Any businesses that are not fully up to speed with how their organisations could be affected by Legionnaire's disease would be well advised to review the risk it poses to their staff, visitors and wider public immediately. That's the advice from Michael Slade, managing director of health and safety advisors Bibby Consulting & Support, following the outbreak of the disease in Edinburgh which has affected over 60 people.
Legionnaire's disease is an extreme form of pneumonia and is caused by Legionella bacteria that can develop where there is warm standing water (temperatures between 20-45 degrees celcius) and substances such as sludge or rust, which are often found in tanks or pipework.
There are approximately 500 cases of Legionnaire's disease in Britain every year, of which a staggering 10% prove fatal. People become affected when contaminated water droplets become airborne such as via shower heads, saunas or spas and when those droplets are then inhaled. The most vulnerable are men over 55 who smoke or with pre-existing chest complaints, although the disease can affect anybody.
"If any business believes that they fall into these categories they need to take immediate action," said Michael Slade. "This includes carrying out a comprehensive Legionella risk assessment where a surveyor will identify the potential risk. The surveyor will then prepare an action plan for preventing or controlling the risk - such as appropriate biocide dosing. The employer must then appoint someone with managerial responsibility to implement the plan. Failure to act can put people at huge risk, so businesses have a duty to ensure that regular checks are carried out. Legionella may be present in a wide range of workplaces, and anywhere where water is sprayed or stored could be a source of risk."
Slade also warns that, rather confusingly, the term often used in relation to Legionella is 'cooling towers' but this can be anything from the familiar towers seen on power stations through to a roof- or wall-mounted air conditioning unit, which so many buildings have. "For this very reason employers must not be complacent," he said. "If in doubt seek professional advice to ensure that the potential sources of Legionella are identified and the risk managed swiftly and effectively. Not surprisingly, the Health & Safety Executive is strongly committed to combating Legionnaire's disease and will come down extremely hard on organisations that are not doing everything they can to prevent it."