This expert guide explains what duty holders, including employers, landlords and other people responsible for the management of property and facilities in the UK must do to minimise the risks from Legionella bacteria and Legionnaires’ disease in their workplace. The guide highlights the UK’s primary health and safety legislation covering the control of legionella, and sets out what duty holders need to do to comply with the law. It looks at the need to appoint a competent or responsible person, the importance of the risk assessment process, how to develop a written scheme of control, what practical measures can be taken to ensure water safety is maintained, and concludes with a review of what records need to be kept and for how long.
Duty holders, landlords and employers – what you must do to control Legionnaires’ disease
If you are an employer, a landlord, duty holder or someone else in charge of premises, then it’s your legal duty to understand your health and safety responsibilities with regard to the control of Legionella bacteria and Legionnaires’ disease in the workplace.
This means that you need to identify where your legionella risks are, determine the level of risk, and then put in place a plan to manage and control these risks to keep people safe from harm.
What is Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is caused by Legionella bacteria and is a rare but serious infection affecting the lungs.
Most people who get it eventually make a full recovery, although for a small percentage of people it can be fatal.
The disease is not spread from person to person but is caught by inhaling fine droplets of water (called an aerosol) that have been contaminated with legionella.
UK health and safety law covering the control of legionella
In the UK all employers need to be aware of their responsibilities under health and safety law… ignorance is no excuse.
These responsibilities are set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA), and employers and duty holders need to understand what is required of them, even if they are not legal experts.
To support the HSWA, the basics of controlling health and safety at work are explained in a document titled the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations or MHSWR.
Additionally, more guidance can also be found in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) documents.
The Health and Safety Executive also publish an Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) L8 which deals specifically with the control of legionella in engineered water systems and how best to limit the risks from Legionnaires’ disease.
Who’s responsible for controlling Legionnaires’ disease in the workplace?
It is the employer, landlord, duty holder or person who is in control of the premises who is ultimately responsible for health and safety, including the control of Legionnaires’ disease in their workplace.
It’s their job to take steps and put into place suitably practical precautions needed to limit the risks of being exposed to Legionella bacteria.
As an employer or duty holder you should know how to:
How to identify and assess legionella risks in your workplace
If you are starting the process from scratch your first job is to carry out a legionella risk assessment… this is an essential step.
Many employers and duty holders may feel they have the skills and knowledge needed to do this themselves.
If not, you should get help from an expert employed elsewhere in your organisation, or from an external specialist such as Water Treatment Services.
Whoever is designated as being responsible for managing your legionella risks has to fully understand the water system itself, and all equipment associated with the system including heat exchangers, pumps, showers, cooling towers, spa pools, water features etc.
It’s important that you should be able to identify any parts of the water system which are likely to pose a risk of exposure to legionella.
What should a risk assessment for legionella consider?
As part of your risk assessment process you should look at:
What should a legionella risk assessment report include?
A good legionella risk assessment report should include the following, as a minimum:
What to do if your risks are considered low?
If your Legionnaires risk assessment shows that there are no identified risks, or that the risks identified are very low and that the processes in place for managing them are robust, then that is typically the end of the process.
Although you may not need to do anything more at that point, you still have the responsibility for keeping up with your current maintenance and control processes, and reviewing the legionella assessment if anything changes at a point in the future.
While employers only need to keep records of their risk assessment if they employ five or more people it is recommended that you keep a record of what has been done in case you are asked to produce such records.
Who can be the legionella responsible person?
The appointed duty holder, usually the employer, or the person designated as being in charge of the premises should appoint someone to help them take responsibility for both meeting their health and safety responsibilities, and for controlling any risks associated with Legionella bacteria.
The responsible person, or competent person, must be someone with enough knowledge of the water systems, experience, skills and authority to get things done properly.
Although there are no hard and fast rules about who has to act as the responsible person they could be:
- The employer themselves.
- One or several of the organisation’s employees.
- An external expert such as a consultant with Water Treatment Services.
Many businesses choose to share the responsible person’s role among several people, perhaps due to shift-work considerations, holiday or sickness cover.
If that is the case, it is key to make sure that everyone involved is clear about where their responsibilities lie, and how the whole risk management process fits together.
If as the duty holder you’ve decided to get someone from outside the company to work on your water systems, then the competent or responsible person still has the responsibility of making sure that their work comes up to scratch… remember, you cannot transfer your health and safety responsibilities to a third party.
Contractors and consultants must be competent to do the job
Before any legionella experts or water treatment contractors are employed, you should make sure that they are able to carry out the work required, and to an appropriate standard… they must be competent to do the job required of them.
There is lots of guidance to help you through this process, and one of the best reference guides is the British Standards Institute guide to legionella risk assessment, BS 8580-1.
How to prevent Legionnaires’ disease at work
Ideally, the starting point for preventing the risks from Legionnaires’ disease is to look at water systems during the initial design stage.
It is possible to lower the risks dramatically by, for example, designing a dry air-cooled system rather than one using a wet cooling tower.
It may also be possible to replace riskier parts of the system at a later date.
The key to prevention and control of legionella risk is to design, maintain and operate your water systems in conditions which will either stop, or limit, the growth of Legionella bacteria.
What is a legionella written scheme of control?
If your legionella risk assessment identifies a risk which you can’t prevent, then the next step is to come up with a written scheme of control which might help you manage the risk through using effective control measures.
An effective control scheme for legionella should include details about the following:
These control measures should ensure that:
What records do you need to keep?
UK health and safety law states that any business with more than five employees is required to record any significant findings from their risk assessment.
They must also record any steps which they take to either control or prevent those risks.
Companies with fewer than five employees are not legally required to keep written records, but in most cases would find it useful to have a written record of what has been done, when, results and outcomes.
Any written records associated with the control of legionella should include:
- Details of the people in charge of doing the risk assessment and managing the written scheme of control.
- Any significant findings of the legionella risk assessment.
- A copy of the legionella control scheme, and details about how it will be implemented
- Information about the state of the water system, such as which parts are in use or not in use
- Details of any inspection or monitoring, such as the dates checks were completed, and the laboratory results.
Written records should be kept for the current period, and for at least two years after the period has ended.
Details of legionella testing results and monitoring checks should be kept for a minimum of five years.
What else does the duty holder need to do?
If you have either an evaporative condenser or cooling tower on your site, companies are required to formally notify the local authority in writing.
This is because cooling towers are considered to be high risk and have the potential to distribute legionella contaminated water droplets over wide areas.
The legislation which applies in this case is the Notification of Cooling Towers and Evaporative Condensers Regulations 1992.
You need to tell your local Council where on site the condenser or cooling tower is located, and inform them if you stop using it.
Your local Environmental Health department should have the forms required for notification.
Operators of systems which include dry/wet coolers or condensers which work in a different way may or may not have to notify the local council.
The deciding factor will be whether the water systems spray water directly onto the surface of the heat exchanger.
It’s also important that employers are up to speed with the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR).
The RIDDOR rules state that if legionellosis (the generic term for diseases caused by legionella) is detected in employees who have worked in cooling towers or with hot or cold water systems, this has to be reported to the relevant authorities.
Legionella training for the duty holder and responsible person
The legionella and water safety specialists at Water Treatment Services have developed an extensive series of professional water training courses including an advanced two day legionella course developed specifically for the duty holder and responsible person.
Specialist legionella risk mitigation solutions
Water Treatment Services offer a comprehensive range of professional risk mitigation solutions for the control of legionella and Legionnaires’ disease in the workplace. We support employers, landlords, duty holders and those responsible for the safety of engineered water systems, helping them meet their health and safety obligations and so keep people safe from harm.
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, water specialists and technicians we offer cost effective water management solutions to businesses throughout the UK and Internationally.
Contact us today to learn how our expert legionella and water safety management solutions can help you meet your legal obligations and keep people safe.
Learn more about our legionella risk mitigation solutions