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What is Legionnaire's disease?
Legionnaire's disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia or inflammation of the lungs, treatable with antibiotics and other supportive treatments. Infection occurs when an individual breathes in water droplets contaminated with Legionella bacteria, potentially affecting 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. Previously transmission of the bacterium was believed to be restricted to short distances. Current thinking has categorised 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 between 3 and 6 days. Individuals will start to feel generally ill, with aches and pains, headaches and a dry cough, patients may 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 those persons suffering conditions such as cancer, chronic respiratory or kidney diseases. Note the 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 and take suitable precautions from Legionella that may affect your staff or members of the public. 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 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", basically after losing patience with companies failing to manage their water systems properly. 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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