Is Legionella testing required by law? Plus other important questions you need to know to ensure the safe reopening of your business post-lockdown

Warnings from Public Health England (PHE) about the build-up of dangerous Legionella bacteria have many businesses questioning if they can safely return to work. Is Legionella testing required by law and what can your business do to ensure a healthy working environment?

Essentially, businesses are not necessarily required to test for the presence or absence of Legionella bacteria; rather, they need to assess the risk for the presence of the bacteria through water temperature testing.

Recent guidance from the PHE requires all businesses to flush out the water system on their premises if it has been sitting stagnant during the lockdown period. This is because water systems that have not been used pose a “potential health risk” due to the bacteria forming. 

This build-up is even more concerning considering that summer is fast approaching in the UK and warmer weather is known to increase the chance of bacteria growingparticularly worrying is Legionella bacteria. 

What are Legionella bacteria?

Legionella bacteria are naturally present in water systems and causes Legionnaires’ disease – a severe form of pneumonia that is fatal in 10 percent of cases. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) the disease is especially dangerous for people over the age of fifty, those who smoke and drink heavily and those with underlying health conditions.

Health and safety guidelines in the UK explain that the bacterium Legionella pneumophila occurs naturally in water sources but usually only in very low numbers. Outbreaks of the disease are most often associated with purpose-built systems where water is kept at high enough temperatures for the bacteria to grow. 

How do Legionella spread?

Legionnaires’ disease is spread when people inhale small droplets of water that contain Legionella bacteria. The following conditions are likely to increase the risk of the disease spreading:

  • The water temperature is between 20-45 °C
  • Breathable droplets are created and dispersed
  • Water is stored and re-circulated

How to prevent the spread of Legionella 

Regular flushing during the lockdown period, coupled with a comprehensive review of the water management system, is necessary to determine the action needed before your business can reopen. If it is discovered that a water system requires disinfection, a water consultant will be needed.

How to manage the risk

It is essential to design, maintain and operate your water system in a way that can adequately prevent the growth of Legionella bacteria. The HSE recommends the following: 

  • Ensure that the release of water spray is properly controlled 
  • Avoid water temperatures and conditions in which Legionella is known to grow
  • Prevent water from remaining stagnant by keeping pipe lengths short and removing unnecessary pipework 
  • Keep the water system clean and regularly treat water to kill Legionella and other microorganisms 

Regularly flushing the water at different parts of the system is also a crucial aspect of ensuring accurate testing. In the past, this would mean running all taps in the building for two minutes, recording the temperature, keeping these records for years and running this test regime indefinitely⁠ – a costly and time-consuming exercise. 

Is Legionella testing a legal requirement?

The simple answer is yes. Under general health and safety law, it is the role of employers, or those in control of premises, to ensure the health and safety of their employees.

Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) requires that a duty of care is shown to their tenants’ with regard to their health and safety and The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) provides a framework to control risks associated with hazardous substances such as Legionella. 

It is a requirement for all UK businesses to adequately assess the risks from exposure to Legionella as inadequate management, lack of training and poor communication can all contribute to outbreaks of the disease. 

Read more about your obligation to control Legionella risks.

Legionella water testing

Smarter Technologies has developed an automatic Legionella compliance testing unit. This first-of-its-kind technology carries out remote flushing and temperature testing. You can use the solution to schedule automated testing on a dynamically-controlled, bespoke dashboard according to your needs

By removing human error from the testing, record keeping and reporting process, you can significantly reduce the costs associated with maintaining your business and get your business back up and running as quickly as possible.  

Not only will Smarter Technologies’ automated Legionella compliance testing save you time and money, but as an employer, or a person in control of the premises, it is your responsibility to take the right precautions to reduce the risks of exposure to Legionella.

Contact us today to find out how Smarter Technologies Automated Legionella Compliance Testing can benefit your business.