A Short Guide to the UK’s Legionella Regulations

legionella regulations

Take a close look at your workplace and you should be able to see where the health and safety risks are. But some health hazards are better hidden than others. One of the most significant workplace health risks – legionella bacteria – is also the hardest to spot.

The UK requires all businesses and people who control commercial or residential buildings to follow specific legionella regulations to combat the threat of legionella bacteria.

Unfortunately, this nasty hazard can be present in virtually any working environment in the UK. However, you might not even be aware it’s there or that it’s a risk. It forms in water and can cause various severe health conditions.

Keep reading to learn the vital info on the UK’s legionella regulations.

Why Do We Need Legionella Regulations?

Legionella bacteria can occur where water is stored at 20°C to 45°C. Legionella bacteria are found in the wild, but they’re usually harmless since they don’t get the chance to multiply. However, manufactured water storage structures allow legionella bacteria to build up in huge numbers, which can then pose a health hazard. Legionella bacteria are typically found in commonplace water storage areas like:

  • Showerheads
  • Spas
  • Hot or cold water systems
  • Pools
  • Cooling towers
  • Humidifiers
  • Decorative water features
  • Air-conditioning systems

If a water droplet containing high levels of legionella bacteria is inhaled, it can cause life-threatening health conditions, the most serious of which is Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia that causes lung infections. Most people will require hospital treatment to recover from Legionnaires’ disease. If you don’t get treatment or if you’re a smoker or have a repressed immune system, then Legionnaires’ disease can be fatal.

There are an estimated 300-500 cases of Legionnaires’ disease reported in the UK every year. While this is still a reasonably small number, the disease can spread rapidly, and outbreaks are notoriously difficult to control once they’ve started.

The biggest recorded outbreak in the UK occurred in 2002 in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. Seven people lost their lives and 180 people became ill due to a legionella outbreak at a leisure facility. Recent studies have shown that legionella outbreaks are increasing across the UK and Europe.

Legionella bacteria can multiply to unsafe levels in as little as two weeks. Following the legionella regulations will ensure your workplace is safe and prevent an outbreak from occurring.

Legionella Awareness Training

Need training for Legionella to control the risk of this bacteria at work? Human Focus offers an online Legionella Awareness Training course, which is designed to examine the health risks associated with legionella bacteria and ways to control it to ensure safety for all.

What Are the Legionella Regulations in the UK?

If you’re a business owner, a landlord, or a building manager, you must know your responsibilities to protect your employees and the public from legionella bacteria.

Two pieces of UK health and safety legislation cover the UK’s legionella regulations:

  • The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
  • The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002

We’ve outlined the salient points to save you the trouble of trawling through pages of dull legal jargon:-

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 is the main piece of workplace health and safety legislation. It provides a framework that all places of business must follow.

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, employers must:

  • Provide adequate health and safety training to their staff
  • Provide adequate welfare provisions for their staff
  • Ensure that the working environment is safe for staff and the public
  • Provide relevant health and safety information
  • Ensure staff are properly instructed on how to perform their tasks safely
  • Ensure staff are adequately supervised

Maintaining a safe workplace means ensuring your workplace is free from legionella bacteria and your staff knows how to control the risks.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 are commonly referred to as the COSHH regulations or just COSHH for short. These regulations provide detailed guidelines on controlling the workplace risks posed by hazardous substances.

As well as covering chemicals, dust, fumes, vapours, and gas, COSHH also places a duty on managers and business owners to control the levels of legionella bacteria in the workplace water supply.

So, that’s the law part covered. Now, let’s examine how you can ensure you comply with the UK’s legionella regulations.

What Do You Need to Do to Comply with Legionella Regulations?

First, you must perform a thorough risk assessment on all hot and cold water systems and water storage systems in the workplace. A health and safety risk assessment contains five distinct steps:

  1. Identify the hazards
  2. Evaluate the level of risk
  3. Implement controls to eliminate or mediate the risks
  4. Record all your findings
  5. Review and adjust risk controls and procedures as required

When controlling the risks posed by legionella bacteria, you must have your water systems or water storage areas professionally tested and analysed. There’s no other way to identify if legionella bacteria are in your water supply.

If you’re wondering if you should have the water tested for legionella bacteria in your business, the answer is simple: Yes, you should.

The UK’s legionella regulations require that legionella testing be conducted anywhere water is stored, and there’s a risk that droplets may form and be inhaled. Does your business have running water? Toilet facilities? Chances are it does, and that means you’ll need to arrange for regular legionella testing and water analysis.

The Control of Legionella Bacteria in Water Systems

Not just anyone can test water for the presence of legionella bacteria. Only an accredited and professional provider can perform legionella risk assessments.

There are two main methods for testing water for the presence of legionella bacteria:

  • The Culture Method
  • The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Method

These procedures can only be performed in a laboratory setting after samples have been taken by a trained professional.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends testing your water every quarter or whenever there is doubt about the effectiveness of any existing legionella bacteria control measures.

The HSE provides detailed technical guidance and has an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) that explains how to implement legionella bacteria control measures.

What’s Covered in the ACoP L8 Code and HSG274 Guidance?

The HSE’s ACoP L8 Code and HSG274 Guidance outline the obligations of duty holders and responsible persons’ regarding managing the risks posed by legionella bacteria. These documents also provide information on conducting a proper legionella risk assessment and maintaining records compliant with UK legionella regulations.

According to the HSE’s ACoP L8 Code, all duty holders have a responsibility to:

  • Identify and assess sources of risk – check whether the water conditions may cause the formation of legionella bacteria. If your water supply has a temperature of between 20–45 °C, and breathable droplets can be formed (by, for example, a shower), then there is the risk that legionella bacteria may form
  • Prepare a written plan to prevent or control the risks of legionella bacteria
  • Implement, manage, and monitor control measures. This usually involves having your water analysed for the presence of legionella bacteria
  • Ensure detailed records of all risks are kept and control measures implemented
  • Appoint a competent person to supervise the control measures and ensure they comply with legionella regulations.
legionella bacteria formation

As well as outlining the obligations of landlords, building managers, and business owners, the ACoP L8 Code also details the responsibilities of water suppliers, companies that provide water-related services, and the duties of designers, manufacturers, importers, suppliers and installers of water systems.

What’s the Bottom Line When Complying with Legionella Regulations?

The consequences of not doing so can be disastrous to the health of your teams and the public. Even though it can’t be spread from person to person, outbreaks of Legionnaires disease can tear through communities in days, causing sickness and fatalities.

As well as the human toll, a legionella outbreak can have a devastating impact on your business. Your reputation will be shattered, and you may be guilty of breaching the UK’s legionella regulations. Health and safety law breaches can carry penalties of unlimited fines and terms of imprisonment.

In the Barrow in Furness case, corporate manslaughter charges were brought against the borough council. Although these charges were ultimately dropped, the council was forced to pay £125,000 in penalties.

Sign up for our Legionella Awareness Training and learn how to control the risks of legionella bacteria.

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