified can be implemented to reduce the risk of infection.
If you are an employer or are responsible for the control of premises you have a duty to ensure that any systems under your control do not pose a threat of infection.
Whilst there is no legislation specifically associated with Legionellosis, the risks posed by the proliferation and infection from these bacteria are addressed by several different pieces of current legislation:
- The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA).
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR).
- Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002 (COSHH).
- Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR).
- The Notification of Cooling Towers and Evaporative Condensers Regulations 1992.
To assist you to safely fulfil your responsibilities the Health and Safety Executive have produced several publications including an approved code of practice and guidance ‘The Control of Legionella Bacteria in Water Systems’ (ACoP L8).
This document lays down specific guidance relating to the control and management of Legionella. It states that you should:
- Identify and assess sources of risk.
- Prepare a programme for preventing and controlling the risk.
- Implement, manage and monitor the precautions.
- Keep records of those precautions.
- Appoint a person to be managerially responsible.
Only by fully complying with these actions can you safely discharge your duties.
Should those responsible for these actions fail to discharge their duties correctly and an outbreak of Legionellosis occurs then they will be liable for prosecution.
In cases where the outbreak leads to deaths then the prosecution may ultimately result in charges of Corporate Manslaughter being levelled at those deemed responsible.
Following the Barrow-in-Furness outbreak in 2002 both the council and individual officers were prosecuted for manslaughter and, although the prosecution failed, heavy fines were levied against both parties for failing to comply with health and safety regulations.
Following the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 future cases stand a greater chance of a successful prosecution.