Legionnaire's Disease Risk Adds to Re-Start Concerns of Businesses

As businesses reopen, the Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) has issued guidance about the risks associated with legionnaires’ disease in buildings that were closed or had reduced occupancy during the lockdown period. 

The issue can affect hot and cold water systems, cooling towers and evaporative condensers, commercial spa pools and hot tubs. There is a risk that water stagnation may have occurred in such systems during the period of inactivity which could increase the risk of legionnaires’s disease.

The guidance applies to employers, the self-employed and people in control of premises, such as landlords, who have a duty to protect people by identifying and controlling risks associated with legionella.  

HSE are advising that risk assessments be reviewed and legionella risks be managed when a water system is reinstated and certain air conditioning units are restarted.

In circumstances where a water system is still used regularly it should be maintained to prevent legionella growth.

HSE advise businesses to consider whether they need a competent person and/or specialist to assist with the identification and implementation of appropriate control measures for legionella.

This may create difficulties during the ongoing pandemic as it may not yet be possible to engage contractors with the necessary authority and competence to deal with the risk controls needed for water systems. HSE are clear that duty holders must consider stopping operation of these systems in such circumstances.

It is yet another regulatory compliance consideration for businesses to consider as they come to terms with the steps required to operate safely in a post-covid environment. 

It comes against the backdrop of the ever increasing number of contacts HSE is receiving from employees regarding coronavirus concerns in the workplace. Recent reports identify that HSE has received 3,000 reports of coronavirus related occupational diseases, 200 reports of dangerous occurrences and over 70 deaths of employees submitted through its Riddor reporting system.  It is likely that there will be investigations in many cases to determine whether any enforcement action is necessary.

Businesses should be ready to engage with regulators if contact is made during this period but should consider seeking urgent advice from a regulatory solicitor to consider how to handle the regulator’s enquiries.

Our Regulatory Partner, James Lowe, is offering a free 1 hour consultation for any business contacted by the HSE or local authorities in respect of compliance issues relating to Covid 19. James can be contacted on 07833 240400.