There’s a lot to do and think about when you run a restaurant. Not just things like making sure you have the food you need, or the staff to cook and serve it, but also in terms of the legal responsibilities you have to protect your staff and customers. As an employer, you must make sure the working environment for your team is safe, equally, you must ensure that you’re abiding to all health and safety guidelines to protect your customers.  Failure to do so could result in a lawsuit and worse, it could actually get your business closed down, temporarily (while you solve the problems) or permanently if you are found to have been neglectful.

What is Legionella?

Legionella is a bacterium that is found in a variety of water sources.  It is often found in natural water sources, like lakes, rivers and reservoirs, however, the quantity of bacteria is usually relatively low. The same bacteria can also be found in purpose-built water systems, like showerheads and sink faucets, air conditioning units, hot tubs, cooling towers and hot and cold-water systems.

A small amount of Legionella bacteria is generally harmless and won’t cause any health issues, however, if the bacteria is allowed to grow then there may be a possibility that anyone who uses that water could contract Pontiac fever, or worse, Legionnaires’ disease. For this reason, it is important to make sure your water system is clean, disinfected and that it is regularly inspected and tested, to restrict how much the bacteria is allowed to grow and to ensure that it doesn’t become harmful.

How is legionella harmful?

Exposure to the Legionella bacteria can cause some health complications, there are two main illnesses that are contracted from this bacterium.  The first is Pontiac fever, which is a mild, flu-like illness that often clears up by itself and isn’t that serious.  The second is Legionnaires’ disease and this can be much more serious, potentially even fatal. Most healthy people usually get better after having Legionnaires’ disease, however, they will require antibiotics and often need to be hospitalised to receive the care they need.   Legionnaires’ disease has further complications, including lung disease, pneumonia and even death. According to CDC, 1 out of 10 people who contract Legionnaires’ disease will die due to complications from their illness, this increases to 1 in 4 when you look at people who contract the disease while in a healthcare facility.

Who needs a risk assessment for Legionella?

As per the Approved Code of Practice regulations, employers with more than 5 people, landlords and anyone in charge of premises, are all required to carry out a risk assessment for Legionnaires’ disease, and they need a risk assessment completed for each of their water systems. Failure to carry out these risk assessments could result in a fine, enforcement action, prosecution or even imprisonment, even if nobody is actually exposed to the bacteria.

How do you carry out a risk assessment?

You don’t, only a qualified plumber or water technician can complete a risk assessment on your water systems, likewise only these individuals are qualified to repair, clean or disinfect the water systems and test the water.  If you have received training in this area, you may be able to carry out this risk assessment for yourself, but you must be fully trained.  Therefore, if you do require a risk assessment, you will need to reach out to a professional to do this for you. Always make sure they have the relevant qualifications.

During a water risk assessment, the professional will identify all the present water systems that could potentially be a breeding ground for bacteria, as well as assess the risk of human exposure. All water systems must be included in a Legionella risk assessment, they can all be assessed at the same time.

How often is a risk assessment required?

As per the guidelines, a Legionnaires’ risk assessment should be completed no less than every 2 years.  We recommend you conduct a risk assessment annually.  In addition, you should also complete a risk assessment if you (or a qualified plumber) has made any significant changes to all or part of the water system.  With this one it is a judgement call, as long as you have an assessment completed every two years you should be fine, but given the repercussions, it is better to air on the side of caution.

If your restaurant building is owned by someone else

It is worth noting here that if your restaurant building is owned by someone else, then they should be made responsible for actually conducting these risk assessments, but you should make sure that they are done regularly, to avoid being held liable if your customers or staff should be exposed to the bacteria.

If you are unsure whether you need to book a risk assessment or if your building manager should, then you can reach out to a water management company like Bluefish Water.  You can also speak to your building manager to request proof that these risk assessments are being conducted regularly.