Here we take a look at what it means to be the duty holder, responsible for the control of legionella and Legionnaires’ disease risks in a business. In the UK legionella control is just one of the many issues which business owners, directors and senior managers have to be on top of – it’s a legal requirement.
Outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease are rare but have serious consequences
Fortunately, outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease which causes serious illnesses and death are rare, but are much more likely in companies which either don’t understand how and where Legionella bacteria can grow, or do understand the risks but choose not to do anything about it. In the UK fines for non-compliance with legislation to control legionella risk are high, and the Health and Safety Executive can and do prosecute. The highest fines to date include £3 million levied against BUPA following a death at one of their care homes and £1.8 million against G4S in 2016, after the company was found guilty of a serious lack of compliance in maintaining its water systems.
Don’t panic – help is at hand
If you’ve been designated as a duty holder for the control of legionella in your workplace, don’t panic. There is lots of help and guidance out there to help you understand what your responsibilities are, and how to establish a legally compliant programme of legionella control measures that will help to protect your employees, customers and others.
The primary documents you should familiarise yourself with are the Health & Safety Executives Approved Code of Practice ACOP L8, dealing with legionella and Legionnaires’ disease, and their guidance document HSG274.
What is a duty holder for legionella?
Legionella only becomes an issue for businesses which have water systems at their premises or where they have control, as it is in stagnant water where legionella bacteria can thrive. Legionella risks can come from lots of different water systems, not just where water is used in a manufacturing process, it can mean any type of system where water is:
- Stored or recirculated around a system
- Where the water temperatures are over 20oC but under 45oC
- Where rust, organic matter or sludge is present in the water system
- Where the system isn’t sealed and there is the possibility for water droplets (an aerosol) escaping from shower heads, cooling towers, fountains, sprinklers.
The most common types of water systems which cause legionella to grow and multiply are typically wet cooling towers, humidifiers, emergency showers, little used outlets, spa pools and evaporative condensers. If you are unsure about whether the set up in your business poses a risk form legionella or not then don’t guess or assume you’re not – either get an independent legionella risk management company such as Water Treatment Services in to advise, or explore the excellent guidance on the Health & Safety Executive website.
As a duty holder what are my responsibilities?
If there is a perceived risk of legionella in your business, then as the duty holder there are a number of things which you should do. This applies whether you are an employee in a business, the owner or director of that business, in charge of managing facilities across several sites or a landlord in a privately rented property. Your legionella responsibilities can be broken down into five main categories:
- Identifying and assessing the risk from legionella
- Devising a written scheme for preventing and controlling any risk that you have identified
- Putting in place a system for managing the legionella risk
- Keep comprehensive records including legionella risk assessments, inspections and test results
- Appoint a “competent person” who has enough authority within the company and knowledge about how the water system works to take the measures needed to control the risk. This role is sometimes referred to as the responsible person.
The buck stops with you!
The duty holder is the person with whom the buck stops should anything go wrong and Health & Safety inspectors step in to investigate problems with regulatory compliance in your company. Sometimes, the duty holder and the “competent person” or responsible person whose job it is to either do or arrange for risk assessments to be carried out, and put in place measures to control risk are one and the same, but this is rarely the case.
In larger organisations, the competent or responsible person is likely to be a senior safety or engineering manager, an estates or facilities manager or some other senior manager with responsibility for the fabric and maintenance of the premises. The duty holder is usually more senior, and holds a greater degree of responsibility for all issues within a business.
Appointing a competent or responsible person
Duty holders have a variety of options when it comes to appointing their competent or responsible person for the control of legionella. They can of course take on the responsibility themselves, if they are prepared to put the time and effort into learning about legionella and putting into place the controls and systems needed – to do this they must be competent to carry out the role.
They can also nominate someone else within their organisation to take the responsibility, assuming there is someone with the right level of knowledge, competence and responsibility.
Finally, there is the option of outsourcing your legionella control to an external company. The advantage of this is that you will be dealing with experts in their field, the downside is obviously that there is a cost associated with this.
It’s a legal requirement
You can’t opt out of having a duty holder – it’s a legal requirement in any building which is legally classed as a workplace. You’re also legally obliged to inform your local council, in writing, if you have either a cooling tower or evaporative condenser on site. If you stop using either of these, you must then again inform the council.
Reporting of Legionnaires’ disease under RIDDOR
If, despite all of your best precautions, a case of Legionnaires’ disease affects one of your employees, and it is suspected that they have contracted the infection from their workplace, this has to be reported through RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations).
Taking on the role of the duty holder when you’re a landlord
In guidance issued by the Health and Safety Executive in 2014, people operating as private landlord and lettings agents are also defined as duty holders. While simple domestic properties tend to pose a lower risk from legionella, especially if the water systems are managed correctly you still have to make sure you’re addressing the risks and complying with the legislation.
Whether you are the landlord of just one rental property or have a rental portfolio of several different properties, then remember that the buck stops with you when it comes to making sure that your tenants are protected against legionella risks. There’s plenty of help out there, from free downloads on the HSE website to external experts such as Water Treatment Services to guide you through the process. The one thing that you shouldn’t do is nothing, as non-compliance could result in prosecution, and hefty fines.
World-class legionella control and water management solutions
Water Treatment Services is a leading water safety, air, energy and environmental services company offering expert water management solutions including the management of legionalla and other waterborne pathogens, risk assessment, control programmes and engineering support services.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained engineers, site service specialists and technical experts we can offer water safety solutions across the whole of the UK.
Contact us today to learn how our legionella risk management solutions can help you.
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