Legionella bug return warning over bacteria risks

Macfarlan Smith and North British Distillery

Macfarlan Smith and North British Distillery

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A LEGIONELLA crisis could strike again if companies operating cooling towers do not do more to tighten up bacteria control measures, the Health and Safety Executive has warned.

The city’s legionnaires’ outbreak which claimed three lives earlier this year is most likely to have originated from a cluster of cooling towers in the Wheatfield Road area of Gorgie.

While the exact source of the bacteria is yet to be pinpointed, the HSE has said a review of legionnaires’ disease outbreaks in Britain over the last decade has identified common failings in legionella control.

It has said that there is the potential for another outbreak in the UK and told businesses to do more to protect employees and members of the public.

The review has prompted the HSE to issue a safety notice, which stresses the need for effective control measures after it was revealed that 90 per cent of outbreaks come as a result of failures to identify risks and recognise possible legionella problems.

Paul McDermott, the HSE’s legionella expert, said: “Our research has confirmed the importance of businesses following the well-established and readily available guidance. Through this safety notice we are reiterating what those responsible for the maintenance of water systems should be doing already.

“They have a responsibility to manage the risks they create to protect workers and the wider public. Failure to comply with the law means they may face legal sanctions.”

The study of legionella flare-ups over the past ten years has confirmed that cooling towers and evaporative condensers are the most common source of significant outbreaks, and problems can build up rapidly if risks are not controlled.

According to the HSE, companies should identify and assess sources of legionella, prepare a scheme for preventing or controlling the risk, and appoint a senior person to oversee safety measures.

There should also be routine monitoring of bacteria levels in water, while plants should be kept in good condition.

The safety notice states that a lack of training and poor communication has been identified as contributory factors in outbreaks of legionnaires’.

Sixteen cooling towers in the Capital were “shock dosed” with chemicals after the outbreak was confirmed.

Improvement notices were handed out to the North British Distillery and chemical firm Macfarlan Smith.

The companies complied with the deadlines they had been given under the notices.

Following the death of Bert Air, 56, on June 6, two others died of legionnaires’ disease. In total, 101 suspected or confirmed cases of legionnaires’ were reported by NHS Lothian.