A new report from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has suggested that the rules relating to the display of hot tubs in public places and shops should be reviewed after an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in 2012 saw two people die.
Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia, with everyone susceptible to it but those most at risk including smokers and heavy drinkers, those over the age of 45, sufferers of kidney disease or chronic respiratory disease, diabetes or heart disease and anyone with an impaired immune system.
Certain bacteria are common in natural water sources like rivers, reservoirs and lakes (typically in low numbers), but they can also be found in spa pools, hot and cold water systems, cooling towers and so on.
In actual fact, any water system that has the right environmental conditions could be a potential source for the growth of legionella bacteria. Businesses would be wise to carry out a risk assessment and work out an incident response plan if their water system stores or recirculates water, has a temperature between 20 and 45 degrees C, creates breathable droplets or is likely to contain a source of nutrients that will help organisms grow (such as sludge or scale).
According to the BBC, a hot tub that was on display at a retailer in Stoke-on-Trent was most likely the source of the Legionnaires’ outbreak five years ago, which saw 19 people catch the disease and a 64-year-old and a 79-year-old die.
A legal team from Irwin Mitchell has now been assigned the task of taking action on behalf of the families of the two men who died, as well as 16 others involved. The law firm is also calling for a public inquiry to be carried out into the outbreak.
The report from the HPA said: “This was a significant outbreak and has raised questions on the acceptability of operating spa pools (also known as whirl pools and hot tubs) in public places where the general population has access.
“Spa pools are known to pose a risk of Legionella if water systems are not rigorously maintained, properly managed and subject to regular chemical controls.
“Operating spa pools on display in indoor spaces, even if not used for bathing, have been previously shown to be the cause of outbreaks in other countries.”
As an employer, it is your duty to understand and manage the risks associated with legionella. Ensure that you carry out a simple risk assessment to show that the risks are in fact low and are being properly managed to keep you compliant with the law. Reviewing and updating your assessment regularly is wise in case anything in your procedures, personnel and systems change.
It’s possible that you will be competent to carry out this fire risk assessment yourself, but if not you will need to call on help and advice from outside sources such as HFR Solutions CIC.