Hefty Penalties for Failure to Manage Legionella Risks
Recent prosecutions by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are indicative that the government is taking a hard line on the failure to manage legionella risks by businesses. For example, The Reading Crown Court has fined the local council £100,000 with £20,000 in costs for failure to manage Legionella risks in a care home.
The council’s arrangements to minimise the risks from Legionella bacteria were found to be not sufficiently robust. This was due to a lack of training for key personnel and inadequate temperature checks. Further to this, the showers had not been descaled or disinfected quarterly, and the flushing of toilets also fell short of best practice requirements.
In August 2021, the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said it will consider strike action over the threat of legionella bacteria found on Thameslink trains, where trace amounts of legionella were found in seven toilets on four trains.
According to Thameslink, the toilets have been drained and bleached since the incident. However, the RMT said this was “half-hearted and inadequate”, and is threatening further action.
Fines for Legionella: Additional Insights
Legionella fines for failure to manage Legionella risks of this size aren’t out of the ordinary and, in fact, can be considered to be relatively small when compared to Bupa Care Homes’ £3 million fine in 2018 and G4S Cash Solutions’ fine of £1.8 million in 2013. In the case of G4S, The Harlow Council imposed the fine after it was reported that one of their workers had contracted Legionnaires’ disease. This disease causes flu-like symptoms and can be fatal in some cases.
Other examples of fines for Legionella for UK businesses include Basildon Hospital, which, in 2012, was required to pay £350,000 in fines and costs and a company in Newport that received a £75,000 penalty. These Legionella fines act as an important reminder for organisations and businesses that they can be prosecuted even when there have been no cases of Legionnaires’ disease and no indication of Legionella bacteria in the water system.
How much can business owners be fined for failure to manage Legionella risks in a water system?
Legislation involving Legionnaires’ disease is covered by a number of different laws and regulations such as the Health & Safety at Work etc Act, 1974, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, 1999 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. As a result, the answer isn’t a simple one. The severity of the fines for Legionella will vary depending on several factors.
For example, any Legionella fine imposed for failure to manage Legionella risks will depend on which legislation is used to bring a prosecution and on the level of the court imposing the penalty. As a guide, the following penalties can be imposed for failure to manage Legionella risks:
- The Magistrates’ courts can impose a Legionella fine of up to £20,000.
- The Sheriff courts in Scotland can impose a prison sentence of up to 12 months.
- The Crown courts can impose unlimited fines for Legionella and up to two years’ imprisonment.
Further to this, if you are convicted for failure to manage Legionella risks, a court can disqualify you as a company director. Both The Crown Prosecution Service and the police can bring a prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. Charges brought under this legislation can result in unlimited Legionella fines of millions of pounds, as well as remedial orders and publicity orders.
These consequences prove that the courts are not afraid to risk putting companies out of business and it is simply not worth the risk of failing to comply with the legislation. A DIY discount warehouse in Stoke-on-Trent is learning this the hard way as they are currently facing corporate manslaughter charges for a hot tub display that contained a strain of Legionella that killed three visitors.
Understanding Your Obligations Reduces the Chance of Prosecution for Failure to Manage Legionella Risks
As an employer, landlord, or person in control of a business, the onus rests with you to take the necessary steps to reduce the risk of exposure to Legionella. Here is a quick overview of what your responsibilities entail:
Regular Legionella Risk Assessments
In the UK, every business is legally required to conduct a Legionella risk assessment, which highlights potential dangers and the required legionella testing and steps for prevention. Those responsible for buildings need to prove that they have assessed the risks and are taking active steps to address those risks identified through this process.
A Legionella risk assessment should include:
- An outline of the building’s systems and the person in charge of Legionella monitoring
- Competence and training of key personnel
- Potential risks identified through the Legionella risk assessment
- How the risks identified in the Legionella risk assessment are being controlled and prevented
- Legionella risk assessment procedures – and detailed records of same
- Legionella risk assessment plans for the future
Legionella testing should be undertaken in-house or by a third party who is competent and qualified.
Water Temperature Legionella Testing
Water temperature testing is not a legal requirement. However, this testing procedure falls within the ambit of mitigating the risk and exposure to the bacteria.
Legionella bacteria thrive in water temperatures between 20°C and 45°C. Temperature testing is a highly effective means of managing Legionella risks.
The Disadvantages of Manual Legionella Temperature Testing
Manual temperature testing has certain disadvantages:
- It is a labour-intensive exercise, involving regular hot- and cold-water systems tests
- It is costly. If this task is outsourced, this comes at a price. If this task is conducted in-house, there is an opportunity, resource, and administrative cost associated with ensuring this is done.
- There is the risk of human error. Sick days, administrative errors, incorrect readings, failure to act – these are but a handful of ways that human error can affect readings. A record-keeping forms part of the statutory requirement to avoid Legionella fines, these gaps have the potential to attract penalties.
- Inconsistent readings. In a similar vein to the point above, different personnel can record their readings differently, which can result in inconsistencies. This has both a bearing on record-keeping and the effectiveness of risk mitigation measures.
- The factors above have the common thread of increased risk to human health attached to them. The greatest disadvantage to flawed testing systems is the potential for staff, residents, and customers getting ill.
Smarter Technologies Group’s Automated Legionella Compliance System
– Smarter Technologies
Smarter Technologies Group has developed an automated Legionella compliance system that is dynamically controlled on a bespoke dashboard. Using the Orion Data Network, our technology carries out remote flushing and temperature testing so that your business can stay compliant with legislation on Legionella. Not only can you schedule your tests with ease, but regular reports are generated automatically making it the simple, smarter solution to manage Legionella risks.
Features of Smarter Technologies Group’s Automated Legionella Compliance System
- All required water outlets are monitored in real-time
- Routine flushing is automated at required intervals
- Testing is scheduled according to needs
- Reports are automatically-generated
- Immediate alerts are sent if temperatures exceed thresholds
- Five years of historical data can be stored on an interactive platform
How does it work?
Smarter Technologies Group’s compact Automated Legionella Compliance System is available in two formats: a smaller unit for one 15mm copper pipe and a dual unit for two pipes. Both the units use simple, ready-to-install industry standard fittings and they are designed to fit any sink, shower or designated sentinel tap.
The system reports in every fifteen minutes to a bespoke dashboard and, depending on the schedule set, does a flush test once or more a week. (The testing times and flushing schedule can be controlled from the secure, cloud-based application.)
Not only is the system battery-powered, with a long-lasting battery pack that is easy to change, but if any temperatures within the system are not correct, alerts are sent out by email to the relevant people.
Contact us today to see how Smarter Technologies Group’s Automated Legionella Compliance Systems can take the hassle out of compliance checking and monitoring, helping you to keep your business, employees and clients safe.
Frequently Asked Questions: Legionella Risk Management
What is a Legionella risk assessment?
A Legionella risk assessment is a process that highlights potential dangers and informs risk mitigation, prevention, and control measures around the Legionella risks identified. A Legionella risk assessment can be conducted by any qualified, competent person – whether in-house or outsourced.
How often should a Legionella risk assessment be done?
A Legionella risk assessment should be repeated at least every two years. As large sites with complex water systems pose a greater risk, these may require routine testing every three months.
How is Legionella spread?
Legionella bacteria thrive in water systems and are spread through water droplets, which are inhaled by humans. It is through these water droplets that diseases like Legionnaires’ Disease are transmitted.
How much are Legionella fines?
The fine amount for failure to manage Legionella risks is governed by many different regulations. The Magistrates’ courts can impose a Legionella fine of up to £20,000. The Sheriff courts in Scotland can impose a prison sentence of up to 12 months. The Crown courts can impose unlimited fines and up to two years’ imprisonment.