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Legionnaire's Disease Danger in the Workplace

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 29 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Legionnaire’s Disease Work Disease

Legionnaire’s Disease is a type of pneumonia which can, in some instances, prove fatal. The germ which causes the disease is a bacterium called ‘Legionella pneumophila’ and the disease is contracted by inhaling tiny droplets of water which can be prevalent in the air which contain the bacterium. Although it cannot be transmitted from person to person nor will it affect everyone who becomes to exposed to it, those who are more susceptible to contracting the disease and who may suffer severe consequences as a result include the elderly, smokers and others who are more prone to suffering with chest and breathing related difficulties.

How Might You Catch it?

The bacterium lives naturally in water sources such as rivers, reservoirs, ponds and lakes where it causes few problems. The real worry comes when it enters purpose-built water systems where the temperatures are warm enough to stimulate the growth of the bacteria. Hotels are a prime example and, no doubt you’ll be familiar with cases of outbreaks occurring in hotel complexes abroad.

Whilst around half of all reported cases take place overseas, the UK is not immune and the other half of cases are the result of infections which have been acquired in the UK. Other susceptible locations include places where there may be installations such as cooling towers, air conditioning systems, humidifiers and other industrial cooling systems and in places like fitness centres and swimming pools and anywhere really where things like showers, hot tubs and Jacuzzis might be used, for example.

In fact, any place where you might find water at a temperature of between 20C and 45C is an ideal breeding ground for the bacteria to grow so any companies which operate the type of systems as outlined above must comply with stringent health and safety regulations.

Taking preliminary action such as ensuring that pipes are kept as short as possible to reduce the opportunity for water to stagnate in the system is one way of minimising the risk and other methods include using biocides in the likes of cooling towers and even UV irradiation and there are several other methods of alleviating the problem too.


The symptoms of Legionnaire’s Disease are often similar to those you might experience if you had the flu and include things like feeling feverish and then experiencing shivers, muscle pain, cough, diarrhoea and headache etc. And, if you’re in a high risk category, this can lead on to pneumonia and you may also experience signs of mental confusion.

What to do if You Suspect You’ve Contracted Legionnaire’s Disease

The illness is treated by an antibiotic called ‘erythromycin’ or one of a similar kind. Because of its similarities to flu, it’s not always that easy to diagnose but a urine or blood test from your GP should be helpful in identifying it. If you suspect that you may be experiencing these symptoms as a result of your work, you must report this to your health and safety manager. The company has a legal responsibility to report this on to the Health and Safety Executive who will carry out further investigations at your company premises.

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