Care Home Ignored Legionella Risk

And received £40,000 in fines and costs …

Care homes are often in the news these days, usually because of their astronomical cost, or as a result of the poor service which is being provided. Now following a recent prosecution, it appears that our elderly parents or grandparents residing in a care home may be subject to a new risk – Legionella …

A risk assessment from Sensible Safety Solutions will help your business meet HSE expectations.

A private care home in Wallasey has been ordered to pay £40,000 in fines and costs because it failed to manage the risk of elderly residents catching a potentially fatal form of pneumonia.

The care home was prosecuted by the HSE after it failed to comply with an Improvement Notice to assess the risk from the legionella bacteria. The HSE granted the care home two extensions and a deadline to comply with the Improvement Notice. However, it was found that it had still failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment by the deadline, even though they were offered help and guidance on what was required.

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Legionella is the collective name given to the pneumonia like illness caused by legionella bacteria. This includes the most serious legionnaires disease, which is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia. Everyone is susceptible to infection but some of us are at greater risk including:

People over 45 years of age,

Smokers and heavy drinkers,

People suffering from chronic respiratory or kidney disease,

Anyone with an impaired immune system.

As you will readily notice, all care home residents will fall into the over 45 bracket.

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Legionella bacteria are common in natural water sources therefore, can be found in rivers, lakes and reservoirs. This is usually in low numbers. But, because of this bacteria can, and does, enter and grow in our hot and cold water systems and whirlpool spas.

With the right conditions, the legionella bacteria can multiply – especially in water systems that stores water (consider the cold water tank in the loft and the hot water tank in the airing cupboard). The temperature of the water is between 20–45 °C or the system contains rust, sludge and scale which will feed the bacteria.

It is worth pointing out that it is not the drinking of water with a high legionella bacteria count that causes the illness but the breathing in of water droplets or vapour which could be created by showerheads.

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Well, what actions should the care home have taken that ultimately cost them £40,000? Some of them are detailed below, but please note this is not an exhaustive list but for the care home it would have been a very good “starter for 10” as Bamber Gascoigne would have said:

If there is a cold water storage tank, is it clean? If it isn’t, drain and clean it out. Often you find sand in the bottom of the tank. It gets into the system during repairs to water pipes etc.

Has the tank has the correct cover fitted? Should be relatively inexpensive from the local plumbers merchant.

Measure the temperatures at cold water and hot water taps. Cold water after it has been run for a minute should be below 20°C and hot water above 50°C. Pipes may need insulating or the hot water tank temperature increased, not too hot though or we may scald someone.

Annually, turn up the temperature on the hot water tank to 70°C for 1 hour then run the hot water off through all the hot taps. Ensure that there is a system in place to prevent any resident from using the hot water as they will be scalded.

Remove any scale that builds up on the taps.

Shower heads should be periodically removed and cleaned to remove scale and ensure that holes in the shower head are not partially blocked causing a fine spray to be created. If cleaning the heads is a problem, new replacement shower heads are not expensive.

Additionally, there are companies that will analyse water samples for as little as £50 and provide a report identifying if you have legionella bacteria in your water system enabling the care home to take further action which may result in the system being drained and treated.
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Health & Safety is a very serious issue and the HSE never take cases like this lightly. If you don’t want to pay £40,000 – or potentially a lot more – then give me a call on +44 (0) 1908 632418 or click here to ping over an email and let’s arrange a risk assessment for your business.

Until next time

ALAN DAWSON