Legionella is, simply put, a waterborne bacteria that can cause very serious, and at times fatal, illnesses. Though Legionella can be found in several natural bodies of water, it really becomes a serious threat when it reaches purpose-built water delivery systems – for instance, hot- and cold-water systems, sprinkler systems, shower heads or cooling towers. The bacteria are spread by small water droplets that are breathed in by a person nearby, leading, in the worst case scenario, to Legionnaires’ Disease – this illness is a very dangerous form of pneumonia. Individuals who are most at risk include heavy drinkers, people suffering from chronic lung or kidney diseases, people with diabetes, smokers in general, people with impaired immune systems, and also the elderly.
Since the elderly and people with immune system deficiencies are most at risk, it is key that particular consideration is given to water supplies in care homes – leaving aside the fact that it is a legal duty for care home directors and managers to protect residents from harmful bacteria under the Health & Safety at Work Act as well as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations. This also includes having a competent employee or advisor undertake a legionella risk assessment regularly; implementing appropriate testing and monitoring measures; and periodically reviewing and keeping a record of the established control measures.
Do I really need Legionella training?
Legionella awareness training is a vital and also mandatory component of any legionella risk management program. The HSE or Health & Safety Executive expressly points out at lack of training, insufficient management and poor communication as major contributory factors in outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease.
They expect those employees or advisors involved in assessing legionella risks, and involved in control measures to be truly competent, properly trained and fully aware of their responsibilities. The training should also be up-to-date and refreshed regularly.
Legal requirements of having a Legionella training
You are not legally required to go through Legionella training to perform your duties as a responsible person or duty holder. However, practically speaking, you need to be aware of, and be able to prove your deep understanding of the legal responsibilities. You need to be able to demonstrate that you have the right level of knowledge, and of course be competent to carry out the job properly.
It is almost impossible to be able to show this level of knowledge without going through training to make sure you reach those levels. The need for periodical refresher training is mentioned in the ACoP L8 guidance issued by the Health & Safety Executive.
In some specific cases, the risk of legionella can be so small that this training may not be completely necessary. For instance, a landlord with a rented property may need to do a basic risk assessment but no training would be required. This would guarantee that there is not a substantial risk of Legionella multiplying in the property’s water supply. However, the landlord still needs to be able to show competence and understanding.
This is not enough
As was the case in 2015 at a care home in Brentwood, when an elderly person died shortly after contracting Legionnaires’ Disease from the taps in the bathroom. An investigation found that 2 separate risk assessments at the care home concluded that the manager was not sufficiently trained in Legionella. As a result, this oversight cost the care home more than £3 million in fines, not to mention the life of an elderly person. He had only lived in the care home for three months prior to his death, exposing how much of a risk legionella bacteria may be to vulnerable individuals. This highlights how important a basic understanding of Legionella can be; had the manager been adequately trained, a resident’s death could have been avoided.
Water management plans or WMPs and testing for Legionella bacteria are necessary for keeping your employees, guests and visitors safe. As responsible corporate stewards, building managers and owners want to protect the guests and people who occupy their facilities as well as their own investment. Through maintenance and development of a Legionella water management plan or WMP and Legionella testing plans tailored explicitly to your facility’s particular needs, you will achieve this goal.
Even with an efficient WMP or water management program, your team needs to stay focused on actively preventing Legionella. Your water management plan should be frequently reviewed and updated. Also, if you manage a care home facility, make sure you are well-versed in the CMS laws and regulations for Legionella in care home facilities.
Private and public care home buildings can both be susceptible to the legionella bacteria outbreaks. The worrying thing is that care home owners need to be aware of the real risks of legionella, and make sure they check any work carried out on their care homes is carried out by a competent and professional person that is sufficiently trained and adheres to the L8 Code of Practice.