A fifth case of Legionnaires’ Disease has been recently reported in Carmarthen, West Wales. Some medical experts are becoming concerned that its reappearance along with outbreaks from other supposedly inactive diseases signals the likelihood of increasing health risks, especially in the workplace.
In 2009, there were 345 reported cases of Legionnaires’ Disease in England and Wales, although the actual number may be much higher. Not everyone, e.g. those with milder symptoms, would have undergone the relevant test for Legionnaire’s disease and those cases may not have been reported to the health authorities.
One year later, a study by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) concluded that windscreen wiper water was the probable cause of 1 in 5 cases of Legionnaires' disease in England and Wales.
Although Legionnaires’ Disease is not contagious and cannot be spread directly from person to person, the legionella bacteria can cause a potentially fatal lung infection as a result of breathing in small droplets of contaminated water.
Most commonly found in low numbers in water sources, such as rivers and lakes, the bacteria can enter into artificial water supply systems, air conditioning systems, hot and cold water systems and cooling towers, which can rapidly spread contamination.
The most vulnerable locations, which may give rise to injury claims include, large buildings, such as multi-storey office blocks, hotels and hospitals with extensive and complex air and water supply systems. While a majority of companies and organisations will be under strict regulations to maintain and control the systems at the required temperature to prevent an outbreak, it is always likely that some workplaces are not as compliant.
While the disease is three times more common in men than women, and mostly affects people aged over 50, an estimated 10-15 per cent of otherwise healthy people who contract Legionnaires’ will die. The most vulnerable are the elderly or people with pre-existing health conditions. Symptoms, which are very similar to influenza, include breathlessness, chest pain and a dry cough, as well as fever and muscle aches.
The risk from exposure to legionella bacteria and other forms of bacteria are covered in the Government Guidelines Published 2000. In addition, the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1999 (COSHH) are part of a broad framework, which affect employers and those with responsibility for water and air systems in the workplace and a potential personal injury claims liability.