Develop Calls for Action
Published by Develop Scotland on Wed 20 Jun 12 @ 11:03
Tony Green, Develop Training.
Leading technical trainer Develop Training says industry must react swiftly to the current outbreak of Legionnaires' disease or risk losing the confidence of the public.
The outbreak, which hit the headlines at the beginning of June, is currently being investigated by The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) although the source of the outbreak may never be conclusively identified, based on experience from previous occurrences. The current outbreak has so far resulted in the death of two men and has affected over 89 people in total; five are now taking legal action.
Tony Green Business Manager for Water Systems at Develop Training comments "Almost every year there is a large reported outbreak of Legionnaires' disease which raises awareness of the issue, but is there more that could be done before it gets to this stage? What could be done to try and prevent or minimise outbreaks in the future? Should we focus on greater awareness or higher training requirements or even more stringent controls?"
The UK's most serious outbreak of Legionnaires' disease happened in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, in 2002. It was traced to an air conditioning system at the Barrow Borough Council-run Forum 28 arts complex. Seven people died and there were 180 confirmed cases, but it was estimated 2500 people might have been affected.
Every year there are around 300 reported cases of Legionnaires' disease in England and Wales, but many cases may go unreported. The incidence in Scotland is usually low, and there are usually between 20 and 40 cases per year, the majority of which are contracted overseas. Newly published figures show 34 cases were reported to Health Protection Scotland in 2011, against just 16 the previous year.
An estimated 10-15% of otherwise healthy people who contract Legionnaires' disease will die. The number of deaths may be higher in people with pre-existing health conditions, such as a weakened immune system.
Tony added "Large buildings, such as hotels, hospitals, museums and office blocks, are more vulnerable to legionella contamination because they have larger, more complex water supply systems in which legionella contamination can quickly spread. So there is a massive potential problem. There are already strict regulations regarding the maintenance and control of water supply systems, such as either keeping the water cooled below 20ºC (68ºF) or heated above 60ºC (140ºF) to prevent an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease."
Current training requirements are designed to ensure that systems are maintained to standards that minimise risk from the disease and do not harbour the bacteria that cause Legionnaires' disease.
Investigations into the Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Edinburgh has led to the HSE serving an improvement notice on two of the city's businesses, one a pharmaceutical company and one a distillery. In total 16 cooling towers in the south-west of Edinburgh have been treated with a range of chemicals top kill any bacteria. The HSE can issue an improvement notice if it believes that correct procedures are not being followed but there is not an immediate risk to workers or members of the public. It sets out what remedial action is necessary and a deadline for its completion.
"Interestingly one of the Edinburgh improvement notices has been served because one firm has allegedly failed to maintain their control measures for the safe operation of the cooling tower to the required standard. It does not indicate an immediate risk from Legionella, as this was being controlled by the emergency dosing of chemicals and the company's subsequent voluntary shutdown of the cooling tower. This is an example of how this particular outbreak has resulted in the HSE discovering other potential issues - even if this is not the actual source.
"It is expected that the Health and Safety Executive will renew its warning to companies to ensure that water storage and cooling systems are adequately treated to prevent the growth of the Legionella bacteria. But we are calling for more to be done.
"Maybe it is time that the current legislation is reviewed particularly the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 1999 which covers safety issues, such as the identification, assessment, prevention or control and management of the risk, plus matters of training and competence and good record keeping." Tony added.