Legionnaires’ Disease Explained – Reduce The Risk

All employers have a duty to understand and manage the risks of Legionnaires’ Disease in order to protect their employees and keep their workplace safe. This blog covers what Legionnaires’ Disease is, those most at risk, and what actions you should implement.

What is Legionnaires’ Disease?

3d generated diagram of legionnaires disease in lungsLegionnaires’ Disease is a hazard that every employer should be aware of due to the nature of how it develops. It is part of the Legionellosis collection of diseases which are contracted by inhaling legionella bacteria and are a concern for almost all workplaces. The bacteria that cause these diseases grow in both natural water systems, such as rivers, lakes, reservoirs and ponds, and purpose-built water systems, such as hot and cold-water systems, and cooling towers.

For employers, the main consideration is likely to lie with the bacteria growing within their water systems. The likelihood of contracting Legionnaire’s disease is increased if:

  • the water temperature in all or some parts of the system may be between 20-45 °C, which is suitable for growth
  • it is possible for breathable water droplets to be created and dispersed e.g. aerosol created by a cooling tower, or water outlets
  • water is stored and/or re-circulated.
  • there are deposits that can support bacterial growth providing a source of nutrients for the organism e.g. rust, sludge, scale, organic matter and biofilms

Legionnaires’ Disease itself shows similar symptoms to pneumonia, causing coughing and breathlessness but also includes fever, tiredness, nausea, diarrhoea, and confusion.

Who is at risk of contracting it?

Infographic about the types of people at risk as described in the textAlthough it only affects a small number of the population, with 516 confirmed cases in the UK in 2019, it is fatal in roughly 10% of cases. The people who are statistically most at risk are:

  • over the age of 45
  • Smokers and heavy drinkers
  • Suffering from chronic respiratory or kidney disease
  • Diabetic, or suffering from lung or heart disease
  • With an impaired immune system.

What do I need to do to prevent Legionnaires’ Disease?

Blue document that says risk assessment on a table next to a phone and cup of coffeeIt is important to control these risks, and the HSE has created an Approved Code of Practice, ACoP-L8. This document details the steps that employers must follow to ensure that sufficient controls are in place to prevent outbreaks of legionnaires’ disease. ACoP-L8 sets out the 5 principals that employers must follow:

  • Identify and assess the source of the risk.
  • Prepare a scheme for controlling the risk
  • Implement, manage, and monitor precautions
  • Keep records of precautions
  • Appoint someone to be managerially responsible

The practical means of following these steps start with the completion of a risk assessment. This should be undertaken by a qualified assessor who will trace all pipework and inspect each asset to evaluate the risk they pose. This must be reviewed at least once every 2 years. This should highlight physical improvements that can be made to ensure that your system is up to compliance e.g. removing dead legs, upgrading tanks to code, removing redundant water.

Monthly monitoring is one of the most effective ways to prevent legionella bacteria build-up within your water system. The simplest way to do this is to test the temperature of the water sources. Cold water sources should be below 20oC, and hot water sources should reach temperatures of above 50oC within 1 minute. These water temperature monitoring results, records of tap and showerhead disinfections, and water heater inspections must be recorded in a logbook to ensure that you are compliant with ACoP-L8.

Tanks that supply drinking water should be disinfected annually. Tank disinfections should be undertaken if there are signs of contamination. During the cleaning and disinfection process, microbiological samples must be taken to ensure it is free from harmful pathogens.

WA Management can aid in creating a Legionella risk assessment tailored to your business and provide suggestions and support to ensure your business is compliant with ACoP-L8 – get in touch to find out more.

Written by Thomas Wheeler, SHEQ Trainee at WA Management.

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