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Written by
on 14 June 2012


The recent outbreak of Legionnaires Disease has resulted in 61 suspected cases in Edinburgh.  Most of the people who have been affected are male between the ages of 30 and 80.  A 56 year old man, Robert Air, died from the diseases and experts have said that there may be more deaths to come.  It is still not known where the source of the outbreak lies, although there is a link with Gorgie, Dalry and Saughton with all of the affected patients.

What Is Legionnaires Disease?

The disease is a form of pneumonia caused by the legionella bacteria. These bacteria can also lead to Pontiac and Lochgoilhead fever.  Everyone can be affected by the disease but there are some people who may be slightly more at risk than others such as:

  • Anyone over the age of 45
  • Anyone who smokes or drinks heavily
  • Those who suffer with chronic respiratory conditions
  • Those who have kidney disease
  • Anyone with a low immune system

Legionella bacteria can be found in water systems such as ponds, lakes and rivers. Despite their common occurrence most people don’t become infected from these sources.  The disease is more commonly transferred though cooling towers, condensers, pools and hot water systems.

How Can You Get Legionnaires Disease?

If you inhale small droplets of water with the bacteria present it is possible to contract the disease. The risks can be increased if the temperature of the water is around 20 to 45 degrees Celsius as this is the best temperature for the bacteria to grow.  Other optimum conditions include:

  • Recirculated or stored water
  • Sludge, fouling and scale which offer nutrition for the bacteria
  • Creation of small droplets of water

Employers Duties

Employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees which includes exposure to legionella.  Therefore it is your duty to reduce the risks.  You must identify where the risks are, control, prevent and manage the risks and keep the correct records.  You must evaluate the risks but if you are uncertain you may need outside help to make sure the evaluation is done correctly. Health and safety consultants can be approached for assistance or speak to the health and safety manager in your employment for advice.

You will need to perform the risk assessment to decide where the possible sources of legionella bacteria are within your company.  This could be in showers, cooling systems, or heat exchanges for example.  You will need to know the temperature of the water, how it is stored and if there are any conditions which may increase the likelihood of the bacteria being present. It’s also important to identify those in your employment who may be at increased risk.

Control measures can be created after a competent risk assessment.  You will need to monitor and inspect the procedures you create and create review dates.  A competent person can be given the responsibility of helping you meet your health and safety duties.  Health and safety consultants offer competent person services and will have the skills and experience to help you manage the scheme correctly. Call 0800 1488 677 and ask about the competent person health and safety service and protect your employees.

About the author

David Cant is a Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME’s favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick. You can find him across social media on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

  • Robbie Marcus says:

    This seems rather scary if you ask me, this can be a very dangerous disease from what I have been told. Hope we can get rid of this some how! Good post and great site too.

  • Lisa carr says:

    This can be easily caught, so it’s best to be very careful. It is a bit worrying to be honest.

  • Rebecca says:

    This is seriously a very dangerous disease. Every employee must take all safety precautions to keep him/her safe from such disease.

    Thanks for the post. This is going to help us.
    Keep on posting.