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Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially lethal form of pneumonia that can be contracted when a person inhales water vapor or mist that contains Legionella bacteria. It can affect people of any age, but some individuals are at higher risk of getting it than others, such as those who have existing respiratory diseases, those who are immunocompromised, those who smoke, and those in advanced age.

Such was the case when an elderly gentleman named Lewis Payne, a resident of a care home called The Willows in Whitley (an area south of Reading town centre), passed away some years ago. Payne died in November 1, 2012 after contracting Legionnaires’ disease. The bacteria that caused the pneumonia were traced to a wash basin within the care home.

A regrettable loss
This case was brought to court by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which severely criticised Reading Borough Council for its “systemic and continued failings” regarding the control and management arrangements for the bacteria.

According to HSE Inspector Kelly Nichols, care providers were responsible for ensuring that “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.”

Ultimately, Reading Borough Council admitted to committing a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It received a fine of £100,000 as well as £20,000 in costs.

Observing increased measures for prevention and safety
In July 2016, Reading Borough Council received additional safety measures that must now be implemented in almost every Reading council building in order to prevent more fatalities from the deadly Legionnaires’ disease.

The following measures can also be introduced in other commercial buildings and accommodation where people may risk becoming exposed to water systems that could potentially be contaminated with Legionella bacteria:

  • Create a staff hierarchy of responsibility for Legionella water testing
  • Require all managers and staff members who are tasked with addressing the risks of Legionella to undergo retraining
  • Provide extra resources meant to support these managers and staff members, as well as to support various building management tasks
  • Produce checklists indicating that all building managers have successfully completed the essentials safety checks
  • Ensure that all other staff members receive the proper health and safety training and updates that are appropriate to each job position or role
  • Carry out compliance audits
  • Make a building compliance guide available to all managers
By enforcing these measures and maintaining a culture of active prevention, building managers can gain better control of the Legionella risks and keep Legionnaires’ disease from affecting residents, tenants, and all members of the public who frequent or reside in these buildings.