Under UK health and safety legislation, employers are obligated to maintain safe working conditions for their employees. Legionella awareness training is part of this legal responsibility. However, there is nothing in current legislation that mandates how often legionella training must be renewed. While this allows organisations greater flexibility, many employers and managers are unsure of how often they should refresh their staff’s legionella training.
Water-borne diseases caused by legionella bacteria are a common risk. So, it is vital that you understand what you need to do to protect your staff and the public.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the risks of legionella, how training to understand legionella can help you can avoid these risks, and how often you should update your legionella training.
What you need to know about Legionella
Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) appear naturally in water sources like ponds, rivers, and reservoirs. In nature, legionella bacteria are generally only found in small amounts, so pose no threat to human health. Under the right circumstances, however, larger outbreaks of legionella bacteria can occur in man-made water systems.
Legionella bacteria spread to humans via the inhalation of droplets of moisture in the air. Once ingested, legionella bacteria can cause a range of illnesses known collectively as Legionellosis. These conditions include Pontiac fever, Lochgoilhead fever, and the life-threatening Legionnaires’ disease.
Where do Legionella outbreaks occur?
Legionella bacteria can develop in water that is kept at a temperature range between 20-45°C. Sludge, scale, rust, and build-ups of organic matter provide the nutrients that Legionella needs to survive. Any building that re-circulates water or has water storage capabilities is at risk from a legionella outbreak.
Outbreaks of legionella often happen in hospitals, medical facilities, retirement homes, gyms, and offices. It is exceedingly rare for a serious legionella outbreak to occur in a domestic residence.
Areas where legionella bacteria are most commonly found include:
- Plumbing systems
- Air conditioning units
- Showerheads and taps
- Spa baths, saunas, and hot tubs
- Swimming pools
- Cooling towers
- Water features
- Hot water heaters
- Medical equipment
- Ice machines
The dangers of Legionella to your health
Legionnaires’ disease is the main threat to health posed by outbreaks of legionella bacteria. A severe form of pneumonia, Legionnaires’ disease is fatal to roughly 7-12% of those infected, according to research by Public Health England. Up to 250 cases of Legionnaires’ disease are confirmed in England and Wales each year, according to the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The HSE also states that cases of Legionnaires’ disease are commonly under-reported. For this reason, the number of actual cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the UK is likely to be much higher than what the official figures state.
While cases of Pontiac fever and Lochgoilhead fever often resolve on their own, most people who develop Legionnaires’ disease require hospitalisation and specialised treatment. Legionnaires’ disease can result in respiratory failure, kidney failure, septic shock, and neurological impairment.
Who can catch Legionnaires' Disease?
Legionnaires’ disease can affect people of all ages and all fitness levels. However, if you are a male over the age of 45, a heavy drinker or smoker, or a drug user, you are in a high-risk category. People who have compromised immune systems or who have a kidney or respiratory illness are also highly susceptible to Legionnaires’ disease.
Symptoms of Legionnaires' Disease
Legionnaires’ disease has a range of symptoms, including coughing, diarrhoea, being short of breath, fever, headaches, and chest and muscle pain. People who have Legionnaires’ disease often report feeling confused or disorientated.
Legionnaires’ disease is treated with antibiotics and providing oxygen using a face mask or nasal tubes. In severe cases, a ventilator may be needed.
It can take weeks to fully recover from Legionnaires’ disease. Many people suffer from long term health problems as a result of contracting Legionnaires’ disease.
What is Legionella Awareness Training?
This type of training provides participants with a deeper understanding of the risks of legionella bacteria and how to effectively avoid these risks. Trainees will learn what legionella is, how it spreads, how to recognise the symptoms of Legionellosis, and how to avoid outbreaks of legionella from occurring.
The relevant UK health and safety legislation is also covered so organisations can ensure they stay compliant. Legionella awareness training outlines:
Who Requires Legionella Awareness Training?
Under UK health and safety law, a person in charge of a property is designated as a ‘duty holder’. This person can be a landlord, an employer, or a manager. Duty holders must appoint a ‘responsible person’ to oversee the safety of any water sources. The responsible person can be the duty holder themselves, an employee, or a third party.
Legally speaking, only the responsible person is required to undertake legionella awareness training. However, the more staff that are aware of the dangers of legionella, the better your chances are of avoiding an outbreak.
How Often Should Legionella Training Be Carried Out?
To comply with health and safety legislation, employers must ensure that the workplace is safe. For this reason, they need to ensure that their staff have an appropriate level of legionella awareness. Participating in training is the best way to gain this knowledge.
Once awarded, a legionella awareness certificate will not expire. However, current guidelines recommend that staff take refresher training once every two years, or when a major structural change takes place in workplace water supply systems.
Finding Suitable Legionella Awareness Training
Human Focus offers several options for Legionella awareness training, from basic awareness level training to more advanced training for responsible persons. This training requires no prior subject knowledge and is fully approved by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
Trainees who successfully complete the course will be awarded certification. To further expand health and safety knowledge, legionella training can be supplemented with the IOSH Managing Safely and the COSHH and PPE Awareness (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) courses offered by Human Focus.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long is Legionella training?
There are various types of legionella training available and the length of study varies based on what is required. Basic awareness training to help workers understand the risks of the bacteria can be as short as a half an hour, when conducted online.
Employers and those responsible for premises should undertake risk management training. This training is much more in depth and covers everything they need to understand to fulfil their role in respect to Legionella. This type of training can be about three hours in length. However, when completed online it can be done in shorter increments whenever the user has time available.
What is a Legionella risk assessment?
A legionella risk assessment involves a thorough examination of a building or workplace’s water sources. The assessment will include the name and duties of the responsible person and a description of any water systems in the workplace. Potential risks are to be recorded along with any current risk control measures.
The risk assessment also entails a detailed review of any records kept of previous assessments. Monitoring, inspection, and maintenance processes must also be recorded along with the results of such processes. A future review date must be set at the end of the assessment.
Is a Legionella risk assessment mandatory?
Yes, a legionella risk assessment is a legal requirement under the HSE Approved Code of Practice L8 (ACoP L8). Furthermore, a risk assessment must be done at least once every 24 months or “regularly and specifically when there is reason to suspect it is no longer valid.”
Who is responsible for Legionella risk assessment?
Legionella risk assessments must be done by the responsible person appointed by the duty holder, as mandated by the HSE code of practice. The responsible person must ensure that the water supply or the water containment systems in the workplace comply with all relevant health and safety legislation.
What is a high Legionella count?
A high legionella count in any water system (excluding cooling towers) is any amount above 100 colony forming units per litre (CFU/L). This has been determined by an algorithm as laid out in the HSE’s guidance on Legionnaires’ disease (HSG274 Part 2), and the document ‘Responding to the detection of legionella in healthcare premises’ published by Public Health England. The detection limit for legionella is currently set as <= 100 legionella bacteria per sample litre.
A legionella outbreak is considered to be a health hazard if the reading is above 1,000 CFU/L. It is recommended that a decontamination process be performed immediately if readings are at or above this level.
How is water tested for Legionella?
Testing water for legionella must be performed by a qualified person. Samples must be processed by a laboratory accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) that participates in a water microbiology proficiency testing scheme. The sampling and analysis methodology used must be in accordance with the UK codes of practice BS 7592 and BS 6068. Usually, it takes up to ten days for a laboratory to analyse a water sample.
What is a safe level of Legionella?
Water that has a culture sample rate of less than 100 colony forming units per litre (CFU/L), is considered safe according to the HSE. However, many experts contend that there is no real safe level of legionella. There have been accounts of outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease caused by water with very low levels of legionella bacteria, as reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Any complex water supply or storage systems should be regularly rested for legionella.