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International interest drives event’s growth

This year’s Combating Legionella & Water Treatment conference saw even higher levels of engagement from its audience, with the introduction of new speakers and content

One of the most notable developments at last month’s H&V News Combating Legionella & Water Treatment Conference was the number of new speakers and the added depth of content this provided.

Proof of the event’s growing international interest was evident from the opening presentation from SETRI technical director Fernando Henrique Bensoussan, speaking about the challenges of supplying potable water in Brazil.

With next year’s Olympics turning global attention to the country, along with many recent construction projects that have seen input from UK companies across the construction and building services sectors, the delivery of safe drinking water has become even more significant.

Mr Bensoussan reported that legionella bacteria has been mainly found in the Brazilian water distribution system, which means suppliers and their contractors face the challenge of sterilising supplies without affecting potability levels.

Adding to the challenges was the issue of waiting 35 days for the results of tests to show the type of action required to deal with bacterial infections as they occurred, he said.

This was the first of a number of comments on the length of time required for testing processes, which could mean that effective treatment was delayed and could see increasing levels of infection in the meantime.

In these instances, the end result frequently required higher levels of intervention and remedial action that could also increase treatment costs.

Compliancy and testing

This recurring topic was a focus in Public Health England legionella microbiologist Sam Collins’ presentation, which focused on the emergence of new technology that allows rapid testing for water pathogens. While these provide the opportunity to deliver results on the same day as testing, in some instances, Dr Collins said that the “ultimate test” has yet to be provided.

While some tests can deliver fast and inexpensive results, he stressed the need for delegates to ensure that these were correctly validated and supported by peer reviews and evidence provided by “robust trials”. It is also essential to examine the details of what the check entails in order to reassure those involved that the service is appropriate for their requirements.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) principal specialist inspector John Newbold, a regular speaker at the event and the technical lead for the updated Approved Code of Practice L8, also spoke about the need to deliver and maintain the quality of water supplies.

Explaining the HSE’s strategy and increased focus on tackling work-related ill health, he said that topics such as legionella and asbestos are key parts of this. With 500,000 cases of work-related ill health reported in the UK every year, Mr Newbold said there is an obvious need to improve knowledge and risk management,  which has inspired the HSE’s ongoing stakeholder visits to drive engagement and deliver improvement in compliancy levels.

Making duties clear

HSE senior policy adviser Lorraine Medcalf followed these messages with a highly focused delivery that clarified the duty of landlords in managing legionella risks. There has been evidence of misinterpretation of the requirements, she said, leading landlords to undertake unnecessary action that also included extra costs, in some cases. She pointed out that there has been no change in the requirements, and that domestic properties were regarded as lower risk areas – but while there is no legal requirement to record risk assessment findings, this is useful to prove compliancy with the relevant regulations.

Following the much-publicised legionella outbreak in Edinburgh in 2012, the effects of which continue to be suffered by some of those affected, there have been many questions around the time taken for and the outcome of the resulting investigation.

City of Edinburgh scientific and environmental services manager Robbie Beattie explained the process of the inquiry, which showed that the Y4 subtype of legionella had “probably existed” in the area for months prior to the incident.

Different ways of thinking

While all presentations were highly relevant and informative throughout the first day of the conference, there was a consensus among delegates that Belfast Health & Social Care Trust head of risk, estates and environment George McCracken’s talk received the best response.

Explaining both the need and the potential benefits of thinking differently about delivering water safety, he also discussed the closure of the Belfast neonatal unit in January 2012 following the deaths of three babies.

Despite conducting five enquiries, the authorities were unable to identify the cause.

Mr McCracken explained the benefits and stressed the importance of all stakeholders working collaboratively within healthcare settings, with the ultimate goal of delivering improved conditions and safety for patients.

The event also contained vital information on cooling tower management, particularly relevant in the wake of recent legionella outbreaks in the US. Focus FM director Neil Johnston was the first to cover the topic with a detailed presentation, followed by additional discussion on day two.

Further positive response was received from delegates attending the second day of the event, particularly from the round table networking sessions. These were chaired by industry experts and a received a number of compliments for their content and value.

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