Recent changes to legionella regulations by the health and safety executive (HSE) have put greater responsibility on businesses and landlords to actively manage the legionella risk in the water systems of the buildings they occupy or rent out. Failing to meet the new regulations could face prosecution so we thought we’d give you some tips on what you need to do to stay in control without boring you with the law too much!
What is Legionella?
Ingested, the bacterium Legionella pneumophilia is relatively harmless. After all, it exists in low numbers in natural water sources such as rivers, lakes and reservoirs. However, trapped in a microscopic droplet of water vapour and breathed into your lungs, it can lead to the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease. With symptoms resembling the common cold, this disease can be even more difficult to diagnose at first glance.
The warm, humid conditions created by stagnant water in storage tanks, heat exchangers and miles of piping, provide a thriving breeding-ground that can quickly harbour a breakout of Legionnaires’ disease.
What do the new rules say?
The new rules now increase the responsibility ‘dutyholders’ such as employers, landlords and those in-charge of any site, to identify and manage the risk of exposure to legionella, develop preventative and control measures, ensure the process is recorded using a regularly updated, ‘living document’ and appoint a competent authority to implement the control measures. Phew…
What do I need to do?
To make sure your system is not at risk, firstly establish whether your site is low risk or not. If you’re in a small building with no water storage tanks, where the cold water comes directly from the mains and hot water is fed directly from instantaneous or low volume water heaters at around 50 degrees Celsius, then there is very little risk of exposure to individuals. Here, the only source of risk is from toilets and hand washbasins.
If you are low risk, you don’t need to take further control action, just perform a regular risk assessment, document the process, and review it when changes are made to the system.
Where you’re operating in anything other than a small building, the risk is much higher as there are more complex water systems – lengths of pipework where water can stagnate – and identifying possible sources of contamination as well as assessing current disinfection and treatment methods.
It’s often easy to overlook the fact that although the mains utility has a responsibility to provide a bacteria-free water supply, however, pipes under buildings and facilities are often decades old, containing rust, slime and microbiological films. These are perfect environments for legionella to thrive.
It can become a nightmare to take control of this process. Luckily, the regulations make it permissible to appoint a competent authority to manage the assessment and control of legionella, making it (almost) stress free for you to manage.