The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) consider Legionnaires disease to be a preventable disease and it’s therefore treated as such by the law. Moreover, health and safety law underpins the statutory obligations of; duty holders, employers or those in control of premises which pose a risk to occupiers with respect to acquiring Legionnaires’ disease. The Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) provides specific advice on the health and safety law which applies and the associated duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and HSG274 (Parts 1,2 &3) provide prescriptive guidance notes on how to comply with these duties – stressing that compliance is the ‘minimum requirement’ and should the recommendations detailed in HSG274 not be followed then compliance will need to be demonstrated by other means – in order to satisfy the HSE that risk has been suitably mitigated.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 also provides a broad framework for controlling health and safety at work and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) provide a framework for mitigating risks associated with hazardous substances – including biological agents such as Legionella.
COSHH identifies a requirement to provide a risk assessment and highlights the importance of preventing or controlling hazardous substances in as far as what’s considered reasonable and practicable, whilst stressing the importance of ensuring that staff are suitably trained on the risks associated with hazardous substances. These considerations form the backbone of Legionella risk assessments (conforming to the requirements of BS8580) for which there is a legal requirement under health and safety law. Therefore, as Legionnaires’ disease is a foreseeable and preventable risk which can be suitably mitigated by a mandated management process - detailed in the site-specific risk assessment, a lack of knowledge is not considered a reasonable legal defence when individuals are affected by this pathogen as a result of poorly managed water distribution systems.
Moreover, should acquiring this pathogen prove to be fatal – following a period of exposure from a poorly maintained water system and it’s beyond ‘all reasonable doubt’ that this pathogen was acquired from such a system then this may be considered a ‘criminal offence’ tantamount to manslaughter - possibly resulting in imprisonment and a financial penalty for the duty holder and or those responsible for providing microbiologically safe water (depending on the devolution of responsibility within the hierarchy of authority within an organisation). It’s therefore of paramount importance that; all buildings comprising of a water distribution system are suitably assessed for Legionella risk and that all individuals with a responsibility (operationally and managerially) for the provision of microbiologically safe water, understand their role within the organisation’s hierarchy of authority and work together to deliver a service that; protects the public from waterborne pathogens such as Legionella and complies with the law.
Failings in this aspect of Legionella training have resulted in the following:
Bupa, Brentwood care home legionnaires death in 2015: manager was too busy to do necessary Legionella training. The HSE reported a number of failings in relation to temperature control, TMV’s, dead legs, record keeping and not implementing recommendations.
Reading Borough Council was fined £100,000 following an investigation in to the death of a pensioner who died in 2012 from exposure to legionella. Legionella training for key personnel was significantly below the standard required.
Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS FT fined for the death of a susceptible patient in 2011. Due to serious control failures and a lack of sufficient instruction, training and supervision in order to make an informed decision for appropriate action to be taken.
Articles like these highlight the considerable pressure to ensure the right steps are being taken to manage and assess the risk of exposure to legionella and how essential water hygiene training is.
In order to ensure compliance to the aforementioned legal considerations and regulation, it’s advised that all key stakeholders [RP / AP / CP to name a few possible roles] with a water quality responsibility partake in Legionella training and demonstrate key competencies in this regard. The Water Safety Group (WSG) within its defined Terms of Reference has responsibility for developing and ensuring compliance to training matrices, which should be reviewed by the WSG periodically.
Editors Note: The information provided in this blog is correct at date of original publication - September 2017.
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