Why is everyone asking, “Is Legionella testing required by law?”? The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown saw warnings around increased Legionella risks. Compliance-related infringements and penalties also featured in the press more regularly. With Legionella in the news, many businesses are asking, “Is Legionella testing required by law?”.
Legionella is a relatively understated concern for businesses – but every business has responsibilities to mitigate the risks. The penalties for non-compliance is a keen driving force for businesses to review their risks and responsibilities. This includes the potential for fines and even imprisonment. Let’s take a step back to understand why compliance is important – and the easiest way to meet your statutory obligations.
What is Legionella?
Legionella is a type of bacteria that can get into the water supply of a building and multiply. The bacteria causes Legionnaires’ Disease, which is a severe form of pneumonia. Symptoms of the disease include muscle pain, headache, fever, cough and shortness of breath. It can lead to severe chest infections and can take up to 10 days to develop.
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
Unfortunately, no vaccine exists for the disease, but the UK government is very clear on the legal responsibilities that business owners must adhere to. Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) makes provision for relevant legislation in order to ensure a property is safe and free from health hazards.
By implementing the appropriate control measures, a building can ensure that the risk of contracting Legionella remains low. These measures need to be specific to the building or water system and should include regular monitoring of devices, regular cleaning and disinfection of cooling towers and frequent or continuous addition of biocides. This must be completed along with a complete drain and clean of the whole system at least weekly.
It is also necessary to keep hot and cold water systems clean. Hot water should always be above 50 °C and cold water should be below 25 °C and ideally below 20 °C. A further measure to prevent the spread of the disease includes flushing unused taps in buildings on a weekly basis.
For more information on the law governing the management of legionella see the government website.
Is Legionella testing required by law?
The ensuing ‘new norm’ following COVID-19 has businesses more concerned than ever with health and safety in the workplace. Where buildings’ water systems (and water coolers) sit dormant for any period of time, it is important to turn attention to Legionella. Now that we have covered what Legionella is, how it is spread and the risks it poses for human health, let’s move on to compliance. 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.
Whether your business is back to full occupation or not, it needs to add Legionella to its compliance checklist. Dormancy is not the only consideration. Many factors can make your building’s water systems a hotbed for bacterial growth. A systematic approach to monitoring, testing, prevention and reaction forms part of every business’s compliance regimen. Done well, it also displays due diligence to ensure the wellbeing of staff and customers.
What are your business’s responsibilities for Legionella compliance? Read the comprehensive guide on Legionella management for landlords and businesses from Smarter Technologies Group.
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.
What are your legal Legionella responsibilities?
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.
Legionella legal requirements: the steps
Every business has unique requirements associated with their Legionella compliance. Broadly speaking, every business should follow these steps as part of their Legionella compliance strategy:
- Conduct a Legionella risk assessment. This identifies and highlights risks and informs steps for prevention and mitigation of those risks.
- Legionella testing. This should be done by a competent, qualified person – whether in-house or outsourced.
- Water temperature testing. While not a legal requirement, water temperature testing is one of the most common ways to manage Legionella risks identified in a risk assessment.
The pitfalls of manual water temperature testing
As Legionella bacteria thrives in water temperatures between 20°C and 45°C, regular temperature testing is a highly-effective way to manage the risks around Legionella and prevent Legionnaires’ Disease. However, there is a downside to the manual approach of testing. This includes:
- It is labour-intensive requiring regularly running hot and cold water for temperature testing.
- It has a heavy administrative cost. For compliance purposes, records need to be kept for five years.
- It comes at a cost. Even if conducted in house, this testing comes at a cost to your business.
- Risk of human error and inconsistency. No two people have the same testing methodology, which means consistency and accuracy of readings are easily compromised.
- Failures can result in health hazards. The greatest problem with errors in manual systems is the resultant risk to human health.
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.
Smarter Technologies Group’s automated Legionella compliance testing saves you time and money and ensures accurate readings, with actionable insights into your building’s water systems. 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 – and an investment in smart technologies to do the job shows your commitment to compliance.
Contact us today to find out how Smarter Technologies Group’s Automated Legionella Compliance Testing can benefit your business.