What is the purpose of health and safety legislation?
Health and safety legislation is set in order to create a bare minimum requirement for the protection of people’s lives and their health. The legislation ‘sets the bar’ below which no person or organisation should ever venture. In the UK, for example, there is the ACOP L8 guidance. If this is not followed by business owners or landlords it can result in their prosecution for breaching health and safety law.
Is following legislation enough?
When Hydrosense did a recent survey on Twitter we discovered 10.6% of respondents just follow legislation when it comes to Legionella testing.
The problem with this is twofold:
Firstly, aiming at any compliance bar makes it much more likely you will make a mistake and slip out of compliance, in this case with perhaps catastrophic consequences to peoples’ lives and dramatic legal consequences to yourself and/or your organisation. Doing more than legislation requires is a great way to keep people safer and cover yourself legally.
For instance, many cooling towers in the UK and Europe are required to be tested quarterly. If you book the test exactly 3 months to the day from the last test, any cancellation or delay will mean you were not in compliance. Therefore, opening up a significant amount of personal or organisation legal risk.
Secondly, when it comes to Legionella risk there are a lot of things out of your immediate control that can cause serious problems. In one of the most wide-ranging studies of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks ever undertaken, all North American outbreaks over a 15 year period were studied in a paper published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the paper they determined that the outbreaks occurred because of process failures (65%), human errors (52%), equipment failures (35%), external conditions (35%), or a combination of these (48%).1
We can all recognise that these sorts of problems can happen in any project or undertaking. Given time, they are inevitable. However, bear in mind that legislation does not understand your business, its circumstances, nor whether or not it may be likely to be a victim of, for instance, an unmanaged external change. It is important to note that the Legionella risk relating to ALL of these root causes of outbreaks could be detected by testing before an outbreak occurs. You may not be able to control all the potential changes that could occur to a complex water system, but you can always check if your water system is safe.
In short, do not follow legislation on Legionella testing as if it will cover every eventuality, treat legislation it as an indication of the bare minimum you must do for Legionella risk management.
Aim above the legislative ‘bar’, not at it, as it is too easy to then slip below and become non-compliant.
Have even higher standards than legislation to protect yourself, your organisation, its employees, its customers and the general public.
Despite more stringent legislation and guidelines in our industry the US is facing a 900% increase in Legionnaires’ disease since 2000 and the EU is facing a 500% increase in the same time period. As an industry we need to do more, but those merely aiming at the bar need to do a lot more.