A recent health and safety case highlights the risks of Legionella and the importance of adequately training staff.

BUPA Care Homes (BNH) Ltd was recently fined £3 million plus with an order to pay £151,482 costs following the death of a patient who contracted legionella in one of its care homes. The case is a timely reminder of the risk this disease presents and how easy it is for less visible risks to go uncontrolled if staff are not adequately trained.

What happened?

Kenneth Ibbetson, 86, died three months after moving into Hutton Village Nursing Home, having contracted Legionnaires’ disease.

The HSE found that BUPA had failed to implement the necessary control and monitoring measures required to safely manage their hot and cold water system, a failure that persisted for over a year. It also found that those responsible for overseeing legionella controls and for taking crucial water temperature measurements had not received sufficient training.

The fine is substantial given that BUPA will have received credit for a guilty plea to its breach of Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The fine reflects the size of BUPA but also the level of culpability, mainly characterised by the insufficient managerial training and the length of time that the breach existed.

What is Legionella?

Legionella is a very prevalent risk in all water systems particular where water is heated and/or re-circulated; the consequence of the infection is severe and in this case exacerbated by the vulnerability of those who were exposed.

Despite its severity the risk is not always understood, the presentation of the risk is not obvious, it cannot be seen, and its presence can not immediately be checked for. It is vitally important that where the potential for legionella exists, staff are trained about the disease and therefore why the checks on the water quality and temperature are so important.

The oversight in this case was tragic, resulting in Mr Ibbetson’s death and a very significant financial cost to BUPA.