Legionnaires Disease – You Can Pay a Very High Price
Faltec Ltd has been fined £1.18 million for two legionella outbreaks and a machine explosion after failing to comply with their Health and Safety obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Initially the company was given a fine of £1.6 million, but it was reduced slightly on their appeal against the sentence).
Faltec pleaded guilty to three counts relating to a legionella infecting their employees, a legionella infection in the general public, and an exploding flocking machine that caused facial and other burns to an employee.
In this case the legionella had developed in their 22km water system which included “dead legs” – (pipes that had been capped off to form a dead end). The system had been treated with biocides, but Faltec had failed to properly oversee the contractor they hired, leading to inadequate water treatment allowing the bacteria to grow.
There had been two separate outbreaks and five people, both employees and the general public, had been infected. They were hospitalised and put in an induced coma. Thankfully, all recovered.
These outbreaks were the basis for two offences, leading originally to a fine of £800,000. Which was later reduced to £380,000 on appeal after the risk of harm was re-categorised from “High” to “Medium” as the Court of Appeal decided a risk of death of being 4 in 10,000 could not support the higher categorisation.
Legionella outbreaks could have been prevented by following the Approved Code of Practice for legionella, which would have meant “dead legs” were removed from the system. This would have been helped by proper records being kept of the water system itself. Properly trained members of staff should have overseen the outsourced company’s work and kept documentation of standards and reviews carried out into the work being done.
The flocking machine that exploded had been bought from their parent company cheaply, and lacked safety features meaning the door could be opened while it was active, causing the explosion in this case. This machine had caused previous fires. The employee injured had not been sufficiently trained on the machine either.
Flock itself is highly flammable and applied using an electric charge in the machine. It is a dangerous substance under the Dangerous Substance and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations.
The fine of £800,000 was upheld with the Court of Appeal endorsing the judge’s approach to move up to the next category in the sentencing guidelines because of the significant actual harm caused.
The flocking machine should have been adequately checked when it was installed. Only an “informal” system was employed, with no checks under the Dangerous Substance and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations, or against any other safety standard.
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