After the death of a pensioner, who died from exposure to legionella, Reading Borough Council (RBC) has been fined following an investigation into the death.

During the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution, Reading Magistrates’ Court heard how Mr Lewis Payne, a 95-year-old vulnerable gentleman, arrived at RBC operated care facility, The Willows, on 24 September 2012.  He had previously been in hospital having suffered a broken leg and was attending The Willows to receive intermediate care before returning to his own home.  During his stay he began feeling unwell, complaining of aches and pains including tightness of the chest, shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing. He was also suffering from nausea.

On 16 October 2012 he was re-admitted to hospital and a sample proved positive for the presence of Legionella. He underwent treatment for Legionnaire’s disease, but died on 1 November 2012 from pneumonia related to legionella.

The prosecution said the control and management arrangements needed to ensure the risk from legionella is minimised, need to be robust. The court was told, prior to November 2012, RBC’s arrangements were not robust enough in a number of areas.

The Legionella training for the key personnel at The Willows was significantly below the standard required. There were inadequate temperature checks and some of those done with respect to Thermostatic Mixer Valves (TMVs) were done incorrectly.  Showers were not de-scaled and disinfected quarterly as required; flushing of little used outlets was reliant on one member of staff and there was no procedure for this to be done in the absence of that member of staff.

HSE said the failings were systemic and continued over a period of time. There was a history of legionella problems at the home which was formerly known as Tanfield Care Home. The monitoring, checking and flushing tasks were given to the home’s handyman who was inadequately trained and supervised. There was no system in place to cover for him when he was away so that the requisite checks were not done.

Reading Borough Council, Civic Offices, Bridge Street, Reading admitted breaching Section 3(1) of Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £100,000 with £20,000 costs in Reading Crown Court.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Kelly Nichols said:

“Mr Payne’s family has lost a loving father, grandfather, great grandfather and just before his death he had become a great, great grandfather. His family expected him to return home from the hospital to resume his normal active life, he never did.

Reading Borough Council could and should have controlled the risk of exposure to legionella to the elderly and infirm as well as those receiving immediate care prior to returning home.

RBC’s failings were systemic and continued over a period of time. There was a history of legionella problems at the home. The control and management arrangements were not robust and the legionella training of key personnel fell significantly below the required standard.

The risks from legionella in nursing and care homes and the required control measures to manage those risks have been know and publicised in HSE publications since May 2000. It is really disappointing to find a local authority not managing those risks. It is important for all care provider to ensure they are managing the risks from hot and cold water systems with respect to both legionella and scalding risks especially due to likely exposure of more vulnerable people.”