Care Homes: Are You Managing Legionella Risks Effectively?
If you are involved in the care home sector it is vital that you understand the dangers associated with legionella bacteria and the potentially fatal consequences of Legionnaire’s disease that it can cause.
Care homes cater for some of the most vulnerable members of our society, many of whom are at a higher risk of contracting Legionnaires' disease. WIth a number of recent prosecutions by the Health and Safety Executive of care homes failing to manage their legionella risks, understanding your obligations is not just critical for your business, it can be critical for your residents and patients.
Legionella and Legionnaires' disease
Legionnaires' disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia that is caused by legionella bacteria. Everyone is at risk from Legionnaire’s disease, but there are some sectors of the population who are considered to be at a higher risk. These include:
- People with chronic diseases of the lung, heart and kidneys, as well as diabetes sufferers.
- Anyone over the age of 45.
- Anyone who may have an impaired immune system.
Legionella is a naturally occurring bacteria that is widespread in natural water systems such as rivers, streams and ponds. In these conditions, the bacteria is very rarely dangerous. However, when water is stored in certain types of systems and maintained at a temperature that is high enough to encourage the bacteria to grow, then problems can begin to occur. Such systems can include cooling towers, hot and cold water systems (including taps, showers etc.), spa pools and condensers.
People contract Legionnaires' disease by inhaling droplets of water containing the bacteria, so it can be spread by things such as showers, spray taps, air conditioning cooling towers etc.
The law and your obligations
In the United Kingdom the main guidelines regarding the control of legionella bacteria and Legionnaires' disease and is the Health and Safety Executive’s Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) L8, called ‘Legionnaire’s Disease. The Control of Legionella Bacteria in Water Systems’. This offers instruction, advice and guidance on managing the risks associated with legionella.
Whilst the ACOP L8 is not law, it is highly recommended that you follow it’s advice. If you choose not to, you may need to demonstrate that what you have done to manage the risks associated with legionella are suitable and sufficient. Failure to effectively do so can not only put you at risk of prosecution, but put vulnerable patients and residents at risk.
As care homes are an integral part of the care sector, there are also two other documents to be aware of. Firstly, the HSE’s HSG 274 offers technical guidance. Split into three parts, it offers guidance on the different types of water systems that can be at risk from outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease. Secondly, there is the Department of Health’s Health Technical Memorandum 04-01 (HTM 04-01). This supports the ACOP L8 document and offers detailed advice for the NHS and health sectors specifically.
Additionally, the Health & Safety Executive also publish their HSG220 "Health and safety in care homes", which deals, in part, with things you need to do to manage your legionella risks in care homes.
What care home operators need to do
As you can see, there is a wealth of advice to read and act upon to effectively manage the risk of legionella in care settings. In effect care home operators and their staff are required to begin with the following steps:
- What are the sources of risk? Identify them, and assess them.
- Prepare a written scheme of control to prevent, monitor and control the risks identified.
- Identify, implement, manage and then monitor the precautions and controls you have put into place
- Appoint a competent person or company to manage the risk.
- Keep detailed records of all of the above.
How Legionella Control International can help you
Faced with both the potentially serious consequences of Legionnaires' disease and the possibility of prosecution, effectively managing the risks associated with legionella bacteria can be both timely and costly for care homes that try and do it themselves. Legionella Control International, as accredited legionella risk management specialists can take away the headache and provide you with a full legionella risk management solution that is cost effective and will give you, your patients and residents lasting peace of mind.
To find out how to safeguard your care home facilities and ensure compliance with the legislation please contact us on 0161 877 0586 (Manchester) or 0203 693 3930 (London).
Jamie Tranter - Manchester
Tel: 0161 877 0586
Tel: 0203 693 3930