Take Legionella seriously in 2024 – strategies for safe water management

Legionella definitely fits into the category of modern diseases, and yet it’s often not taken nearly seriously enough. One of the results of this approach has been a sudden increase in outbreaks in recent years, across both Europe and America.

Legionella is clearly not a risk to be taken lightly, and it’s likely that one of the reasons it’s not taken seriously is that there isn’t enough information available. 

Here, we take a quick look at the disease itself and some basic strategies to prevent it, to help you optimise your strategy for safe water management in 2024.

What is Legionella?

Legionella is short for Legionella pneumophila, a bacteria that’s found in a wide range of water sources. While it’s not a serious issue in most cases, when the bacteria is able to grow to high concentrations, if it’s then breathed into the lungs it can cause a serious form of atypical pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease.

This disease was first identified in the 1976 at a Legionnaires’ convention at a hotel in America – hence the name, Legionnaires’ Disease. The bacteria likely entered into the air through the air conditioning system; Legionella can also enter the air suspended in water vapour at any high-pressure water outlet, such as taps, shower heads and swimming pools.

How is it prevented?

As with any workplace risk, managing Legionella consists of first assessment, and then prevention. Most organisations will need to have a Legionella risk assessment carried out by an external water hygiene specialist. 

This assessment will consist of an analysis of the existing structures that are in place intended to ensure water safety, along with extensive environmental testing. 

Based on the results of these tests, the risk assessor will make a series of recommendations, some urgent and others less so, on how the organisation can improve their approach to water safety in both the short and long term.

Your legal duty

In terms of your official responsibility to mitigate the risk of Legionella, all employers are legally required to provide their employees with access to wholesome drinking water under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. As a result, even if you’re tempted to just take away all water sources in your offices or premises, that is simply not a solution.

More than just a legal responsibility to your employees, Legionella prevention is critical to protecting how your brand is perceived. While Legionella outbreaks are increasingly common, they’re still sensational enough to sometimes make the news, as we saw with the Bibby Stockholm case. The saying that all press is good press clearly doesn’t apply to these scenarios, and they’re something that all businesses will want to avoid.

Legionella is clearly something that needs to be taken seriously in the modern era, and luckily, it’s never been easier to do something about it. By carrying out regular risk assessments and taking the appropriate measures that are recommended, you can maximise your chances of avoiding an outbreak while also fulfilling your legal responsibilities.

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