Friday, June 22, 2012


Leading technical trainer Develop Training says industry must react swiftly to the current outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease or risk losing the confidence of the public.

The outbreak, which hit the headlines at the beginning of June, is currently being investigated by The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) although the source of the outbreak may never be conclusively identified, based on experience from previous occurrences. The current outbreak has so far resulted in the death of two men and has affected over 90 people in total.

Tony Green Business Manager for Water Systems at Develop Training comments “Almost every year there is a large reported outbreak which raises awareness of the issue, but is there more that could be done before it gets to this stage? What could be done to try and prevent or minimise outbreaks in the future? Should we focus on greater awareness or higher training requirements or even more stringent controls?”

Every year there are around 300 reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease in England and Wales, but many cases may go unreported. An estimated 10-15% of otherwise healthy people who contract Legionnaires’ disease will die. The number of deaths may be higher in people with pre-existing health conditions, such as a weakened immune system. In 2009, there were 43 deaths from Legionnaires’ disease in England and Wales.

Tony added “Large buildings, such as hotels, hospitals, museums and office blocks, are more vulnerable to legionella contamination because they have larger, more complex water supply systems in which legionella contamination can quickly spread. So there is a massive potential problem. There are already strict regulations regarding the maintenance and control of water supply systems, such as either keeping the water cooled below 20ºC (68ºF) or heated above 60ºC (140ºF) to prevent an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.”

Current training requirements are designed to ensure that systems are maintained to standards that minimise risk from the disease and do not harbour the bacteria that cause Legionnaires' disease.

Investigations into the Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Edinburgh has led to the HSE serving an improvement notice on two of the city's businesses, one a pharmaceutical company and one a distillery. One firm has had an improvement notice served on one of its cooling towers, however the company has chosen to take all three cooling towers out of operation. Issuing the improvement notice does not mean that this cooling tower has been identified as the source of the outbreak, the notice was served for a failure to devise and implement a sustained and effective biocide control programme in one cooling tower.

The HSE can issue an improvement notice if it believes that correct procedures are not being followed but there is not an immediate risk to workers or members of the public. It sets out what remedial action is necessary and a deadline for its completion.

“Interestingly one of the Edinburgh improvement notices has been served because one firm has allegedly failed to maintain their control measures for the safe operation of the cooling tower to the required standard. It does not indicate an immediate risk from Legionella, as this was being controlled by the emergency dosing of chemicals and the company's subsequent voluntary shutdown of the cooling tower. This is an example of how this particular outbreak has resulted in the HSE discovering other potential issues – even if this is not the actual source.

“It is expected that the Health and Safety Executive will renew its warning to companies to ensure that water storage and cooling systems are adequately treated to prevent the growth of the Legionella bacteria. But we are calling for more to be done.

“Maybe it is time that the current legislation is reviewed particularly the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 1999 which covers safety issues, such as the identification, assessment, prevention or control and management of the risk, plus matters of training and competence and good record keeping.” Tony added.

Develop Training Limited is the leading technical skills training provider in the UK, has a turnover of £14m and employs 130 staff (including over 90 full time trainers).

Originating in 2000, Develop operate through five Training Centres across the UK offering training, consultancy and assessment programmes across all industry sectors. Clients include major utility, construction and facilities management companies, as well as public sector bodies such as the NHS, councils and the Ministry of Defence.

Develop provides training from apprenticeship level to post professional development offering in excess of 500 open and bespoke courses.

As part of ongoing investment in maintaining its position at the forefront the technical training sector, Develop is investing in behavioural training and has created a revolutionary new leadership program called MaTE ‘Managing a Technical Environment’.

Develop holds the Training Excellence standard. This accolade is only awarded to training organisations that deliver market leading training to employers and their employees. Training Excellence is an independent scheme which recognises organisations that are committed to delivering the highest quality training and to achieving a measurable impact against customers’ business needs.

Legionellosis is the collective name given to the pneumonia-like illness caused by legionella bacteria. This includes the most serious legionnaires’ disease, as well as the similar but less serious conditions of Pontiac fever and Lochgoilhead fever. Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia and everyone is susceptible to infection. However, some people are at higher risk, including:
people over 45 years of age
smokers and heavy drinkers
people suffering from chronic respiratory or kidney disease
anyone with an impaired immune system

The bacterium Legionella pneumophila and related bacteria are common in natural water sources such as rivers, lakes and reservoirs, but usually in low numbers. They may also be found in purpose-built water systems such as cooling towers, evaporative condensers and whirlpool spas.


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