Legionella Update

Legionnaires Disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila and related bacteria.

It is found naturally in environmental water sources such as rivers, lakes and reservoirs, but also in installations such as cooling towers, evaporative condensers and hot water systems.

The importance of a sound Legionella policy has been clearly highlighted over the last few years by the high profile Barrow-in-Furness case (Case Study 1).

Regulations require anyone in charge of premises, including providers of residential accommodation, to undertake a risk assessment with regard to Legionella.


  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
  • Notification of Cooling Towers and Evaporative Condensers Regulations 1992
  • Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
  • L8 Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) – The Control of Legionella Bacteria in Water Systems

Assessing the risk
According to Kathryn Gilbertson of Greenwoods Solicitors LLP, careful planning, competent staff and attention to control strategies are essential in managing the risk.

  • Is the water temperature between 20°C and 45°C, creating the conditions for the bacteria to multiply?
  • Are there any areas where stagnant water occurs (dead legs)?
  • Are the showers and taps used frequently?
  • Is there debris such as rust, sludge or scale in the system?
  • Is it likely any employees, residents or visitors are susceptible?

Case Study 1
In 2002, the largest outbreak of the disease struck the North West of England, when five people died and over 170 people contracted Legionnaires’ disease following an outbreak at the Forum 28 arts centre in Barrow. The premises were owned and operated by Barrow Borough Council. Both the Council and its in-house architect were charged with manslaughter and safety offences. They were acquitted of manslaughter following trials but were found guilty of offences under Section 3(1) and Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act respectively.

The Council was fined £125,000 and ordered to pay £90,000 in costs, whilst the architect was fined £15,000.

A written scheme setting out how you intend to control the risk from Legionella must be in place. The scheme should detail:

  • an up-to-date plan or schematic diagrams of your system
  • who is responsible for carrying out the assessment and managing the implementation
  • the safe and correct operation of the system
  • what control methods and other precautions will be used
  • what checks will be carried out on the control scheme and how often these will be carried out

Case Study 2

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

During 2007, DEBA UK Ltd was commissioned to carry out Legionella risk assessments at nursing homes in Wales and rated the risk as low. A subsequent routine check of these nursing homes revealed there to be inadequate controls for Legionella at the premises.

The elderly are at greater risk from Legionella bacteria so it is imperative that such safety critical surveys are adequate.

Further information
L8 Legionnaires’ Disease:
The control of legionella bacteria in water systems (HSE Books, 2000) ISBN: 0 7176 1772 6.

Workplace Law Legionella Policy and Management
Guide v.4.0

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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