G4S Cash Solutions has been fined £1.8 million and ordered to pay £34,000 costs after failing to reduce the risk of Legionnaires’ disease from its water systems.
In October 2013, a G4S worker was reported to have contracted Legionnaires’ disease which causes flu-like symptoms and can, in some cases, lead to life-threatening problems.
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, which included:
- Risk assessments carried on the hot and cold water distribution system, which serviced the building’s toilets, sinks and showers but were not addressed
- 17 high risk issues, including dead legs in the system; hot water tanks that were too big for the site; and pumps that did not alternate. These three design flaws can cause water to stagnate and bacteria to grow
- there was no schematic drawing for the water system
- some thermostatic mixer valves (TMVs) had not been identified
- low temperatures were not acted upon
- There was no training schedule for staff whose knowledge of managing legionella was inadequate
- G4S did not monitor the work of the legionella consultant, who would have also been investigated by the council, but there was no formal contract between the consultant and G4S, so it was difficult to ascertain what they were asked to do
A council spokesman said: "The environmental health officers found monitoring and testing of systems was erratic.
"Staff had received inadequate training and there were no up to date policies or suitable and sufficient risk assessments in place to safely operate or manage the building's water systems.
"G4S did not take steps required to reduce the risk of Legionnaires' disease from its water systems.
"This was despite a long-standing duty, extensive guidance, advice from their own consultants and advice from Harlow Council."
Representatives from G4S, who employ 200 people at their Harlow site, told the court they have since taken a number of measures to improve health and safety.
Councillor Danny Purton, portfolio holder for environment, said: "The health and safety of our citizens is our number one priority.
"The council will always encourage employers to make improvements that protect their workers.
"However, there are cases where if necessary, we will prosecute because you simply can't play with people's lives."
He added: "Although some improvements were made it took G4S almost three years to reach minimum standards to protect its staff and visitors from exposure to Legionella bacteria.
“The million-pound-plus fine should send a serious and important message to other companies. Legionnaires’ disease is a real risk and companies need to take their health and safety duties to their employees and others very seriously. Council Environmental Health Officers up and down the country are working hard, often unnoticed, behind the scenes enforcing health and safety laws and I hope cases like this will give them the recognition they deserve.”
The seriousness of the offence and level harm along with the aggravating factors was judged to be Level A, as Legionnaires’ disease is fatal in around 12% of cases.
The fine should send a message to other companies. Legionnaires’ disease is a real risk and companies need to take their health and safety duties to their employees and others seriously.
For expert guidance with respect to all your operational and technical questions regarding control of Legionellosis, please telephone Deep Water Blue Limited today on 0870 460 2980 or use the contact form on this website.