Another hidden danger to be aware of when workplaces re open?

15 June 2020

With non-essential stores re-opening today and more businesses set to reopen thereafter, there is another danger which may be lurking around which many employers may not have thought about – Legionnaires.

Legionnaires disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia and everyone is susceptible to infection. The risk increases with age but some people are at an increased risk, including:

  1. People over 45 years of age
  2. Smokers and heavy drinkers
  3. People suffering with chronic respiratory or kidney disease
  4. Those suffering with diabetes, chronic respiratory or heart disease
  5. Anyone with an impaired immune system.

Legionella pneunophila is a bacteria found commonly in natural water sources such as lakes and reservoirs. The bacteria may however also be found in purpose-built water systems such as cooling towers, condensers, water systems, humidifiers and spa pools.

Symptoms of legionnaires disease are similar to those of the flu and also symptoms caused by the coronavirus. Symptoms can include:

  • high temperature, feverishness and chills, cough, 
  • muscle pains, 
  • headaches leading onto
  • pneumonia and very occasionally
  • diarrhoea and signs of mental confusion.

The illness can be fatal.

All employers have a duty to take precautions to prevent or control the risk of exposure to legionella. As many shops and offices have been closed for several months due to the coronavirus pandemic employees therefore ought to be proactive in carrying out a detailed assessment of the risks of legionnaires disease occurring within their workplaces.

In the 12 months to December 2019, the number of cases of legionnaires in the UK was low i.e. just over 500. Although it is quite rare, long periods of inactivity in buildings - such as during lockdown - greatly increases the risk of outbreaks.

Unlike COVID-19, Legionnaires’ does not spread from person to person but causes large outbreaks through contaminated airborne water droplets. An entire work force can inhale droplets which contain the Legionella pneumophilia bacteria. It is vital therefore that if you have any of the above symptoms, you should call NHS 111 and inform your employers.

Employers are, at this time taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of all visitors to premises due to the coronavirus pandemic but the risk from legionella also should not be ignored.



This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024

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