Legionnaires Action Spreads


Legionnaires’ Disease has rarely been so high-profile as now, with 88 cases confirmed and suspected in Edinburgh at the time of writing.

No doubt under a lot of pressure to be taking action, the Health and Safety Executive  has served an improvement notice on North British Distillery Company Ltd (to be acted upon by 29 June) and now two improvement notices on a second Edinburgh company, Macfarlan Smith Ltd, as a result of the ongoing legionella investigation.

The new improvement notices are against a chemicals company that is part of the worldwide Johnson Matthey Group. They require thorough cleaning of a cooling tower as well as provision within its structure of access for inspection and maintenance.

The original improvement notice on North British Distillery Company Ltd was due to a perceived failure on their part to ‘devise and implement a sustained and effective biocide control programme’ in one of their three cooling towers. The whisky distillers have acted to take all three out of action.

The HSE are continuing to investigate the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in the South West Edinburgh area. Visits are being made to other companies.

However in this litigious age the HSE has been quick to note that that their serving of this or the subsequent two notices does not mean that any of these cooling towers is the source of the outbreak. As in many previous cases, the true cause may never be conclusively identified,

Improvement notices are served if inspectors believe that correct procedures are not being followed, yet there is not an immediate risk to workers or the public. The improvement notice sets out what remedial action is considered necessary, and there is a deadline for its completion. An appeal may be lodged within 21 days, but it is rare that a company does this, maybe for fear of incurring future close inspection scrutiny.

Whenever the public are put at risk by this disease the media reaction is inevitable, yet unless they have all worked in a particular factory or stayed at the same hotel, the actual culprit is often hard to find. This is not to condone poor practices by companies, but it may well be that the identified cooling tower are no worse than many others around the country. The first man to die in this outbreak worked on a building site. Those responsible for construction safety should be on high alert.

Beware also the follow-on legal actions: 5 of them are already threatened in this outbreak, which may be not unconnected with online advertising from a law firm as soon as the disease spread.

All that can be conclusively stated is that the HSE and Local Authorities will now be all the more keen to peer into the cooling systems and water tanks of businesses and organisations: other operations in Edinburgh including Aegon Insurance, Burtons Foods, BAE Systems and the National Museum of Scotland have already been inspected: and if you have such equipment you need to seek practical and professional help from a specialist firm of health and safety consultants such as McCormack Benson Health & Safety.