Managing Legionella Risk On Site

As part of my work as an Expert Witness I regularly see building users contracting a water hygiene/water treatment company to work on the water systems. Unfortunately, some sites appear to believe that the use of the water hygiene/water treatment company then absolves them of responsibility.

It is worth therefore taking a moment to understand what is said in HSG 274, Parts 1, 2 and 3. When discussing “Managing Risk” they describe:

“Inadequate management, lack of training and poor communication can be contributory factors in outbreaks of legionnaires’ disease. It is important that those people involved in assessing risk and applying precautions are competent, trained and aware of their responsibilities.

The dutyholder should specifically appoint a competent person or persons to take day-to-day responsibility for controlling any identified risk from legionella bacteria. It is important for the appointed person, known as the responsible person, to have sufficient authority, competence and knowledge of the installation to ensure all operational procedures are carried out in a timely and effective manner.

The responsible person appointed to implement the control measures and strategies should be suitably informed, instructed and trained and their suitability assessed. Regular refresher training should be given and the responsible person should have a clear understanding of their role and the overall health and safety management structure and policy in the organisation.

If a dutyholder is self-employed or a member of a partnership, and is competent, they may appoint themselves. Many businesses can develop the necessary expertise in house and are well equipped to manage health and safety themselves. However, if there are some things they are not able to do, it is important to get external help. If there are several people responsible for managing risk, eg because of shift-work patterns, the dutyholder needs to make sure that everyone knows what they are responsible for and how they fit into the overall risk management of the system

Identifying and deciding what help is needed is very important but it is the responsibility of the dutyholder to ensure those appointed to carry out the tasks given to them have adequate information and support.

Dutyholders can use specialist contractors to undertake aspects of the operation, maintenance and control measures required for their cooling system. While these contractors have legal responsibilities, the ultimate responsibility for the safe operation of the cooling system rests with the dutyholder. It is important they are satisfied that any contractors employed are competent to carry out the required tasks and that the tasks are carried out to the required standards. The contractor should inform the dutyholder of any risks identified and how the system can be operated and maintained safely.”

Key points to note are that responsibility for site actions remains with the Dutyholder irrespective of the use of contractors or even a Responsible Person. This means that delegation and not abdication is a key concept. The selection of a Responsible Person and contractors should not be seen as a tick box exercise by the Dutyholder, they should keep themselves up to date with site compliance and not assume that it is being managed correctly without checking. To help in this area it is worth the Dutyholder considering the use of an external, independent auditor to provide an audit of site compliance.

Another point is the Responsible Person should be suitably trained and that this training should be refreshed. Most people would accept that training should be refreshed every 3 years or when there is a change in legislation and guidance, whichever is sooner.

There is an argument for refreshing training now as the current low use of buildings brings about a significant risk for Legionella that should be understood and the ways in which to manage and recommission a building a important points to understand.

Training for all staff working to manage legionella is important, not just for the Responsible Person. This might mean toolbox talks or short training sessions for elements of managing Legionella relevant to the tasks they carry out such as sampling techniques, temperature monitoring and correct locations, biocide measurement and interpretation of results etc.

If these simple points had been noted then I would have had several less Expert Witness cases to be involved in which must be good news as I would rather have no Expert Witness work to do because Legionella was being managed correctly by all.

If you need help implementing Legionella management on site or need a site audit then contact Collaton Consultancy Limited via

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