Industry urges compliance after legionnaires deaths in Scotland

Published:  28 June, 2012

B&ES and bathroom manufacturer Inta is warning the industry to be vigilant following the recent legionnaires disease deaths in Scotland.

Two people have died and others remain in intensive care after contracting legionnaires disease, which investigators apparently believe originated in one or more cooling towers in the area.The incident demonstrates the seriousness of poor maintenance in failing to control legionella in a building’s water system.

B&ES Publications is urging businesses and building owners to follow a strict programme of maintenance to ensure compliance with statutory obligations and prevent penalty and prosecution.

Alan Gregory, chairman of the B&ES Service and Facilities Group, said: “Our industry is acutely aware that legionella bacteria is always present, just waiting for the right set of conditions to allow it to manifest. This cannot be ignored. As building owners, managers and contractors, it is our responsibility and we must act now.”

Past cases of legionella outbreaks include cider-maker HP Bulmer and its water treatment contractor Nalco Ltd, which were prosecuted under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and fined over £300,000 each. There is also the danger of prosecution and a lengthy prison sentence under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 for death through a gross breach of a duty of care. Gregory believes it is "only a matter of time before we witness the first conviction".

Alan Gregory said: “The maintenance of building services can be realistically prioritised, accurately budgeted for and reliably delivered with a customised programme of maintenance and refurbishment.”

Many contractors rely on the maintenance schedules defined by B&ES Publications’ SFG20, which B&ES said is widely regarded as the industry standard for businesses or individuals responsible for maintaining, managing or specifying the maintenance of building services. A web-based service, such as SFG20, will ensure maintenance schedules are always up to date and will keep equipment operating at its best.

Meanwhile, anti-scald tap, valve and shower manufacturer Inta is also reminding engineers and installers how to safeguard against the bacteria without running the risk of bathroom scalding.

Stuart Gizzi, director at Inta, said: “The outbreak of Legionella in Scotland, which to date has claimed the lives of two and infected over 80 more, is a worrying state of affairs.

“Although in this instance the outbreak is thought to originate from cooling towers which have a whole different maintenance regime to bathrooms, it has proven to be a painful reminder of how necessary it is to take precautions against the infection, whether it be in the home or in a care or commercial setting.

“Our publications and online resources include information about reducing the risk of legionella through correct specification and installation, followed by scheduled maintenance checks.

“Legionella is a bacterium that thrives in tepid and warm water, at temperatures of around 20 to 45 degrees and can occur when taps and showers have been left unused for a considerable period of time. Large buildings such as hotels, hospitals, schools and office blocks can be more susceptible to contamination, as they have larger complex water supply systems where bacteria can easily thrive.

“The obvious solution is to heat water to very high temperatures in order to destroy the bacteria, but a concerning number of bathrooms and washrooms are not fitted with the sort of technology that can bring the water back down to safe temperatures for the user. This is a dangerous trade-off, as even moderately hot water can cause as much, if not more, physical harm as the risk of Legionnaires disease.

"Nursing and residential care homes tend to heat water to incredibly high temperatures for effective kitchen and laundry use. In these cases, the fitting of TMV3 thermostatic mixing valve close to the outlet is mandatory and is the only way to safeguard against both scalding and Legionella.

“Under health and safety law, all companies, establishments and services 'have to consider the risks from Legionella that may affect your staff or members of the public and take suitable precautions'. Employers or persons in control of premises must identify and assess sources of risk, prepare a course of action for preventing or controlling the risk, keep records of checks and changes and nominate a specific person to carry out the above responsibilities.

"We would always advise that washrooms are maintained and routinely checked. Part of this upkeep should include flushing taps with hot water regularly, but only when they are isolated from use, in addition to using appropriate water treatments, cleaning products and disinfectants.

“A risk assessment should be carried out every two years and more frequently if there have been changes to the water systems or the building use. It is vital that checks are carried out, as Legionella can thrive in domestic buildings water systems where there is a build-up of sediment - something that both hot water and chemical treatments cannot prevent. While it may seem tedious, these simple steps ensure safety is always high on the agenda - with absolutely no compromise.

“It is a fair assumption that products have been correctly specified and fitted. The most important thing is to remember to carry out the scheduled maintenance - something installers should be mindful to communicate to customers who, without the levels of plumbing expertise, need guidance and education to make bathrooms safe.”

For further advice from the Health and Safety Executive visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/iacl27.pdf

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