Legionella awareness training is important for learners who work in environments where legionella growth is a risk and could cause legionnaires’ disease in high risk groups.
T&G Training are now registered to deliver the HABC Level 2 Award in Legionella Awareness (QCF), so I thought it would be useful to write a short blog on the subject of legionnaires’ disease.
What is legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is caused by a type of bacterium (legionella) that is commonly found in natural water supplies such as rivers and lakes. Bacterial numbers will be low in these conditions and unlikely to cause an outbreak of the disease but it can also be found in man-made systems such as cooling towers, hot water systems, Hydrotherapy baths etc. especially where water is maintained at temperatures between 20°C and 45°C and there is a source of nutrients. In these conditions the bacteria are likely to multiply to levels that are harmful to humans.
Who is at risk?
Anyone could be at risk but some groups are particularly susceptible: people over 45, those with diabetes, cancer, respiratory or kidney diseases, smokers, people who drink to excess and people whose immune system is weak. If you are working with one of these groups, then legionella awareness training is important.
How do you catch legionnaires’ disease?
The disease can be caught by breathing in droplets of contaminated water containing legionella bacteria. This could happen when using an infrequently used shower that harbours the bacteria; the shower head creates an aerosol effect and the person showering inhales some of this fine mist into their lungs. The incubation period for legionnaires’ disease is between 2 – 10 days but not everyone who is exposed will develop the disease. There is no evidence of person to person spread of the disease.
What are the symptoms of legionnaires’ disease?
Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle pain and headache. There may be a cough and difficulty in breathing. Other symptoms include diarrhoea or vomiting, confusion and delirium. Some people may not develop the full disease and in these cases the symptoms may appear as a mild flue like infection. Legionella can be successfully treated with antibiotics but if staff have not received legionella awareness training, they may not know what to look for.
Risk assessments and control of legionella
The Health and Safety Executive have published a document: “The control of legionella bacteria in water systems Approved Code of Practice and guidance.” This ACOP states that “A suitable and sufficient assessment is required to identify and assess the risk of exposure to legionella bacteria from work activities and water systems on the premises and any necessary precautionary measures.”
The employer or person who is in charge of the building has responsibility for risk assessments but if they do not have the competence to carry out the assessment themselves, they are required to have access to competent help when assessing the risks and identification of suitable control measures. If there is not a competent person within the company, this help may come from an external consultant.
Effective control measures can include:
- Removing redundant pipework and dead ends to prevent stagnation
- Flushing out unused shower heads and taps weekly
- Avoiding temperatures that encourage bacterial growth i.e. between 20°C and 45°C
- Don’t use materials that provide food or harbour bacteria and other micro-organisms
- Keep the system clean ; remove sludge, scale and organic matter
- Maintain hot water storage at more than 60°C to destroy bacteria
- Distribute hot water at least at 50°C to prevent legionella from growing
- Distribute cold water below 20°C
- Place Thermostatic Mixing Valves as close to final outlets as possible, as they reduce the temperature to 41 – 44°C which would allow bacterial growth
Clean, well maintained systems, running at appropriate temperatures help to reduce the risk of legionella infecting your staff and service users.
T&G Training are now registered to deliver the HABC Level 2 Award in Legionella Awareness (QCF) through Highfield Awarding Body. Contact us for a chat about training your staff in this critically important subject.