What is Legionnaire's disease?
Legionnaire's disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia or inflammation of the lungs but can be treated with antibiotics and other supportive treatments. Infection occurs when an individual breathes in water droplets which are contaminated with the Legionella bacteria, with the potential to affect persons up to 300 metres away. However, once infected the spread from person to person is almost unknown.
A recent research study provided evidence that Legionella pneumophila, the causative agent of Legionnaires' disease, can travel airborne at least 6km from its source. It was previously believed that transmission of the bacterium was restricted to much shorter distances. Present thinking has categories the potential risk area into risk loops; Very High risk is 15m, High 15m~50m, Med 50m~200m, Low 200m~2km, Minimum 2km~10km.
The incubation period of the disease is normally between 3 and 6 days. Individuals will start to feel generally ill, with aches and pains, headache and a dry cough and most patients will suffer difficulty in breathing (similar to flu). Within a few days patients temperature may climb to 40C and confusion can set-in. The fatality rate is about 12% with those most at risk being smokers, alcoholics and persons suffering from cancer, chronic respiratory or kidney diseases. However, it should be noted that likelihood of a person contracting Legionnaires' disease is small, as 99% of the population are not susceptible to the bacteria.
Legionnaire's Health & Safety Legally Speaking
General duties for health and safety are imposed under the HSW Act 1974, whereby you have to consider the risks from Legionella that may affect your staff or members of the public and take suitable precautions. Further supporting these general duties the employer also has to consider those requirements defined within the COSHH 2002 regulations relating to the risks from hazardous micro-organisms including Legionella, and also to risks from chemicals such as biocides and chlorine used for the treatment of Legionella. It should be noted that the HSC, (which incidentally merged with the Health and Safety Executive in April 2008) introduced the L8 Approved Code of Practice entitled 'Legionnaires' disease : The control of Legionella bacteria in water systems'. This basically after losing patience with companies failing to manage properly their water systems. The ACOP gives practical advice on meeting both the requirements of the COSHH 2002 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work 1999 regulations. Penalties for non compliance to the L8 ACOP can be severe, and considering the potential risks from Legionella, it is probably not surprising that fines can reach five figures and possible criminal charges (probably laid under s.3 of the HSW Act 1974).
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