Unmasking the Risk of Legionella: Looking Beyond the Outbreaks
As recent outbreaks of Legionella continue to dominate headlines, it is more important than ever for home and building owners to understand the potential risks of this bacteria to their health and wellbeing.
In recent months, the issue of Legionella has hit various news cycles. In July, the Royal Alexandra Hospital, Paisley, announced that it was removing patients from two wards after traces of Legionella were found in the water supply.
More recently, on the 7th August, the Home Office announced that it was removing 39 asylum seekers from the Bibby Stockholm vessel after samples from the water system showed levels of Legionella bacteria.
Although these are considered isolated incidents, it has posed the prominent question of whether human-made water systems are at threat from the deadly bacteria.
What is Legionella?
Legionella bacteria has been implicated as a transmission mode for a type of pneumonia known as Legionnaires disease. This is an uncommon but serious lung infection that can cause long-term health problems and death. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 10 cases of the disease are fatal.
What are the common symptoms of Legionnaires Disease?
Common symptoms of Legionnaires disease include:
- Shortness of breath
- A cough
- Chest pain or discomfort
- A high temperature
- Flu-like symptoms
For a full list of Legionella symptoms and more information, visit the NHS website.
Where Is Legionella Found?
Legionella is naturally found in freshwater sources, such as lakes, streams, and reservoirs. However, the bacteria can also be found in human-made water systems. These include:
- Showerheads and taps
- Hot tubs and spas
- Decorative fountains and water features
- Cooling towers
Legionella bacteria is more likely to be present in water systems that have been left dormant for long periods. This gives the bacteria chance to grow and multiply within the water system and then spread through water droplets, which people using the appliances breathe in.
Legionella Regulations and Testing.
In the UK, the principal regulations covering Legionella are the primary health and safety laws. These include:
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations
- The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
If you are an employer or landlord, it is your responsibility to understand and manage the health and safety risks of Legionella. If there is an outbreak of Legionella on your premises or someone contracts Legionnaires disease from your premises, your business may be liable and face heavy fines.
Legionella Risk Assessment: How to reduce your risk.
The first step towards ensuring that your home or building is safe from Legionella is to undertake a Legionella Risk Assessment.
For sites with large and complex water systems, such as swimming pools, routine testing should be carried out regularly. For domestic properties, testing is not a requirement. However, it remains a recommended measure to ensure the health and safety of the building occupants (particularly if water systems have been left dormant for long periods).
A Legionella Risk Assessment is carried out by a professional who will have in-depth knowledge and experience of Legionella bacteria. Elmhurst has a number of skilled Legionella Risk Assessors across the country who will assess your property and highlight any risk in place.
Elmhurst’s Tony Robinson, Legionella Risk Assessment Scheme Coordinator, says:
“We recommend that everyone utilises an Elmhurst registered Legionella Risk Assessor to understand their potential risk to this life-threatening disease.
Our risk assessors are trained and competent to undertake this vital assessment of a dwelling to highlight any issues or concerns, allowing you as the landlord or homeowner to take vital steps in reducing the risk to people occupying the property.”