G4S was ordered to pay £1.8 million for failing to protect workers from the risk of Legionnaires’ disease, a serious respiratory illness caused by airborne Legionella bacteria.

The company pleaded guilty to charges under the Health and Safety at Work, etc., Act 1974, after failing to reduce the risk of staff and visitors getting Legionella from building water systems.

Environmental health officers inspected G4S’s Harlow site following a report of an employee with Legionnaires’ disease. Although it was not confirmed where the disease came from, officers found G4S’s systems did not comply with the law. Indeed, Harlow Council brought legal proceedings because of a “serious lack of compliance” in maintaining water systems, including:

  • erratic” monitoring and testing;
  • poorly trained staff;
  • out-of-date policies; and
  • insufficient risk assessments.

The council said G4S had no current water management policies or suitable risk assessments in place, “despite a long-standing duty, extensive guidance, advice from their own consultants and advice from Harlow Council.” It added, “although some improvements were made it took G4S almost three years to reach minimum standards to protect its staff and visitors from exposure to Legionella bacteria.”

The huge fine should send employers a serious and important message.

Legionella and the Law

Employers have a general duty under the HSWA 1974 to protect employees and others, and many prosecutions are brought for inadequate control of the risks from Legionella.

Few employers realise there need be no outbreak of the disease or even Legionella bacteria present. In 1993 the London Science Museum was prosecuted after poorly maintaining its air-conditioning system. As legionella was not found, the museum argued there was no actual danger. It lost the argument and was fined £500 but had to pay costs of £35,000!

The Risk

Any system can potentially be a source for Legionella bacteria, particularly where water:

  • is stored or re-circulated;
  • temperature is between 20-45°C;
  • taps have rust, sludge or scale; and
  • droplets are scattered.

Serious concerns arise if a system is rarely used, or has warm spray or an isolated pipe with stagnant water.

You can read more general guidance on Legionella here. Nick Wilson, Director of Health & Safety Services at Ellis Whittam has also produced this essential guide.

Contact Ellis Whittam to make sure your organisation reaches the standards required to protect people from exposure to Legionella.

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