How Good is your Legionella Risk Assessment?

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive have recently issued a warning concerning the standard of legionella risk assessments following the successful conviction of a UK water treatment company that conducted inadequate and misleading surveys at several nursing homes (additional details of the prosecution can be found at the end of this bulletin).

A legionella risk assessment plays a vital role in protecting you, your workers and your business, as well as helping you comply with the law.

Specialist risk assessments, including those concerning legionella can often be complex and require specialist expertise.

Generally however, there are a number of practical steps that you should consider during the risk assessment process – Five Step Process.

Why have a Risk Assessment?

Risk assessments play a vital role in protecting you, your workers and your business, as well as helping you comply with the law.

They help you focus on the risks that really matter in your workplace - the ones with the potential to cause real harm. It is therefore important that they are done correctly by people with the right skills.

What is a Risk Assessment?

A risk assessment is simply a careful examination of what, in your work, could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh up whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm.

Workers and others have a right to be protected from harm caused by a failure to take reasonable control measures.

Accidents and ill health can ruin lives and affect your business too if output is lost, machinery is damaged, insurance costs increase or you have to go to court.

You are legally required to assess the risks in your workplace so that you put in place a plan to control the risks.

Five Steps to Assess the Risks in your Workplace

Step 1
Identify the hazards

Step 2
Decide who might be harmed and how

Step 3
Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions

Step 4
Record your findings and implement them

Step 5
Review your assessment and update if necessary

Don’t overcomplicate the process.

In many organisations, the risks are well known and the necessary control measures are easy to apply.

You probably already know whether, for example, you have employees who move heavy loads and so could harm their backs, or where people are most likely to slip or trip.

If so, check that you have taken reasonable precautions to avoid injury.

If you run a small organisation and you are confident you fully understand what’s involved, you can do the assessment yourself.

You don’t have to be a health and safety expert.

If you work in a larger organisation, you could ask a health and safety advisor to help you.

If you are not confident, get help from someone who is competent.

In all cases, you should make sure that you involve your staff or their representatives in the process.

They will have useful information about how the work is done that will make your assessment of the risk more thorough and effective.

But remember, you are responsible for seeing that the assessment is carried out properly.

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 (UK) 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."

Parts of this article © Crown Copyright.

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