Legionella bacteria leads to £54,000 fine for hotel operator

A hotel operator has been fined after dozens of guests and staff fell ill due to being exposed to Legionella bacteria in a hot tub.

BDL Select Operations Ltd, which operated the then-Landmark Hotel, now the Hilton Doubletree in Dundee, was fined £54,000 over the outbreak.

In total, 65 people fell ill, with 18 confirmed to have contracted Pontiac Fever, a non-fatal, flu-like illness caused by the same type of Legionella bug that causes Legionnaires’ disease. Dundee Sheriff Court heard how safety checks on the spa pool at the hotel’s leisure club were not being correctly carried out following the sacking of the club’s manager in January 2011.

As a result of that departure, the hot tub was not fully drained, cleaned or disinfected for more than two months before the outbreak!  Furthermore, a “backwashing” job on its filters, which industry bodies recommend is carried out daily, was only done five times between February 6 and March 17, 2011.

A chlorine injector on the pool failed in March 2011, causing chlorine levels in the pool to fall to dangerous levels and allowing bacteria to breed in it.

It was eventually put out of action but left switched on to prevent water stagnating. That kept the water in the temperature zone, which allows the Legionella bug to proliferate, and also agitated the water, allowing infected water droplets to become airborne.

Emma Stewart, fiscal depute told the court that after the outbreak was identified, Legionella bacteria was found in water samples taken from poolside showers and in showers in the men’s changing rooms.

She said:

“As a result, staff members and guests were exposed to Legionella bacteria. In total, one staff member and 17 guests were confirmed to have contracted Pontiac Fever.  When the hot tub was closed it was left on and, over that weekend, four regular members of the club were allowed to use it for around 20 minutes. All four later fell ill and three were confirmed to have Pontiac Fever.

An investigation was undertaken and the spa pool was later decommissioned entirely. Some staff were trained how to test water but had little knowledge on how to interpret the results. No information was made available to staff in that regard.”

BDL Select Operations Ltd pleaded guilty on indictment to two charges under the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974.

Defence advocate Barry Smith said:

“The company acquired the hotel in 2008 and spent £2.75m on it, including £140,000 on the leisure club. Considerably more money has been spent since this incident, some £1m.”

Handing down the £54,000 fine, Sheriff George Way said:

“Clearly this is a matter of significant public concern.  There have been fatalities caused by airborne risks and failures to prevent those risks.  It is only good fortune that the actual consequences of the failures are not more serious.”


Quantum comments

There are many simple procedures that can be followed to ensure safety.  Please read our Water Safety section for service and advice.  You can also watch our videos.

Water Safety Advice for Residential Property Management

There appears to be a hierarchy of priority when it comes to health & safety within the block management sector. Everybody knows the importance of fire safety, there is a high awareness of the dangers of asbestos, and the no win / no fee personal injury culture ensures trips and falls and other hazards are identified and dealt with. In this context water safety has often been overlooked and even ignored by many RMC directors and property managers. That is until recently when perceived changes in law have raised concerns about the liabilities and responsibilities of freeholders and landlords.

So what has changed? Well basically nothing – except a growing realisation that water safety is as important as fire, asbestos and general health & safety and should be treated as such.

Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia. It is caused by the inhalation of small droplets of water in the form of vapour or spray that have been contaminated by legionella bacteria (to be more precise, this is usually a particular species known as Legionella pneumophilia) Although it can result in death this bacteria is often the cause of less serious flu like illnesses.

Like most things in life, at low levels legionella bacteria are not harmful to most people and many of us have been exposed to low levels without noticing any ill-effects. However, in favourable conditions the bacteria can grow to levels that are at best harmful and at worst lethal.

The “responsible person” within the property management team (i.e. the freeholder, landlord or managing agent) has a legal duty to ensure this does not happen. These duties are enforced within:

  • Section 3 (2) of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA)
  • Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR)
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH)
  • L8 – Approved Code of Practice (ACOP)

As previously stated those responsibilities have not changed. Landlords and those responsible for water systems in both domestic and business premises are required to assess and control the risks of exposure to legionella.

There is a common misconception that it is only legionella testing / sampling that is required and that a “Legionella Test Certificate” is sufficient. It should be noted that Health & Safety law does not require landlords / responsible persons to have such a certificate, and indeed the HSE does not recognise it. The requirement is for those parts of the water system under the control of the responsible person to be properly surveyed and assessed for risk and followed up with a suitable regime of maintenance, testing and inspection to control any risks identified. This usually includes water temperature monitoring and the routine inspection of storage tanks. Legionella sampling can, and often will, form part of the risk assessment but will not in itself be sufficient.

Whether you are a landlord, RMC director or property manager the cost of water safety management will be an issue. Whilst understanding that allocation of service charges have to be managed and prioritised it should be realised that failure to take the necessary steps to identify and control water safety risks could result in a far greater cost than the initial precautionary risk assessment. The legionella risk assessment is in fact a legal requirement and furthermore the cost of such an assessment does not have to be high. In many small properties and those that are purpose built residential apartment blocks the risk may be very low. For example, where there are no water storage tanks , boilers or calorifiers within the communal areas and cold water supplies are delivered directly into residents private living areas. Where this is the case a simple straightforward assessment can be undertaken which covers the following steps:

  1. Check cold and hot water temperatures. Cold water should be maintained below 20 degrees centigrade and hot water stored at 60 degrees centigrade and distributed at 50 degrees centigrade.
  2. Check there are no areas where stagnant water occurs (commonly known as dead legs). This could be pipes to appliances such as washing machines that are no longer in use, or pipes to garden taps used for car cleaning or irrigation, etc.
  3. Check whether there are any rooms or properties that have been vacant long enough for water to stagnate in pipes and if so whether the system has been periodically flushed.
  4. Check whether there is any build-up of debris in the system such limescale, sediment, rust or sludge.
  5. Check whether part or all of the system require modernising.
  6. Check whether all tanks / cisterns are covered with secure lids to prevent contamination by mice, birds, insects or dirt.
  7. Check whether the water system is susceptible to backflow from fittings or hoses attached to external taps.
  8. Check whether there is any cross connection between pipes carrying water for tenants direct use or from other sources. Also check whether there are any areas where hot and cold water pipes are in close proximity.
  9. Check whether there are any tenants vulnerable to infection due to old age or illness.

PLEASE NOTE – The above is not a conclusive checklist and should not be taken as such. More comprehensive guidance can be obtained from the HSE website.

If the above steps identify any possible risk then suitable remedial actions should be implemented and any relevant persons should be informed of the risks and of any actions they are required to take. Finally a record should always be kept of when the risk assessment was carried out, by whom, its findings and any recommended actions.

Although the above may be suitable for low risk properties many landlords, RMC directors and / or property managers may not feel comfortable or competent to take on the responsibility of putting their names to the risk assessment. There will also be many properties that have more complex water systems that require a qualified professional to survey and inspect the system.

The following questions which can be found on the HSE website may assist your decision regarding which approach to take for controlling legionella in your managed properties:

  1. Is there a risk assessment in place for the water system?
  2. Does the risk assessment contain a description of the water system (e.g. an up to date schematic diagram) showing what the system comprises including parts out of use?
  3. Does the risk assessment conclude there is no significant risk?
  4. If the risk assessment does identify a significant risk then:
    1. Is there a written control scheme in place to address the risk?
    2. Has the responsible person(s) been identified in writing?
    3. Are the roles and responsibilities of all staff involved in the control regime clearly defined in writing and have they all received appropriate training?
    4. If external contractors are used are their roles and responsibilities clearly defined in writing and have you checked on the competence of contractors / consultants and found it acceptable (e.g. experience and qualification, training, membership of professional bodies or recognised trade associations)?
    5. Have you considered all other health & safety issues (e.g. COSHH assessments for handling water treatment chemicals, working at height, working in confined spaces, electrical safety and ease of access to parts of the system?

There is no legal requirement to review legionella risk assessments at specific intervals. However the risk assessment should include a management plan that would recommend appropriate review dates.

It is not common practice for the HSE or local authorities to pro actively inspect domestic / residential properties. However in the event of a legionella occurrence the landlord / responsible person may be liable to prosecution under HASW and would be required to demonstrate in court their legal duties had been fulfilled.

Hopefully this clarifies the importance of ensuring satisfactory water safety measures are in place.

If you need further advice or assistance in drafting or reviewing the water safety management programme for the properties you are responsible for please contact David Foster at Quantum Compliance on 07720 348161 or by e-mail at david.foster@qcompliance.co.uk

Worker paralysed after fall

Cwmbran Magistrates’ Court heard how Alan Mosley, an employee of Bristol based Western Power Distribution PLC, suffered permanent spinal injuries as a result of falling from height after coming into contact with live electrical equipment.

An electrical power company, Western Power Distribution (South Wales) PLC has been fined.

Mr Mosley, 56, was part of a two-man team tasked with changing an antenna at Brithdir cemetery in April 2013. After climbing a ladder he received an electric shock when he touched the antenna. Pushing himself off the ladder to avoid potential electrocution, he fell four and a half metres.

Mr Mosley had been married for only eight months before the incident and, as a result of his injuries, he now has to use a wheelchair.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there to be a fault in the wiring causing the external metal to become connected to the 230v power supply.

Western Power Distribution (South Wales) PLC, of Avonbank, Feeder Road, Bristol, was fined a total of £300,000, and ordered to pay £18,178 in costs, after pleading guilty to an offence under Regulation 4(1) and 4(3) of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Dean Baker, said:

“Mr Mosley suffered life-changing injuries as a result of the company’s failure to carry out adequate tests on electrical equipment and was lucky not to have received a fatal electric shock.”

For more information about electrical safety visit: http://www.hse.gov.uk/electricity/

Unlicensed company removes asbestos ceiling from school

A construction firm removed an asbestos ceiling in a school despite not being legally approved to do the work.

Clarks Construction Limited, of Windsor Street, Luton, was fined a total of £3,300, and ordered to pay £662 in costs after pleading guilty to a breach of Regulation 8(1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 for carrying out the work which, given the inherent level of risk involved, requires a licensed contractor.

Luton Magistrates’ Court heard that Clarks Construction Limited were contracted by the Board of Governors of Caddington Village School to refurbish changing rooms, toilets and associated areas at the school complex.

The school had arranged for a specific refurbishment survey to be carried out for the presence of asbestos. The survey identified the presence of asbestos in a ceiling of one of the rooms. Clarks Construction Limited removed the ceiling in August 2013 without consultation with the school or effective reference to the asbestos survey.

For more information about safe, compliant asbestos services, please visit Asbestos Management.

Fines for unlicensed removal of asbestos

A Surrey man was fined for exposing the residents of a residence in Putney, himself and his assistant to asbestos.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard how the owner of a three-storey town house in Putney was upgrading the central heating system of his home when his plumbers identified that the boiler cupboard is his loft was made of material they believed could contain asbestos. The owner contacted Dean Callaghan of Esher, Surrey, trading as Rubbish Taxi, after searching on the website, Checkatrade for asbestos removal companies.

Dean Callaghan carried out the removal of the boiler cupboard, assisted by another worker, on 28 December 2014. During that day the homeowner witnessed panels of asbestos containing material (ACM) being carried down four flights of stairs. These panels were not bagged or wrapped, potentially spreading asbestos through the house. After the work was completed, he discovered a lot of dust and debris had been left in the loft area. He contacted an asbestos surveying company who sampled this material and found the loft to be widely contaminated with asbestos. The samples indicated that the material removed was probably asbestos insulation board (AIB). The homeowner had ultimately to engage a licensed asbestos contractor to carry out an environmental clean of the loft area in his home to remove all asbestos debris.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident, identified that Dean Callaghan had removed approximately 8m² of asbestos insulation board and that the removal was poorly carried out. Work of this nature should only be carried out by companies who hold a license granted by the HSE and, although he had been on a training course for low risk, non-licensable work with asbestos, Mr Callaghan did not hold such a license.

Dean Callaghan, of Hillcrest Gardens, Hinchley Wood, Esher, was fined a total of £2,500, with costs of £701 after pleading guilty to an offence under Regulation 11(1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Loraine Charles said:

“The dangers associated with exposure to asbestos are widely known. Asbestos still kills around 5,000 workers in Britain each year; this is greater than the number of people killed on our roads. Dean Callaghan carried out work which was liable to, and did in fact expose himself, his co-worker and the members of this household to asbestos.

Any work that disturbs asbestos is potentially extremely dangerous. It is important that householders recognise that any significant asbestos removal work in their homes must only be carried out by licensed contractors, and that unlicensed operators do not put themselves and others at risk by carrying out work beyond their capabilities.”


Quantum Comments

For more information on the correct guidelines and suitable assistance in the removal of asbestos, please see our Asbestos Management section.

New GB health and safety strategy for 2016

The HSE has just published six themes that the new five-year GB strategy will cover.
The six themes for the strategy are:

  • Promoting broader ownership of workplace health and safety
  • Highlighting and tackling the burden of work-related ill-health
  • Supporting small firms
  • Enabling productivity through proportionate risk management
  • Anticipating and tackling the challenges of new technology and ways of working
  • Sharing the benefits of Great Britain’s approach

A discussion has now started to engage with the people and organisations that can help the nations and regions of Great Britain work well.

HSE Chair Judith Hackitt said:

“We can be proud of the country’s record on work-related safety and health – it’s one of the best in the world. Making it even better is the challenge, so that we can all continue to help Great Britain work well. Getting risk management right is an enabler for productivity, innovation and growth, and is integral to business success as well as the wellbeing of workers.

We’re starting a conversation with a wide range of influencers – including employers, workers, local and central government, unions, other regulators and key representative groups – because it’s important that this is a strategy for all, shaped by all.”

Justin Tomlinson MP, Minister for Disabled People, with responsibility for health and safety, said:

“In Government, we are determined to build a more productive Britain, one that rewards hard work and helps all to benefit from the opportunities of economic growth.
It is essential that health and safety is part of that, supporting British employers in their ambition and supporting workers who want to get on.
Taking sensible steps to keep workers safe and well is something that the best-run businesses do. It’s good for people, it’s good for productivity and it’s good for growth.”

More details on how people can join in will be released on the HSE site in the coming weeks. Plans include events across Great Britain, digital discussion groups and a campaign hashtag: #HelpGBWorkWell