Legionella bacteria is common in natural water sources such as rivers, lochs and reservoirs, but usually in low numbers.

In registered care services such as care homes and nurseries there is potential for Legionella bacteria to contaminate and grow in hot and cold water systems such as water tanks, taps, infrequently used shower and baths, whirlpool spas or unused toilets and cisterns often found underneath nappy changing facilities or in disable toilets.

Legionellosis is the name given to the pneumonia-like illness caused by Legionella bacteria and although everyone is susceptible it mainly affects people over the age of 45, people who smoke, consume above the recommended daily amounts of alcohol, suffer from chronic respiratory or kidney disease and anyone with an impaired immune system. During 2012 there was an outbreak of Legionnaires Disease in south west Edinburgh which affected over a hundred people; people died during the outbreak.

A review by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of recent Legionella outbreaks in Britain over the past ten years has shown poor control of water systems continues to create the risk of outbreaks.  Service providers must ensure that there are appropriate systems in place to prevent the potential contamination and growth of Legionella bacteria in their services. Information on all aspects of Legionnaires’ disease and how to properly manage the risks is accessible from the Health and Safety Executive website. An effective approach to managing the risks is set out in the HSE Approved Code of Practice L8 “Legionnaires’’ Disease: the control of Legionella bacteria in water systems”.

During 2013/14 HSE inspectors and local authority environmental health officers will be carrying out interventions with service providers and premises which will cover the range of Legionella risk systems and involve engagement, education, advice, the publication of safety notices and follow-up targeted compliance checks.  The type of intervention(s) undertaken for different premises and service providers will be dictated by the level of risk associated with the system.

HSE now operates a Fee for Intervention (FFI) cost recovery scheme, which came into effect on 1 October 2012 (Local Authorities are not operating the FFI scheme). Under The Health and Safety (Fees) Regulations 2012, those who break health and safety laws are liable for recovery of HSE’s related costs, including inspection, investigation and taking enforcement action. The hourly rate is currently £124 per hour.  If service providers are failing to adequately control Legionella, they will not only have to pay to fix the problem, but also pay for the HSE time involved. Further information on FFI is available from the HSE website.