Low energy, sustainability and commercial property compliance consultancy, Inteb, is calling for Legionella testing to be made compulsory, as the fight against the bacteria hots up.
Inteb says the possible mutation of the Legionella bacteria that has been noted, which allows it to survive at temperatures up to 61 degrees C, is one reason to tighten up the law. It adds that the temptation for organisations to lower the temperatures at which they are heating water, to save electricity, is another reason to introduce tighter regulation.
The engineering sector is one that needs to be aware of the risk presented by Legionella. Under current HSE legislation, organisations need to assess the risk they face from Legionella bacteria and control exposure to it. They also need to consider if staff, customers or residents are at risk, taking into account higher risk groups such as over 45s and those with illness, infirmity and weakened immune systems. If the organisation deems the risk insignificant, they need take no further action.
Inteb believes evaluation of risk should be taken out of the hands of untrained property owners, managers and employees. There are already around 9000 reported Legionella cases in the UK each year. Around 12% of these people die, with statistics rising to around half of the elderly and infirm.
Additionally, Dr Tom Makin, co-author of HSE and Department of Health advisory publications, believes 90% of UK Legionnaires' cases go unreported, thanks to poor diagnosis.
Inteb's call for tighter controls is one that has also been made by TV doctor, Dr Hilary Jones. That followed the discovery of mutations in the disease and a new resistance to the biocides supposed to prevent it developing.
Incidents in the UK during the last decade have included an outbreak in Barrow-in-Furness in 2002, which killed seven people when a contaminated cooling tower spread the disease. Another cooling tower outbreak occurred in South Wales in 2010 and one in Edinburgh in 2012 led to 50 confirmed and 49 suspected cases of Legionella infection.
In Stoke-on-Trent in 2012, a hot tub was the source of bacteria that claimed one life and led to 19 cases, while Pontins in Blackpool was prosecuted for Legionella that emanated from shower heads and sludge left sitting in a tank.
While deaths and cases in these instances were down to insufficient maintenance, Basildon Hospital was fined £275,000 in fines and legal costs when two deaths occurred as a result of budget cuts which lead to insufficient cleaning of shower heads and thermostatic valves.
Inteb's compliance manager, Amy Field, said: “It is time for key decisions on Legionella testing and prevention to be taken out of the hands of property owners and managers. Monitoring of water systems in care homes, hotels, schools and other establishments in this country has been described as 'shoddy' and with mutations in the bacteria now occurring, it is essential that more is done to control outbreaks. Until there is legislation in place that demands that property owners have professional and frequent water system testing, it is likely that we will see the number of incidents increasing and more fatalities from Legionnaires disease.”
Legionella testing should be carried out on hot and cold water systems, spa pools, cooling towers and dental systems and is a particular concern for health and social care establishments, hotels, leisure and retail complexes, schools and halls of residence, prisons, vehicle washes, managed offices and manufacturing and engineering plants.