This month our H&S Advisor, Andrew Mellor, looks at Legionnaires’ Disease – who’s at risk, how to avoid it, what measures you must put in place and how we can help.
Then Stefan Atkinson, our HR Advisor, talks about disabilities in the workplace and covers the support available to help you avoid discrimination and conform to The Equality Act 2010.
As ever, should you need any support or advice about these or any other health and safety or employment law issues, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
H&S UPDATE: Legionella in the workplace
What is Legionnaires’ Disease?
Legionellosis is the term used for diseases caused by legionella bacteria such as Legionnaires’ disease. Legionnaires’ disease is the most serious condition, which is a form of pneumonia, everyone is susceptible to infection and can potentially lead to fatality.
Where does it come from?
The bacterium Legionella pneumophila and related bacteria can be found in natural water sources (e.g. rivers, lakes, ponds and reservoirs) and purpose-built water systems (e.g. cooling towers, evaporative condensers, hot and cold-water systems and spa pools). There are normally low numbers found in natural water sources.
How do people catch it and what conditions are required for them to be exposed?
Legionnaires’ disease is contracted by inhaling small droplets of water (i.e. aerosols) suspended in the air which contains the bacteria.
For the bacteria to grow conditions must be favourable, increasing the risks of exposure to Legionnaires’ disease. Favourable conditions include:
- water temperature is between 20-45°C in all, or some parts of the source/system
- breathable water droplets are created and dispersed (e.g. from a cooling tower or shower head)
- stagnant water (e.g. dead legs/long runs of pipework) that is stored and recirculated
- deposits that can support bacterial growth providing a source of nutrients for the organism (e.g. sludge and rust)
It is highly unlikely that conditions will be favourable for people to catch the disease.
What are the symptoms and how it is treated?
Symptoms are similar to flu and may include:
- high temperature, feverishness and chills
- muscle pains
- diarrhoea and signs of mental confusion
Treatment for the illness is with an antibiotic called erythromycin (or similar alternative).
A general practitioner (GP) must be contacted if it is suspected that a person is suffering from Legionnaires’ disease. A urine sample is usually taken to be certain as it can be difficult to distinguish between flu and the disease.
Who is more likely to be at risk?
The risk to people increases due to a number of factors including:
- age (particularly people over 45 years of age)
- smokers and heavy drinkers
- suffering from chronic respiratory or kidney disease
- suffering from diabetes, lung and heart disease
- an impaired immune system
Legionella at the workplace
Health and Safety (H&S) legislation provides duties to an employer, or someone in control of the premises to understand and manage legionella risks.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) and guidance document, ‘Legionnaires’ disease – The Control of Legionella bacteria in water systems (L8)’ contains practical guidance on how to manage and control the risks in systems so that they are adequately controlled.
They must understand how to:
- carry out any other duties
- identify and assess sources of risk
- manage any risks
- prevent or control any risks
- carry out any other duties
Identify and assess sources of risk
All systems require a risk assessment detailing control measures that is proportionate to the risk to demonstrate that they are being adequately managed. If it is found that a system is low risk and controlled adequately (e.g. a small building with domestic-type water systems) there would be no requirement for further action to be taken. For systems with a higher risk, further action may be necessary, and assistance may be required from a competent person.
The risk assessment must be reviewed regularly to consider any changes.
Manage any risks
If a significant risk from exposure to legionella is highlighted, a competent person (i.e. responsible person) must be appointed to be responsible for complying with H&S duties and controlling the risks. This may be somebody internal or external to an organisation.
Prevent or control any risks
Preventing the risk of legionella must take priority over controlling the risk. Where prevention is not possible, a written control scheme must be introduced to help manage the risk from legionella by implementing effective control measures. The scheme should include information such as, the system, person(s) responsible for the risk assessment, safe and correct operation of the system, controls being used and type / frequency of checks to be carried out to ensure controls remain effective. Simple control measures may include:
- regular flushing of systems (e.g. taps, showers etc.)
- avoiding debris to get into systems
- setting control parameters (e.g. storage of water outside of 20-45 °C
- remove any redundant pipework
Keep and maintain the correct records
An organisation with five or more employees must record any significant findings from the risk assessment and keep these records throughout the period for which they remain valid and for at least two years following on from that period. Any results from monitoring inspection, test or check should be kept on file for at least five years.
Carry out any other duties
Under the ‘Notification of Cooling Towers and Evaporative Condensers Regulations 1992’, the local authority must be notified in writing, if they have a cooling tower or evaporative condenser on site and include details about where it is located. This also includes systems that are no longer in use.
If it is suspected that there is a legionella issue within the workplace, this must be reported to a manager and any other relevant parties (e.g. occupational health therapist). Any cases of legionellosis to an employee that has been confirmed by a health professional must be reported under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR).
We can act as your competent person and also help you identify and manage any risk to your employees, guests, residents or members of the public and, should you need it, assist with RIDDOR reporting. Please contact us if you need to discuss any of the above.
Source: HSE, 2019. Accessed at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/index.htm
HR UPDATE: Disability in the workplace
A 2019 article released by People Management claimed that 1 in 4 employers would not hire someone with a disability. The reasons varied from cost to belief that they wouldn’t be able to do the job.
As you may be aware, all employers are expected to comply with The Equality Act 2010. The act protects all employees with a mental or physical disability from being discriminated against.
There are 4 main types of disability discrimination:
- Direct discrimination – This is when an individual is treated less favourably because of a disability.
- Indirect discrimination – An example of when this can happen in the workplace could be where a workplace rule, practice or procedure is applied to all employees, but disadvantages those who are disabled. A practice, policy or rule can be formal or informal. It can be a one-off decision or a decision to do something in the future.
- Harassment – When unwanted conduct related to a person’s disability causes a distressing, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.
- Victimisation – Treating someone unfairly because they have made or supported a complaint about disability discrimination.
- Discrimination arising from disability – Where someone is treated less favourably due to their disability.
What should an employer do?
Make reasonable adjustments: An employer failing to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for a disabled job applicant or employee is one of the most common types of disability discrimination. If adjustments are ‘reasonable’, an employer must make them to ensure its workplace or practices do not disadvantage a disabled job applicant or employee already with the organisation.
Have rules in place to prevent disability discrimination in:
- recruitment and selection
- determining pay, terms and conditions
- sickness absence
- training and development
As mentioned earlier, if a workplace procedure, practice or rule puts an employee with a disability at a disadvantage, an employer should look to see what ‘reasonable adjustments’ it can make and meet with them to discuss what can be done to help them.
What support is out there?
There is support available to help you ensure you are not breaching The Equality Act 2010, some examples are:
Stallard Kane Associates Ltd: We can offer support with your procedures, rules and practices where linked to your employees. I would encourage you to raise any concerns with your Advisor.
Occupational Health: An occupational health specialist would be able to make practical suggestions in relation to reasonable adjustments.
Access to Work:The Access to Work scheme is a Government run initiative that provides relevant employment advice and practical support for any individual who is disabled and is employed, self-employed or unemployed and about to start a job or work scheme.
The overriding message here is as an employer you are required under the equality act to ensure employees or candidates are not treated less favourably due to their condition. In particular, it should never form part of your decision-making process when recruiting to a role within your business.
Should you need any further assistance in reviewing your current equality and diversity policies or to arrange suitable training, please do not hesitate to contact us – we will be happy to assist.