Passing the test: Legionella compliance in schools

Legionella compliance in schools

In common with any other business or employer, schools have a legal duty to control the risk of Legionella on their premises. However, there are a number of complicating factors involved in Legionella compliance in schools so here we set out some of the issues to be aware of and offer some practical advice on meeting your legal obligations.

Establishing the dutyholder

The first thing to establish are the roles and responsibilities for Legionella control within your school. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) stipulates that there must be a nominated person – the dutyholder – who has ultimate responsibility for ensuring that Legionella control measures are in place. To quote the HSE’s L8 Approved Code of Practice, “The dutyholder is responsible for ensuring the risk assessment is carried out. The dutyholder is… the person who is in control of premises [and] must ensure that the person who carries out the risk assessment and provides advice on prevention and control of exposure must be competent to do so.”

The role of dutyholder is determined by the type and status of the school: in a Council-maintained educational establishment (such as Community or Voluntary Controlled schools), the chief executive of the Local Authority is the dutyholder. The head of education at the Council, the head teacher of the school and/or the maintenance manager may also be held to be Responsible People or Jointly Accountable Responsible People, meaning that they bear the burden of ensuring day-to-day implementation of Legionella control measures. In a Foundation or Voluntary Aided school the governing body and/or the head teacher will be the dutyholder. Similarly, if a school converts to Academy status, the role of dutyholder automatically transfers to the head teacher. In an Independent or Free school, the dutyholder responsibility is held by the head and/or the owner of the school.

The role of the Local Authority

In state schools which are overseen by the Local Authority, there is likely to be help and support available from the Council regarding Legionella risk management. Many Councils publish procedures and protocols for Legionella compliance in schools and may provide maintenance and monitoring manpower to ensure that schools within their control are compliant.

That said, Legionella monitoring and risk assessment cannot be overseen at arms’ length, so schools must ensure that there is competent on-the-ground personnel who are trained in Legionella control, and report up the line to Local Authority managers.

Assessing the risks

Many schools have a fairly high Legionella risk profile, given the complexity of their facilities. Older schools which may have had many additions and extensions over the years, or schools housed in premises which have been converted from an office block, house or other building, are likely to have plumbing systems with a bit of a patchwork of pipework, perhaps long runs of pipe, dead legs or blind ends. There may be numerous water tanks, calorifiers, pumps and other equipment dotted around the site rather than a central plant room which you’d expect to find in a modern purpose-built school.  The more complex the plumbing, the higher the risk of Legionella.

When assessing the risk from Legionella and undertaking day-to-day monitoring (such as temperature checks, descaling and flushing), it’s important to have a clear understanding of all parts of the plumbing system and a comprehensive regime to ensure that everything is covered. There may be parts of the school which aren’t used all year round, such as a swimming pool, but your maintenance and monitoring plan needs to incorporate all parts of the system, particularly since little-used water outlets are the ones at most risk from Legionella contamination.

As well as showers, wash basins and sports facilities, you must also include drinking water fountains, sprinkler systems (both in the grounds as well as indoor fire prevention sprinklers), hosepipes, outside taps and any other water outlets in the school.

Student cohort

Another risk factor to consider is the pupil profile in the school. While those most at risk from Legionnaires’ disease are aged over 50, and children are usually very low risk, anyone with an underlying health condition or respiratory problems is at high risk. This includes those with asthma, of which there are over 1m child sufferers in the UK, which equates to three children in every classroom. Special schools are arguably likely to have a student cohort at greater risk too as any health condition or treatment regime which affects the immune system will make the children susceptible.

When carrying out your risk assessment, take note of the risk profile of the student body as well as staff and visitors to the school and be sure to review the risk regularly.

School holidays

A key feature of all educational establishments is the likelihood of the building being out of use for chunks of time during the school year, in particular the long summer holiday. A major risk factor for Legionella is low turnover of water or periods of stagnation, so whenever pupils aren’t in school for a period of more than a few days, you need to have a process in place for keeping the water system in use.

Generally speaking this comprises a systematic flushing regime, where all water outlets are flushed through at least once a week for a minimum of two minutes. Records must be kept of this process in order to prove that it has been carried out, and adequate cover must be in place for when maintenance staff with flushing responsibilities are off sick or on holiday. All too often a problem with Legionella can be traced back to staff absence or the lack of proper record keeping.

Staff training

With education budgets being cut, schools are increasingly having to find efficiency savings. This can present a risk to Legionella control as belt-tightening may include cutting back on maintenance staff or reducing investment in staff training. It is imperative that all staff with responsibility for Legionella compliance in schools are trained and competent in their duties.

Record keeping

Given the complexity of many school sites and the varied duties of the maintenance staff, the use of a Legionella compliance app such as CAT-SI could be beneficial. The app is a cloud-based, comprehensive monitoring and management platform designed to streamline health and safety compliance, thus saving time and money. With a user-friendly interface and comprehensive tracking and reporting functions, the app enables staff to gather information on site quickly and simply, and then produce a full risk assessment report along with maintenance recommendations. Automatic reminders mean that remedial tasks aren’t forgotten and all activity is logged and saved securely.

Article originally published