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More Than Safety Notices Needed Over Legionnaires Outbreak Dangers

Demand For Public Inquiry Repeated As HSE Issues Legionella Warning


Specialist lawyers representing 48 survivors of Legionnaires Disease and the families of four victims who tragically died in two major Legionnaires’ Disease outbreaks in Stoke-on-Trent in July  and Edinburgh in May have repeated their calls for a Public Inquiry into the problems, describing new safety advice on legionella bacteria as ‘too little, too late’.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued a safety notice to companies and organisations which make use of hot and cold water systems for washing and manufacturing processes to highlight the importance of putting measures in place to control and review the potential risks of the bacteria.

It follows a separate notice in July aimed specifically at companies which maintain and use cooling towers and evaporative condensers. The organisation has also confirmed it is working to develop new initiatives with local authorities to further improve control of legionella risks.

However, specialist illness lawyers at Irwin Mitchell who last month called for a Public Inquiry into the outbreaks in Stoke-on-Trent and Edinburgh have said that while the action is welcome, it has come simply too late for the many victims affected and is not the firm approach needed to ensure such problems are not repeated again.

Clive Garner, an illness expert at Irwin Mitchell who has helped dozens of victims of Legionnaires’ outbreaks in the UK and abroad to secure justice, said: “The release of new guidance on the handling and control of legionella bacteria in water systems is a positive step forward, but questions need to be asked as to whether the progress being made on this issue is genuinely enough to ensure that the terrible problems seen in both Edinburgh and Stoke are not repeated.

“The evidence we have seen in the past, such as the HSE essentially halving inspections in cooling towers last year and the concerns around the accuracy of  basic data on the number cooling towers in operation, shows that further  improvements are clearly needed in this area.

“For the sake of our clients and all of those affected by these outbreaks, we think it is vital that the public are kept fully updated on a regular basis regarding the HSE’s work to improve standards in this area.

“However, what is equally important is that the response to and actions taken during the Edinburgh and Stoke outbreaks is also carefully assessed. We strongly feel that a Public Inquiry would be the best course of action to ensure that lessons are learned from the problems of the past and to ensure adequate steps are being taken to protect the health and wellbeing of the public.”

According to Garner, a Public Inquiry should include a full examination of matters such as the cause of each outbreak, the adequacy of preventative steps, education, a review of the investigation process as well as an assessment of the co-ordination of the various regulatory bodies involved.

He outlined: “Both outbreaks caused serious illness among more than 100 people and tragically caused the deaths of five members of the public. On behalf of our clients and all of those whose lives were touched by these issues, we are determined to gain answers about what happened and seek assurances that all reasonable steps are taken in the future to prevent similar tragedies from occurring again.

“Many of our clients are frustrated, angry and deeply upset about the ordeals that they and their loved ones have had to endure. They are still waiting for answers to their questions and to many the release of safety notices feels like too little, too late.”

Giuseppe Orlando, 57, from Werrington, Staffordshire, instructed Irwin Mitchell after suffering from Legionnaires’ Disease in Stoke following a visit to the JTF Warehouse store in the city which was linked to the outbreak.

He said: “The illness had a major impact on me and I want to know how and why this came to happen.

“However, it is about more than that – it is about stopping the same problems from affecting anyone else in the future. This safety notice is a welcome step but we have not seen any clear signs that lessons are being learned.”