A simple internet search using the words, “Legionella Schools” will find many news articles with instances of schools being shut following a Legionella “outbreak”.
Reading further you will discover that these shutdowns were caused by Legionella bacteria being found in the schools’ water system, which resulted in the water system being cleaned and disinfected.
As the UK recognises water to be a basic human right, and that a school requires water to be used for drinking, cleaning, washing, and flushing toilets, it is understandable why the school would close, but could this have been avoided? Would training have helped the schools that ended up closing? the answer must be yes because training of staff helps to identify problems before they occur reducing the potential for school closure.
Firstly, it is important to note that newspaper headlines can be slightly misleading. The HSE defines an outbreak to include "2 or more cases where onset of illness is closely linked in time", so the presence of the bacteria alone, does not determine an “outbreak”.
If you are the “Responsible Person” for Legionella at a school, college, or university, it is important to know that Legionella is a naturally occurring bacteria, and eliminating the risk Legionella represents is not reasonable and practicable. Instead, you must “as far as is reasonably practicable” control it. The HSE has published detailed guidance found here, to help duty holders and Responsible Persons do this.
This blog will emphasise the importance of Legionella training for management. From a legal point of view, COSHH, regulations 8 and 12; Management Regulations, regulations 5, 7, 10 and 13; HSW Act, sections 2, 3, and 4, detail how employers must provide employees with suitable and sufficient training. This applies to the management of water and the risks posed by Legionella bacteria, those who have a role in water safety, should be trained for the role they undertake.
HSG 274 Part 2 states “Inadequate management, lack of training and poor communication can be contributory factors in outbreaks of legionnaires’ disease. It is important that those people involved in assessing risk and applying precautions are competent, trained and aware of their responsibilities.”
Indeed, one of the failures identified in the prosecution following the UK’s largest outbreak at Barrow-in-Furness in 2002 was the lack of appropriate training. The un-appointed “Responsible Person” hadn’t received any Legionella training and the record of any health & safety training throughout the council was very poor.
Legionella training courses are widely available in many different formats, aimed at different people within an organisation. These will range from management courses aimed at the Responsible Person, Competent Person training for those undertaking monitoring or remedial tasks down to general Legionella Awareness training.
To determine what training is suitable and sufficient for those involved in water safety at your organisation, click here for useful advice on which course is right for you.
To manage and record employees’ training, you could use a simple Training Needs Analysis tool, found here. This tool simply allows you to keep track of your team’s training records and easily helps you to identify when training has expired and requires refreshing.
Training is an essential part of competence. Competence is the ability to do something successfully. Without training, quite simply, employees would not be informed on how to carry out their roles.
The importance of training should not be ‘news’ to anyone, without it, we would not learn. Legionella training is no different, it will provide schools, colleges, and university employees with the knowledge of what they must do to comply with regulations and how to manage and maintain water systems to control the risks from Legionella bacteria.
If you have questions regarding the issues raised above or you would like to speak with one of our consultants, please click here to get in touch.
Editor’s Note: The information provided in this blog is correct at the date of original publication – December 2021.
© Water Hygiene Centre 2021