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Legionnaires’ disease and how it could affect your event

March 27, 2020

Legionnaires’ disease is an often forgotten threat. It could have a detrimental effect on your event, and your guests. If you have any form of water systems at your event, you could be affected.

By reading this article you’ll learn what to look out for, and how to prevent it.

What is Legionnaires’ disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia. Everyone is susceptible to infection and can potentially lead to fatality. Whilst those who smoke or have underlying conditions are most at risk, it can affect anyone – particularly men or middle-aged people.

Where does it come from?

The bacterium Legionella pneumophila and related bacteria is found in natural water sources (e.g. rivers, lakes, ponds and reservoirs) and purpose-built water systems.

People catch Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling small droplets of water suspended in the air which contains the bacteria.

For the bacteria to grow conditions must be favourable, increasing the risks of exposure to Legionnaires’ disease. For example:

  • Water temperature is between 20-45°C in all, or some parts of the system
  • Breathable water droplets are created and dispersed (e.g. from a cooling tower or shower head)
  • Stagnant water that is stored and then recirculated
  • Deposits that can support bacterial growth giving the organism a source of nutrients

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms are similar to flu, such as a high temperature, cough, muscle pains, headache and pneumonia. This means it can often be difficult to diagnose. If you believe you have Legionnaires’ disease, you must see a doctor for tests.

Legionnaires’ disease at your event

Health and Safety legislation enforces the need for an employer, or someone in control of the premises, to understand and manage risks of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. This person must understand how to identify, assess and manage risks.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) and guidance document, ‘Legionnaires’ disease – The Control of Legionella bacteria in water systems (L8)’, contains practical guidance on how to manage and control the risks.

Identify and assess sources of risk

All systems require a risk assessment detailing control measures that is proportionate to the risk to demonstrate that they are being adequately managed.

You don’t need to take any further action if the system is low risk and controlled adequately. For systems with a higher risk, further action may be necessary. Your competent person should the step in and offer assistance.

Review the risk assessment regularly, making note of any changes.

Prevent or control any risks

Preventing the risk of legionella must take priority over controlling the risk.

If you’re unable to prevent the risk, you should write a control scheme to help manage the risk. Include information such as what types of system you have, who’s responsible for risk assessments and operation of the system.

Note the controls being used and the type / frequency of checks being carried out, including:

  • Regular flushing of the systems
  • Avoiding debris getting into systems
  • Setting control parameters (for example, storage of water outside of 20-45 °C)
  • Remove any redundant pipework

You must report any legionella issues to your manager. Report cases of Legionnaires’ disease to the Health and Safety Executive under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR).

Maintain safe management of your water systems

Even if your building is standing empty for a period of time, it’s important to maintain high levels of safety so that, when you start up again, you aren’t at risk of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak

If you own a venue or have any type of permanent water system but your business has temporarily (or even permanently) shut down, you must continue to maintain the system:

  • Maintain your systems as usual or switch off completely
  • Water within cold water storage tanks should be turning over every 24 hours
  • Remove heat sources if possible
  • Don’t drain down pipework
  • Continue taking risk management precautions where possible, such as monitoring temperatures and regular cleaning etc
  • Put up signs to advise that the system is not in use
  • Before starting up again, all hot and cold water systems should be flushed through the fresh mains water

Once you’re able to get your business back up and running, all water systems safely need to be recommissioned safely. Clean, disinfect and sample your water systems to make sure they are completely free from harmful bacteria.

For more information on keeping water systems safe, visit Legionella Control.

How would you be able to handle a prosecution for Legionnaires’ disease offences?

If you think you need some advice on putting together a safe system, talk to our team today.

For more information and advice on Legionnaires’ Disease, please visit the Health and Safety Executive website: www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/index.htm

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