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Monthly Operational Newsletter December 2016

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Monthly Operational Newsletter December 2016

05 Dec 2016

£1.8 million fine for G4S

G4S Cash Solutions has been fined £1.8 million for failing to reduce the risk of Legionnaires’ disease from its water systems having pleaded guilty to two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act.  In October 2013, a G4S worker was reported to have contracted Legionnaires’ disease.  Harlow Council investigated but environmental health officers were unable to prove that the worker had contracted the disease from the site.  However, the council did uncover a serious lack of compliance in maintaining water systems at the workplace citing inadequate training, a lack of up to date policies or suitable and sufficient risk assessments in place to safely operate or manage the building’s water systems.

 

There are several important lessons illustrated by this case.  It is yet another example of the staggering increase in penalties that we have seen since the new sentencing guidelines came into force this year.  These have been covered in extensive detail in previous updates but a large part of the calculation is the size of the company and the potential for harm.  Legionnaires’ disease can and has caused multiple fatalities and G4S is a very large company hence a £1.8 million fine even though, in this case, the risk of harm was low and no cases of illness were found to have been caused by the water at the site.

 

Whilst some may see this fine as excessive, it does highlight the issue of safety in water systems which all venues have a duty to control.  Legionella is a bacterium which can live in water and has become a problem when brought into a buildings’ water systems and other man made environments where there can be optimum conditions to allow the organism to grow.   Whilst there is evidence that the bacterium can be transmitted by ingesting contaminated water, in most cases the disease occurs when the organism is inhaled as an aerosol (a fine mist that can be inhaled) which can happen with showers, taps, air conditioning and any other release of untreated water spray.   Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, a dry cough and difficulty breathing.  Initially a high fever will prevail with, chills, headache and muscle pain, in some cases the individual may become delirious.  Not all exposed however will develop symptoms of the disease and those that do not develop the full-blown disease may only exhibit a mild flu like infection.  Four members of the public died after an outbreak in Edinburgh in 2012 thought to be caused by an air conditioning system.  There were a total of 56 confirmed cases.  The case never came to court as the original source was never identified.

 

The HSE has issued guidance – ‘Legionnaires' disease. The control of legionella bacteria in water systems’ which details employers’ duties and how to control this risk.  It can be downloaded for free from www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/l8.htm

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