Businesses need to do more to protect workers and members of the public from exposure to legionella, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said.
The regulator has issued a safety notice after identifying "common failings" in legionella control from a review of outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease in the UK over the last decade.
It said cooling towers and evaporative condensers are the most common source of significant outbreaks.
Moreover, the majority (90per cent) of outbreaks stem from a failure to recognise potential legionella problems or to adopt effective control measures.
The safety notice also stressed the need for "effective and consistent monitoring" of water quality and the importance of responsibilities being assigned to named individuals with proper management oversight.
Legionnaires' disease is a rare but potentially life-threatening illness caused by a bacteria commonly associated with water systems.
The early symptoms include a flu-like illness with muscle aches, tiredness, headaches, dry cough and fever which can then lead to pneumonia.
The HSE’s warning comes after a new outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Stoke-on-Trent which has so far killed one person and infected a further 17. A hot tub is the probable source of the outbreak, health officials have said.
The HSE's legionella expert Paul McDermott said: "Our research has confirmed the importance of businesses following the well-established and readily available guidance. Through this safety notice we are reiterating what those responsible for the maintenance of water systems should be doing already.
"They have a responsibility to manage the risks they create to protect workers and the wider public. This is a reminder to them of what the law expects. Failure to comply with the law means they may face legal sanctions, including in the most serious cases prosecution through the courts."Managing legionella risk
It is important that employers and landlords understand the health risks associated with legionella.
Key steps employers and landlords need to take, according to HSE guidance:Identify and assess sources of risk
A risk assessment must be carried out to determine whether water systems are likely to create a risk from exposure to legionella.Manage risk
It is crucial that a competent person is appointed to manage workplace health and safety duties.
A competent person is defined as someone with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to manage and control a health and safety management scheme effectively.
According to the HSE, this could be one, or a combination of yourself, one or more workers or someone from outside your business.Prevent or control any risks
Consider whether the risk of legionella can be prevented in the first place by looking at the type of water system you need.Keep the correct records
A company with five or more employees must record any significant findings, including any groups of employees identified by it as being particularly at risk.
Records should include things like persons responsible for conducting risk assessments, significant findings of the assessment and results of any inspection, test or check carried out.Carry out any other duties you may have
According to the HSE, under the Notification of Cooling Towers and Evaporative Condensers Regulations 1992, you must notify your local authority, in writing, if you have a cooling tower or evaporative condenser on site, and include details about where it is located.
Moreover, under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR), you must report any cases of legionellosis in an employee who has worked on cooling towers or hot water systems that are likely to be contaminated with legionella.