Legionella comprises of a group of naturally occurring bacteria, low levels of which can typically be found in most naturally bodies of water including ponds, lakes and rivers. The levels of naturally-occurring legionella is typically too low to cause a risk to humans but when the bacteria is found in man-made water systems the risk of human infection increases significantly. The reason behind this increased risk is that the conditions found within man-made systems are often ideal for the incubation and multiplication of legionella bacteria.
Infection from Legionella bacteria occurs when aerosolised water droplets containing the bacteria are inhaled. Because of this, the highest risk comes from open systems and spray producing outlets such as taps and showers where the bacteria is contained within minute droplets of water discharged from the system.
The size and complexity of a water system will have a direct correlation with the level of risk, for example a simple, domestic water system will provide less opportunity for the reproduction of legionella compared to a complex commercial one. Because of the amount of people that can typically use, visit, work or live in larger residential and commercial properties, these systems carry a higher risk of infecting a greater number of people which can result in an outbreak/epidemic.
It is this higher level of risk, as well as the consideration of legal regulation and liabilities, which make regular testing and risk assessments in larger or commercial properties an essential consideration.
What is Legionnaires Disease?
Legionella is a slow growing bacteria which can grow and multiply in water systems and is most commonly known for being the main cause of Legionnaires' disease as well as the spread of other illnesses such as Pontiac fever.
Legionnaires disease is a very serious, acute infection that primarily affecting the lungs, with symptoms closely resembling those of pneumonia, unfortunately in some cases it can be fatal.
During the early stages of Legionnaires' disease, a sufferer is likely to demonstrate mild, flu-like symptoms such-as:
- Aches and pains of the muscles
- Fluctuations in temperature
- Headaches (mild)
- Feelings of confusion or fatigue
It is important that, once identified, Legionnaires' disease is treated quickly as the bacterial infection can continue to grow, causing more serious symptoms. Sufferers of advanced Legionnaires are likely to experience difficulty in breathing, chest pains and a persistent cough which can be accompanied by the coughing up of phlegm, or in worse cases, blood. Survivors can often take over a year to recover fully but there can often be long term health problems as a result of the disease such as chronic fatigue and
neurological symptoms as well as respiratory issues.
There is no doubt that Legionella can be incredibly dangerous which is why it is essential to carry out regular risk assessments and testing in order to prevent an outbreak from occurring.
What You Need To Know About Legionella Risk Assessments
Every UK business, regardless of their size or scope is legally required to conduct regular legionella risk assessments to identify potential issues and to keep employees, customers, and others safe.
Legionella risk assessments are a crucial part of legionella control that work to pinpoint possible dangers and set out the measures that should be taken in order to rectify them or in cases where levels of bacteria are too high, to reduce them back down to a safe amount.
All landlords, employers, owners, managers and operators of commercials premises such as - hotels, offices, stadiums, healthcare, education and social housing, have an obligation to understand and manage the Legionella risk within their properties.
It is their responsibility to ensure that the risk of exposure to tenants, visitors, employees and residents is properly assessed and controlled by undertaking and completing regular Legionella Risk Assessments of all water systems.
Legionella bacteria is considered to be ‘preventable’ because when reasonable precautions are taken it can be kept under control and there are stiff penalties for businesses that do not take the required steps. In the event that there is an outbreak of legionnaires disease at a property which you manage, own or are in charge of, you will need to be able to provide tangible evidence that you took every reasonable measure within your power to reduce, manage and control the risk of legionella exposure. You will be required to provide the relevant authorities with proof of the appropriate legionella control measures you have taken which will include an up to date risk assessment as well as records of all water system maintenance, monitoring and testing.
Failure to be able to provide sufficient evidence of your attempts to control the risk of legionella exposure can have severe consequences including legal action, substantial penalties and in some cases, a prison term.