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Legionnaires’ disease is, unfortunately, in the news regularly. Only last month a driving test centre in Kent had to be shut down after the bacteria – which can cause the potentially fatal lung infection – was found during a routine water test. One of the worst outbreaks in UK history was in 2002 in Barrow-in-Furness, the source of which was an arts centre air conditioning unit. 172 cases of the disease were reported, resulting in seven deaths. If you are an employer, or someone in control of premises, including landlords, you must understand the health risks associated with legionella, and take the right precautions to reduce the risks of exposure to the bacteria, guidance on which we share below. Failure to do so recently resulted in an international engineering firm being fined at total of £110,000 plus £77,252 costs.
If you work in an electronics, metalwork or plumbing related industry, you’re probably familiar with soldering processes, and the fact that serious health problems can arise from rosin, which is contained in solder fluxes. This week we share the HSE’s recently revised guidance document ‘Solder fume and you’ (INDG248) which gives advice to employees on safe working whilst soldering with rosin (colophony) based solder fluxes.
And finally, we share details of 3M’s SafeTea Break 2015 campaign which encourages employers to deliver bite-size ‘tea break’ talks to engage their workforces in discussions about health and long latency occupational diseases.
We hope you find our news updates useful. If you know of anyone who may benefit from reading them, please encourage them to register at the bottom-left of our news page (http://www.eljay.co.uk/news/) and we’ll email them a link each time an update is published. If in the unlikely event any difficulties are experienced whilst registering we’ll be more than happy to help and can be contacted on 07896 016380 or at Fiona@eljay.co.uk
An international engineering firm, which refurbishes turbine blades, was recently fined a total of £110,000 plus £77,252 costs for failing to manage the risk to public and employees to potentially fatal legionella bacteria.
The company, which has sites in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, failed to properly manage the risk of bacteria growing in their cooling towers for over a year, from May 2011.
Derby Crown Court heard that during a visit to one of the sites in May 2012, a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector felt spray on his face, saw the yard’s surface was wet and that nearby cooling towers were corroded.
Corrosion can encourage the growth of legionella bacteria which is carried in water droplets. If water is inhaled which contains the bacteria, it can lead to a number of diseases, but most commonly legionnaire’s disease, a potentially fatal form of pneumonia.
The inspector extended his visit to the rest of the factory plus the company’s other site, and found significant failings in the company’s control, recording and management of legionella risks.
HSE issued four improvement notices in June 2012 requiring inlet screens to be placed on the cooling towers to stop debris falling in them which could encourage legionella growth, and for corroded items of plant to be replaced.
Two similar notices were served on the company in 2008 seeking improvements on rusting towers and a number of management failures. All the notices had been complied with.
The court was told a laboratory analysis of a water sample taken from one of the sites before the HSE investigation had found legionella bacteria levels to be so high that immediate action was required to clean the system.
As well as failing to maintain its infrastructure, the company did not keep biocides (chemicals which kill bacteria) at effective levels.
What is Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionellosis is a collective term for diseases caused by legionella bacteria including 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. The risk increases with age but 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
- diabetes, lung and heart 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, hot and cold water systems and spa pools.
If conditions are favourable, the bacteria may grow increasing the risks of Legionnaires’ disease and it is therefore important to control the risks by introducing appropriate measures outlined in Legionnaires’ disease – The Control of Legionella bacteria in water systems (L8) (http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/l8.htm).
What you must do
- Identify and assess sources of risk
- Managing the risk
- Preventing or controlling the risk
- Keeping records
- Other duties
- Specific risk systems
If you are an employer, or someone in control of premises, including landlords, you must understand the health risks associated with legionella. This section can help you to control any risks.
Duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA) extend to risks from legionella bacteria, which may arise from work activities. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) provide a broad framework for controlling health and safety at work. More specifically, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) provide a framework of actions designed to assess, prevent or control the risk from bacteria like Legionella and take suitable precautions. The Approved Code of Practice: Legionnaires’ disease: The control of Legionella bacteria in water systems (L8) contains practical guidance on how to manage and control the risks in your system.
As an employer, or a person in control of the premises, you are responsible for health and safety and need to take the right precautions to reduce the risks of exposure to legionella. You must understand how to:
- identify and assess sources of risk
- manage any risks
- prevent or control any risks
- keep and maintain the correct records
- carry out any other duties you may have
Carrying out a risk assessment is your responsibility. You may be competent to carry out the assessment yourself but, if not, you should call on help and advice from either within your own organisation or from outside sources, e.g. consultancies.
You or the person responsible for managing risks, need to understand your water systems, the equipment associated with the system such as pumps, heat exchangers, showers etc, and its constituent parts. Identify whether they are likely to create a risk from exposure to legionella, and whether:
- the water temperature in all or some parts of the system is between 20–45 °C
- water is stored or re-circulated as part of your system
- there are sources of nutrients such as rust, sludge, scale, organic matter and biofilms
- the conditions are likely to encourage bacteria to multiply
- it is possible for water droplets to be produced and, if so, whether they can be dispersed over a wide area, e.g. showers and aerosols from cooling towers
- it is likely that any of your employees, residents, visitors etc are more susceptible to infection due to age, illness, a weakened immune system etc and whether they could be exposed to any contaminated water droplets
Your risk assessment should include:
- management responsibilities, including the name of the competent person and a description of your system
- competence and training of key personnel
- any identified potential risk sources
- any means of preventing the risk or controls in place to control risks
- monitoring, inspection and maintenance procedures
- records of the monitoring results and inspection and checks carried out
- arrangements to review the risk assessment regularly, particularly when there is reason to suspect it is no longer valid
If you conclude that there is no reasonably foreseeable risk or the risks are low and are being properly managed to comply with the law, your assessment is complete. You may not need to take any further action at this stage, but any existing controls must be maintained and the assessment reviewed regularly in case anything changes in your system.
As an employer, or person in control of premises, you must appoint someone competent to help you meet your health and safety duties and to take responsibility for controlling any identified risk from exposure to legionella bacteria. A competent person, often known as the responsible person, is someone with sufficient authority, competence, necessary skills, knowledge of the system, and experience. The appointed responsible person could be one, or a combination of:
- one or more workers
- someone from outside your business
If there are several people responsible for managing risks, e.g. because of shift-work patterns, you must make sure that everyone knows what they are responsible for and how they fit into the overall risk management of the system.
If you decide to employ contractors to carry out water treatment or other work, it is still the responsibility of the competent person to ensure that the treatment is carried out to the required standards. Remember, before you employ a contractor, you should be satisfied that they can do the work you want to the standard that you require. There are a number of external schemes to help you with this, for example, A Code of Conduct for service providers (http://www.legionellacontrol.org.uk/). The British Standards Institute have published a standard for legionella risk assessment (http://shop.bsigroup.com/ProductDetail/?pid=000000000030200235)
You should first consider whether you can prevent the risk of legionella by looking at the type of water system you need, e.g. identify whether it is possible to replace a wet cooling tower with a dry air-cooled system. The key point is to design, maintain and operate your water services under conditions that prevent or adequately control the growth and multiplication of legionella.
If you identify a risk that you are unable to prevent, you must introduce a course of action ie a written control scheme, that will help you to manage the risk from legionella by implementing effective control measures, by describing:
- your system, e.g. develop a schematic diagram
- who is responsible for carrying out the assessment and managing its implementation
- the safe and correct operation of your system
- what control methods and other precautions you will be using
- what checks will be carried out, and how often will they be carried out, to ensure the controls remain effective
- ensure that the release of water spray is properly controlled
- avoid water temperatures and conditions that favour the growth of legionella and other micro-organisms
- ensure water cannot stagnate anywhere in the system by keeping pipe lengths as short as possible or removing redundant pipework
- avoid materials that encourage the growth of legionella (The Water Fittings & Materials Directory (http://www.materialstesting.co.uk/materials_directory.htm) references fittings, materials, and appliances approved for use on the UK Water Supply System by the Water Regulations Advisory Scheme)
- keep the system and the water in it clean
- treat water to either control the growth of legionella (and other microorganisms) or limit their ability to grow
- monitor any control measures applied
- keep records of these and other actions taken, such as maintenance or repair work
If you have five or more employees you have to record any significant findings, including those identified as being particularly at risk and the steps taken to prevent or control risks. If you have less than five employees, you do not need to write anything down, although it is useful to keep a written record of what you have done.
Records should include details of the:
- person or persons responsible for conducting the risk assessment, managing, and implementing the written scheme
- significant findings of the risk assessment
- written control scheme and details of its implementation
- details of the state of operation of the system, i.e. in use/not in use
- results of any monitoring inspection, test or check carried out, and the dates
These records should be retained throughout the period for which they remain current and for at least two years after that period. Records kept in accordance with (e) should be retained for at least five years.
Under the Notification of Cooling Towers and Evaporative Condensers Regulations 1992, you must notify your local authority in writing, if you have a cooling tower or evaporative condenser on site, and include details about where it is located. You must also tell them if/when such devices are no longer in use. Notification forms are available from your local authority/environmental health department.
Although less common, other systems that do not rely solely on the principle of evaporation, are dry/wet coolers or condensers. Owing to their different principles of operation, these systems may not require notification under the Notification of Cooling Towers and Evaporative Condensers Regulations 1992 (NCTEC) but it is important to assess the system against the notification requirements defined in NCTEC, eg where such systems spray water directly onto the surface of the heat exchanger.
In addition, under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR), you must report any cases of legionellosis in an employee who has worked on cooling towers or hot and cold water systems that are likely to be contaminated with legionella.
You will also need to consider technical and further information on the following risk systems (click on the links):
- Evaporative cooling systems: http://www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/cooling-towers.htm
- Hot and cold water systems: http://www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/hot-and-cold.htm
- Spa pools: http://www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/spa-pools.htm
- Other risk systems: http://www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/other-risk-systems.htm
For more information visit the HSE web page http://www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/index.htm?ebul=gd-welding&cr=12/Dec15 or contact us on 07896 016380 or at Fiona@eljay.co.uk and we’ll be happy to help. We carry out Legionnella Risk Assessments of hot and cold water systems in commercial and residential property and can provide further information on request.
This guidance is aimed at people who solder using rosin, specifically colophony-based solder flux, which can cause asthma and dermatitis.
- Working with rosin-based solder fluxes requires you to take action. You should take appropriate steps to prevent, control or reduce exposure to fumes, as they can cause serious health problems.
- There are different types of solder flux. Find out from your manager what type of solder fume you are using.
- Serious health problems can occur when soldering.
- Report symptoms of ill health to your manager. These can include: coughing; wheezing; runny eyes or nose; tight chest. These can all be symptoms of occupational asthma or serious illness.
- If solder flux fume makes you ill, the effects will become worse if you carry on breathing in the fume.
- Where it is necessary to have a health surveillance process in place to help protect the health of employees, your employer will ask you to co-operate.
To protect your health:
- Keep your face out of the solder fume.
- Use the correct control measure(s), such as: local exhaust ventilation (LEV); solder fume extraction; on-tip extraction; down-draught benches; enclosing hoods; moveable capturing hoods. Look at Controlling health risks from rosin (colophony)-based solder fluxes (see Further reading) for further information on which method you should use.
- Use fume extraction when you are either: – soldering using rosin-based fluxes; or – using alternative fluxes for more than a few minutes a day.
- You should check that the system works properly every time you use or move it.
- Check for yourself to see how effective the LEV is where you work.
Further reading (click on the links)
- Solderer – common causes of asthma: http://www.hse.gov.uk/asthma/solderers.htm
- Controlling health risks from rosin (colophony)-based solder flux fume: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg249.pdf
For clarification or more information, contact us on 07896 016380 or at Fiona@eljay.co.uk and we’ll be happy to help.
3M in conjunction with Safety Groups UK have launched SafeTea Break 2015 Campaign. The campaign has an accompanying toolkit for bite-size ‘tea break’ talks to engage your workforce in discussions about health and long latency occupational diseases.
The kit provides open questions to present to the workforce in a breakout session that will generate debate across health topics, ultimately driving a useful action plan, and a better understanding of the health risks and consequences of non-compliance for the workforce.
Visit the website at http://safetynetwork.3m.com/blog/safetea/?WT.mc_id=www.3m.co.uk/SafeTea?ebul=gd-welding&cr=11/Dec15 where you can download the SafeTea Break pack for free.
Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence