Legionella Outbreak Leads to Prosecution for Recycling


When there is a health and safety scare, the net is spread wide in the search for culprits, and many companies may be caught up in the search for potential culprits.

In this case there was an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the South Wales valleys in September 2010. No single cause was ever found, but a recycling company in Merthyr Tydfil was investigated at the time and has now been found guilty of failing to take appropriate measures to control the risk of exposure of its workers and the public to the potentially fatal Legionella bacteria.

Cooling Tower risks

HSE inspectors visited Merthyr Industrial Services (Biomass) Ltd. They found that in a five-week period, the company used a cooling tower without taking appropriate measures to control the risk of Legionella bacteria proliferation.

As a result HSE served an immediate Prohibition Notice to stop them using the cooling tower until the right controls were in place.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching the Notification of Cooling Towers and Evaporative Condensers Regulations 1992 as well as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. The Magistrates’ Court fined them £600 and they were ordered to pay the full costs of £8,577.

The Legionnaires’ outbreak was declared on 3rd September 2010 and it was declared to be over on 12th October 2010. Despite a widespread investigation the agencies identified no unique source of the disease; it was suggested that several suspected sources were to blame.

The company’s failing to apply the required controls on their tower was seen as being a potential risk to the workforce and the public. Firms have a legal requirement to notify their Local Authority if they are operating such a cooling tower. This is to enable the Outbreak Control Team to plan a response in the event of an outbreak.

Fallout for firms found guilty

HSE was careful to point out that this firm was not actually implicated as a source of contamination: but it was enough that they caused a potential risk. The public perception will probably not make the distinction.

It is not just the fine and the high legal costs of cases like this, nor even the amount of management time that is taken up in dealing with the case and the follow-up visits, making-good actions, and the correspondence: but it is the impact on the company’s reputation and the implied breach of trust with its employees which represent the most serious fallout.

It is essential that companies operating cooling towers fully understand the risks of Legionella, and the steps they need to take to control that risk.

How to avoid falling into the same trap? Well, cooling towers are often neglected as being out of sight and out of mind. They are potentially deadly if risk assessments are not made and if the proper water system testing is not carried out on a scheduled basis, at least every 2 years, using professional inspectors backed up by laboratory analysis.

These services are supplied by McCormack Benson Health & Safety, a full-service firm of Health and Safety consultants. They will allocate you a personal safety consultant who will get to know your firm and whose industrial knowledge will be an invaluable asset to you.