Water Safety is often overlooked by many employers, business owners and landlords – after all it is easy to take for granted that we can simply turn on a tap and either hot or cold water comes out, without any knowledge of whether that water can cause us harm. However, it is crucial to have the heads up on how to ensure that water systems in workplaces and managed buildings are accounted for when thinking about safety, in order to prevent harmful legionella bacteria building up and harming employees, contractors and visitors.
The legislation, regulations, supporting guidance and the processes that fall under water safety can be overwhelming but it need not be with proper training and instruction that help to understand and implement what needs to be done. What is key when working towards water safety is assessing the risk, controlling legionella and the appointment of a responsible person by the duty holder. We will explore the nature of this hazard and the training requirements for employers to ensure their water systems are safe and comply with the law.
The Human Focus Legionella Awareness courses are designed to aid those with a responsibility to keep water systems safe in meeting their legal responsibilities to ensure the protection of workers’ health against legionella diseases. The legionella awareness courses available are:
Legionella is a bacterium found in water. It is harmless in soil, rivers, lakes and reservoirs but can be very dangerous if found in purpose-built water systems such as cooling towers, air conditioning systems hot and cold water systems. Legionella pneumonia is a serious flu-like illness that can lead onto pneumonia and can even be fatal. Those at high risk of legionella infection include:
- Males aged 45 and older (although women can contract Legionnaires’ disease also)
- Heavy drinkers
- Individuals with kidney/respiratory disease
- Individuals that are immune-compromised
- Drugs takers
Legionella bacteria can be inhaled deep into the lungs by breathing in tiny droplets of water suspended in the air; these droplets are referred to as ‘aerosols’. Inhaling these contaminated droplets can lead to contracting Legionnaires’ disease, which is a serious but treatable condition. Other less serious conditions in the same family include Pontiac fever and Lochgoilhead fever. All are collectively known as Legionellosis.
Legionnaires’ disease can be life-threatening and sometimes cause long-term serious health conditions, such as:
- Respiratory failure
- Acute kidney failure
- Septic shock
- Neurological impairment
Although legionella is usually harmless when found in soil and water, it becomes a potential human health hazard when it grows in poorly maintained domestic and industrial water systems.
Legionella is transmitted via the inhalation of contaminated aerosols suspended in the air. Legionella bacteria forms, grows and multiples in water systems over a period of time given the optimum environmental conditions, such as when:
- water is being stored or re-circulated as part of a hot or cold water system
- water temperature is between 20-45°C
- there are sources of nutrients in the water such as sludge, rust and organic matter
Where one or more of these environmental conditions are present there is an increased likelihood of an individual being exposed to the risk of breathing in contaminated aerosols. To prevent legionella bacteria growth, it is important to keep water systems clean, maintained and to take regular temperature readings to ensure hot and cold water is kept within the recommended safe perimeters.
Legionella bacteria grow best in warm temperatures. Potential sources of the bacteria include:
- Showers and taps
- Cooling systems such as air conditioning units
- Cooling towers
- Hot tubs and spa baths
- Ornamental fountains and water features
- Hot water systems
- Plumbing systems
People often get confused with these two roles but put simply, the duty holder can be an individual, usually a director or senior manager with authority, or a company often referred to as the corporate body.
The duty holder has a responsibility to make sure that a suitable and sufficient legionella risk assessment is undertaken to determine whether legionella is a risk to your workforce, including contractors and visitors and if so what are the necessary steps to be taken to manage that risk. It is the duty holder’s role to appoint a Responsible Person, this will be an individual who has responsibility for the day-to-day management of legionella bacteria and the prevention of Legionnaire’s disease in the workplace.
Legionella training is beneficial to anyone who has a role in keeping water systems safe. This can be company directors, business owners, landlords, heads of service, health and safety practitioners, facilities managers, duty holders and the appointed responsible person. Individually and together, each play a part in ensuring water systems are safe. Competence is key to reducing the risks associated with legionella and training is the route to being confident and competent.
Legionella legislation requires there to be an appointed responsible person. This is the individual who will have overall responsibility for the safety of your water systems. This person must have an advanced level of expertise to discharge their duty. Suitable course will look at water safety in great detail and is based upon the Health & Safety Executive’s Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) L8 and HSG 274, two key guidance documents. Courses on general health and safety such as IOSH Managing Safely or even a NEBOSH Certificate & COSHH and PPE Awareness (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) are also beneficial.
Duty holders, landlords, business owners and facilities personnel would benefit from a good understanding of general health and safety. Completing a course on legionella awareness is also advantageous and will give real depth to their understanding.
It is always advisable to maintain knowledge with refresher training once a year. Refresher health and safety courses help to keep ones knowledge up to date with best practice, legislative changes and the latest technological advances.