News & Views

Two firms heavily fined over legionella risks

BY Thomas Elliott
Health & Safety
BG Orange

The HSE have imposed fines and costs of approximately £250,000 on two UK firms after employees and members of the public were put at risk of exposure to Legionella bacteria which is potentially deadly. 

Exposure to Legionella bacteria can lead to Legionnaires Disease, which is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia. 

In April 2006, the HSE carried out a visit on automotive-parts manufacturer Eaton Ltd following notification from the Health Protection Agency regarding an employee who contracted Legionnaires disease and later died. 

The initial investigation identified that Eaton Ltd had contracted the services of Aegis Ltd, a water treatment service provider, to provide water-treatment services for water-cooling systems on plastic moulding machines, which were used in manufacturing processes. Aegis had the responsibility for cleaning the machine and ensuring the correct level of dioxide were added to the water in order to suppress microbiological activity in the system. The procedure, however, was not properly monitored and inconsistent levels of the chemical were added to the water which resulted in an unsafe level of legionella bacterium being present in the system.  

Wolverhampton Crown Court was advised that Eaton Ltd did not have a suitable and sufficient risk assessment in place to ensure that the water cooling system was properly cleaned and maintained. The water towers on the system were required to be taken apart every six months to ensure all sludge and sediment was cleared, however the reality was that this had not been carried out in more than two years prior to the visit by the HSE.

The HSE indicated that Eaton Ltd had not trained relevant employees on the risks associated with the use of the system and, as a result of the failure to train effectively, staff failed to adequately monitor that Aegis Ltd was regularly cleaning the system and that the water was being treated appropriately.

Mr Billinger said: “Neither Eaton Ltd nor Aegis Ltd, which was specifically contracted to manage the water system, took the legionella risk seriously. They failed to deal with their own risk assessment and service agreement in respect of cleaning the system. These were persistent and systemic failures, which put people's health at risk. 

"The investigation did not reveal sufficient evidence of any link between the activity undertaken by Eaton Ltd and the death of its employee. 

Eaton Ltd plead guilty to a breach of the HSWA and was fined £40,000 for each offence, plus £45,000 in costs.

Aegis Ltd was found guilty in its absence at trial for a breach of s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £80,000 costs.  

You can avoid such prosecution risks by proper management of your Health and Safety. For details of our H&S services call 0141 271 5555 or email thomas.elliott@lawatwork.co.uk

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