Fulfilling your legal duties regarding Legionella - the risk assessment

By: Alex Winter on Dec 19, 2019

In the United Kingdom, there is a legal obligation for anyone responsible for maintaining water systems in buildings to mitigate the risk of Legionella. This is supported by prosecutions and fines for Duty Holders found to have failed to comply with regulations and endangered human health.

Employers, Health and Safety managers, and those in control of premises with a duty of care for others are required to:

  • identify and assess sources of risk
  • prepare a programme to prevent or control risk
  • implement, manage and monitor precautions
  • keep records designed to manage, monitor and control Legionella risk and potential danger to human health.

In the eyes of the law, this is not optional. You must undertake a risk assessment and you must rectify any problems.

Legionella Awareness Training

If this is all new to you, or you are unfamiliar with legionella and the associated risks, then a simple first step would be Legionella Awareness Training.

Ideally, your organisation should enrol duty holders, responsible persons, site managers, water cooling tower operators, operations staff, HSE and senior management.

The legislation states: “Those specifically appointed to implement the Legionella control measures and strategies should be suitably informed, instructed and trained and their suitability assessed. They must be properly trained to a level that ensures tasks are carried out in a safe, technically competent manner, and receive regular refresher training.” Par 51, Health & Safety Executive Approved Code of Practice L8.

For those managing healthcare or leisure facilities, there are different responsibilities and issues but these can be catered for with tailored courses to suit those industries.

A Legionella awareness course will enable you to become familiar with the relevant legislation as well as ACoP L8 and its requirements. It should cover the background to the disease, it’s causes and its effects, along with an overview of control methods. Most importantly it would outline your responsibilities and the steps to take to fulfil those responsibilities in the eyes of the law.

Urgent cases

Training is a good first step. However, if you suspect you have a problem with your water systems then you should carry out a Legionella Risk Assessment as soon as possible. You should employ the services of a company with solid expertise in dealing with water hygiene, Legionella control, and asset management in order to manage and mitigate risk to the health of employees, staff and customers, and the subsequent potential for fines, loss of business and damage to your company’s reputation.

Some possible reasons to commission a risk assessment immediately:

  • If there has been a reported case of Legionnaires' disease
  • You have inherited a building and the status of the water systems is unknown.
  • A change in use of the building where the specific water system is located
  • A change in the water system itself or assets (eg installation of a new water softener)
  • An update in relevant legislation
  • A change of key personnel within the company

Legionella Risk Assessments

A risk assessment is obligatory - it's a legal requirement. It also has to be conducted by a suitably trained person who would be regarded as "competent" in a court of law.

Consider a specialist company offering Legionella Risk Assessments or a Legionella Review of Risk Assessments carried out in-house. The member directory of the Legionella Control Association is a good source of information.

What happens during a Legionella Risk Assessment?

Here is a quick overview of the essential features of an effective Legionella Risk Assessment.

If you have had previous assessments, then a typical first step would be to review those records and review whether previously recommended work has been carried out.

A tour of the site would be undertaken to inspect all water sources and systems. A particular focus would be on water storage and any element of the system that has the potential to create water droplets (aerosols).

As temperature is a key factor in the viability of Legionella, measurements of temperature would be taken at key locations.

As certain groups are more at risk than others, an assessment of the risks to any people on site – such as employees, visitors or tenants – would be undertaken.

What do you get from a Legionella Risk Assessment?

Following a risk assessment, you should receive a comprehensive report detailing any issues found, and a set of recommendations for work needed to reduce the risk from Legionella.

Ideally, you would receive a schematic drawing of the water systems, showing equipment and associated risks.

In addition, a photographic register of assets may be produced – a very useful visual reference that can be related to the schematic and the report.

What do I do after a Legionella Risk Assessment?

One of the key requirements of the legislation is that you keep accurate, and appropriate records. All works carried out on the water systems should be recorded in a logbook.

Because there is a very real, and on-going risk, there should be control systems in place, along with regular monitoring and maintenance.

Will a Legionella Risk Assessment keep me safe from prosecution?

Simply commissioning a risk assessment will not protect you from potential prosecution – you will need to demonstrate that you have taken on board any recommendations and carried out any recommended remedial work, along with a documented programme of continuous measurement and monitoring.

If an outbreak does occur, you may still find your company in court, but having a risk assessment and followed its recommendations is likely to result in a more positive outcome. If it can be shown that you ignored the Legionella risk and did nothing, then a fine is almost inevitable.

Apart from the potential for fines, there is also the moral responsibility of ensuring that your workforce, visitors and other people present on your site are kept safe from the potentially lethal risk of Legionnaire’s Disease – which after all, is the reason for the legislation.

Anyone responsible for a water system has to deal with the threat of Legionella – there are no exceptions. Put a plan in place now.

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Topics: Legionella Control

Alex Winter

Written by Alex Winter

Alex is a Marketing Contributor and has 5+ years in water treatment and ACoP L8 compliance and works across all six linked areas of the business; Water Treatment, Waste Water, Water Hygiene, Air Hygiene, Engineering and Legionella Training.