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Legionella warning from HSE

13 August 2009

Companies responsible for carrying out legionella surveys on water systems have been warned by the HSE of the need to ensure that their work is thorough and accurate following a fine of £24,000 fine plus £17,276 costs for a company that conducted inadequate risk assessments.

The warning follows the conviction of a Berkshire-based water treatment company for carrying out inadequate and misleading surveys at nursing homes in Blaenau Gwent and Powys. As a result, vulnerable residents at the homes would have been at a heightened risk of contracting legionnaires disease, a potentially fatal form of pneumonia.

At Abertillery Magistrates Court on Thursday 6th August 2009, DEBA UK Ltd of Wokingham, pleaded guilty to three charges under Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. They were fined £24,000 and ordered to pay costs of £17,276.

During 2007, the company were commissioned to carry out legionella risk assessments at Nursing Homes operated by Craegmoor Healthcare in Tredegar and Llangattock, and rated the risk as low. A subsequent routine check of these nursing homes revealed there to be inadequate controls for legionella at these premises, and the focus moved on to the work carried out by DEBA UK Ltd.

HSE inspector Matthew Hamar said: "The nursing home operators commissioned DEBA UK Ltd to carry out the surveys in good faith and to help them comply with their responsibilities to manage the risk posed by legionella on their premises. They were badly let down in this case.

"Elderly nursing home residents are at greater risk from the bacteria that give rise to conditions such as legionnaires disease, so it is imperative that safety critical surveys like those carried out by DEBA UK Ltd are adequate. Fortunately, there was no evidence of any outbreak of the disease as a result of these incidents, but there is a clear responsibility to those companies carrying out specialist work that they need to carry out adequate surveys and provide accurate information."

Legionnaires disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia which can affect anybody, but which principally affects those who are susceptible because of age, illness, immunosuppression, smoking etc. It is caused by legionella bacteria, which can grow in water kept at unsuitable temperatures (between 20ºC and 45ºC) and infect the water in cooling towers, whirlpool spas and purpose built hot and cold water systems, as found in care settings. Where conditions are suitable for the growth of legionella the risk is increased. There is a risk of disease when droplets of water, infected with the bacteria, are inhaled. Whilst showers may present a particular problem in care homes water droplets created from taps is also a potential source. Any equipment that can generate water droplets that could be inhaled should be assessed for potential risk.

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