Reducing the risk of infection of Legionnaires' disease
Sheila Pantry, OBE
The recent, tragic outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in a couple of locations in the UK, has once again highlighted the importance of regular maintenance and testing of air conditioning systems. The UK Health and Safety Commission (HSC) guidelines on legionella require that specific, weekly tests be carried out on all potential sources of infection.
The HSC's Approved Code of Practice and guidance, published last year, recognises that an important method of reducing the risk of infection is a comprehensive monitoring programme and, along with specific monthly and quarterly tests, requires conductivity, bacteria, disinfectant and pH to be tested weekly.
This Code applies to the risk from legionella bacteria (the causative agent of legionellosis including Legionnaires' disease) in circumstances where the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 applies. To comply with their legal duties, UK employers and those with responsibilities for the control of premises should:
- identify and assess sources of risk - this includes checking whether conditions are present which will encourage bacteria to multiply, e.g. is the water temperature between 20-45°C; there is a means of creating and disseminating breathable droplets, e.g. the aerosol created by a shower or cooling tower; and if there are susceptible people who may be exposed to the contaminated aerosols;
- prepare a scheme for preventing or controlling the risk;
- implement, manage and monitor precautions - if control measures are to remain effective, then regular monitoring of the systems and the control measures is essential. Monitoring of general bacterial numbers can indicate whether microbiological control is being achieved. Sampling for legionella is another means of checking that a system is under control;
- keep records of the precautions; and
- appoint a person to be managerially responsible.
The Code and guidance also set out the responsibilities of suppliers of services such as water treatment and maintenance as well as the responsibilities of manufacturers, importers, suppliers and installers.
There are also many good pieces of advice to be found on websites such as OSHWORLD and also in the health and safety collections of information such as OSH-ROM which continues to grow as it has done for over 16 years. The references and abstracts in OSH-ROM give access to quality information to help all those seeking good advice and guidance.
This month's FOCUS article is about The European Week for Safety and Health Campaign on Working on Stress which takes place throughout Europe next month - October. Member States can choose which week to campaign.
Work-related stress is now Europe's second biggest reported occupational health problem, after back pain, affecting up to one third of all workers and costing the EU billions of euros every year in lost work and health costs.
As always OSHWORLD's regular pages are constantly updated, with new events planned as far ahead as 2005 in the Diary of Events which lists training courses, symposiums and conferences in many places in the world on a wide range of subjects. Remember that even if you cannot attend these many events, speakers and organisers are often willing to share their knowledge. Look at the details - where possible I add in the web sites of these events so you can request further information. And do let me know if you are organising any occupational safety, health, and environment events so that I can add them to the Diary.
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Remind everyone to make 2002 a zero accident and incident-free year in your workplace. And every success to all those taking part in The European Week for Safety and Health Campaign on Working on Stress
 Health and Safety Commission
Legionnaires' disease : the control of legionella bacteria in water systems. Approved Code of Practice and guidance. 2001. Third edition. London; Sheffield: HSE Books. Legislation (L) series; L 8. ISBN 0717617726