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Companies warned over legionella

Corin Williams01/08/2012 - 12:00

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Home spas are potential legionella risks
Home spas are potential legionella risks

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued a safety notice as a legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Stoke-on-Trent left one dead and a further 18 ill.

Following an investigation by EHOs from Stoke-on-Trent City Council, the Health Protection Agency (HPA), the HSE and local NHS, the probable source has been identified as a hot tub at a branch of retailers JTF Warehouse.

Samples taken from the hot tub were confirmed by the HPA as being of an ‘unusual strain’.

Seventeen of the 18 confirmed cases had visited the warehouse within two weeks prior to the outbreak. The HPA said JTF Warehouse were ‘fully co-operating’ with investigations and the company decommissioned the hot tub on 24 July.

HPA regional director Dr Sue Ibbotson said: ‘We have the evidence from DNA fingerprinting of samples from the hot tub and the patients being caused by the same previously unseen strain of legionella.’

A spokesperson for the company said: ‘JTF is extremely concerned and the product has been withdrawn from all stores.’

The HSE is continuing with inspections at premises it enforces in the area.

Speaking to EHN just prior to the outbreak, Stoke-on-Trent City Council said legionella risks at spa pools were considered as part of routine inspections ‘as standard’.

The outbreak comes just weeks after three people died from legionnaires’ disease in Edinburgh. Although the source of the Edinburgh outbreak was not definitely pinpointed, a number of cooling towers were issued with improvement notice by the HSE.

Last week the HSE issued a safety notice telling businesses to ‘do more’ to prevent legionella outbreaks. This was not prompted by the Stoke outbreak specifically.

A review conducted by the HSE into legionella outbreaks over the past 10 years found the most common source was from cooling towers and evaporative condensers.

It revealed that 90 per cent of legionnaires’ disease outbreaks were caused by businesses failing to identify risks and implementing effective control schemes.

HSE legionella expert Paul McDermott said: ‘They have a responsibility to manage the risks they create protect workers and the wider public.’

Stoke-on-Trent MP Joan Walley, who is also a CIEH vice president, said assurances were needed that agencies were given the resources to carry out their public health duties.

She added: ‘At a time when we are being led to believe that light touch regulation and reduction of red tape is in business’ interests we need to know exactly how many people are routinely carrying out inspections to cooling towers, and what assessments for management of legionella risk are being carried out locally, and have been carried out in the last two years.’

Figures obtained by EHN from Stoke-on-Trent City Council reveal that of the seven cooling towers registered in the area, six are regulated by the Health and Safety Executive and on by the local authority.

The council-enforced cooling tower was last inspected in January 2010.

The council said other water systems were considered as part of routine inspections as standard at premises such as hotels, sports sauna spa and pools and care homes.

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