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What does an Enforcer look for in a Legionella Risk Assessment?

Author: arjun352  |  Category: Management
Published: November 9, 2010

The City of London Corporation is the Local Authority that covers the Square Mile of London. It employs a team of five Enforcement Officers in its Health & Safety team. Their work includes carrying out proactive and reactive inspections/investigations at buildings containing water systems that are considered hazardous in relation to Legionnaires Disease.In particular, but not exclusively, they are responsible for inspecting around 200 buildings containing cooling towers. I write this article as an Environmental Health Officer with 7 years enforcement experience with the intention of it being read by those undertaking or considering undertaking legionella risk assessments for the prevention of Legionnaires Disease. This article constitutes a personal opinion.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require dutyholders to undertake suitable and sufficient risk assessments at their premises. ‘Suitable and sufficient’ remains undefined in the Regulations themselves and therefore can lead to a degree of uncertainty for both customers and regulators alike. The more complicated the hazard and significant the risk, the more detailed and sophisticated the risk assessment should be. Legionnaires Disease has the demonstrated potential to cause multiple fatalities and so relevant risk assessments clearly do not fall at the lower end of this scale.

In practice, enforcement officers prefer to see high quality risk assessments at a premises, not least because they are a legal requirement, but because they should form a key part in the assistance and direction of health & safety management. Management underpins every control measure at a premises and it follows that the better the initial risk assessment, the better the chances are that site management can implement effective control measures. Don’t forget that as a risk assessor, you will have been brought on site to provide competent advice and guidance to a client who presumably does not have the expertise themselves. If the risk assessment is poor, the control measures and management of the risk will also likely be poor.

Enforcers will therefore be looking to assess whether the risk assessment carried out can be deemed suitable and sufficient. At the City of London, our guidance to officers is thus;

“8.3. Your aim (as officers) is to establish how effective this process is in identifying and addressing the important issues. The important question here; is the assessment used as a basis for subsequent action and if so how (is it used to identify, design or implement appropriate risk control measures)?

You must emphasise the importance of conducting the assessment in such a way that it is an integral part of management systems for the site; such integration is critical to long term success.”

During a proactive routine inspection the risk assessment will likely be one of the first items we ask to see and the remainder of the visit will be influenced by the appraisal we make. We do not necessarily have the time or expertise to replicate the work you will have undertaken to produce the risk assessment but will be more inclined to make further enquiries where there are apparent weaknesses.

During a reactive investigation, for instance a Legionnaires Disease outbreak, the degree with which the risk assessment is scrutinised will likely be far higher and any surveys/judgements undertaken by you may be subject to replication and comparison.

We will also consider who the risk assessment is received and used by. In complicated management structures there is a risk that the assessment may end up on the wrong desk and not achieve its intended purpose. Whilst not likely to be within your direct control, you should endeavour to ensure that the risk assessment is directed towards the responsible person on site as this should be where it has the greatest effect.

Of course, the question remains of how does the enforcer reach a decision over whether a risk assessment is suitable and sufficient? We need to initially consider the following; the scope of the assessment and the competency of the assessor.

For more information about risk assessment or managing risks, please contact Nemco Utilities at www.nemco-utilities.co.uk

Author: arjun352

This author has published 20 articles so far.More info about the author is coming soon.

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