Friday, October 5, 2012

Legionnaires’ Disease and Risk Management

With two fatal outbreaks in major cities over the last 6 months (Quebec and Chicago), legionnaires’ disease is not to be taken lightly. In fact, the CDC estimates that each year between 8,000-18,000 people are hospitalized with legionnaires' disease in the U.S.; however, this number may be significantly higher since up to 75% of infections are not diagnosed or reported. Legionella are a common type of bacteria that originate from warm water sources, such as hot and cold potable hot systems, showers, water faucets, humidifiers, decorative fountains, cooling towers, coolers and whirlpool baths. The bacteria are transmitted when people inhale aerosolized droplets of water that have been contaminated.

According to Joseph Allen, senior scientist with Environmental, Health and Engineering, it is critical that companies have proper risk management plans in the case of an outbreak. Plans should be easy to implement and would:

  • Identify risk factors for legionnaires’ disease, including equipment, environmental conditions and operational risks.
  • Define clear roles and responsibilities for both prevention and response.
  • Specify testing and maintenance frequency, procedures and interpretation of results.
  • Document activities for any required notification to regulatory authorities.
  • Automate notifications, facilitate data reviews and organize documents.

“The well-being of their employees is a company’s first priority and legionnaires’ disease is a serious illness,” Allen says. “Companies can face significant financial liabilities due to potential litigation, productivity loss, adverse impact on the brand and expensive reactive mitigation measures from an outbreak or even an isolated case.” For the rest of the story, click here.