ONE of the things that’s frustrated me recently is the ongoing promotion of one-day Legionella awareness courses.

You’ll have seen the adverts; come along for a few hours of learning, enjoy a free lunch and before you know it, you’ll be a certified legionella risk assessor.

Legionella is a bacteria that occurs naturally in water and soil but multiplies rapidly in nutrient-rich environments. It can cause Legionnaire’s disease, a potentially fatal form of pneumonia. The disease can be deadly, especially in people over the age of 50 or with pre-existing medical conditions.

Did you know that 31 cases of Legionnaire’s disease were reported in March 2017 alone? That there have been over 40 fatalities in the UK since the 1980s?

If your business has a man-made water system, be it a hotel, swimming pool, spa or care home, you have a legal obligation (under legislation including the Health and Safety at Work Act) to appoint at least one person to help comply with health and safety duties.

Which is where these ‘awareness courses’ come in.

The issue I have with one-day Legionella awareness courses is that one day is nowhere near enough to learn the basics of legionella risk assessment. These courses cram all aspects in in the space of a few hours and are too generic. Plus once the course is over, that’s it. No ‘refresher’ courses or ongoing training are required.

These courses produce ‘qualified’ assessors who aren’t competent or experienced enough to carry out any work. Do you want these people carrying out a risk assessment and telling you your safety systems are adequate?

No business wants a death on their hands, but that can happen if you leave risk assessment to someone who lacks experience.

  • There are financial penalties if your risk assessment is not up to standard. In 2016, a company in Harlow was fined £1.8 million after an employee contracted Legionnaire’s disease from a water system.
  • You could face a jail sentence. Two company owners will soon be going to trial charged with corporate manslaughter over a contaminated hot tub.
  • Your business could be shut down. A council-owned swimming pool was forced to close on two separate occasions in 2016 after traces of Legionella were found.
  • Even if you avoid the above, negative publicity could drive away customers permanently.

So, what’s the alternative to one-day Legionella awareness courses?

I’d recommend an accredited training course held by a reputable company.

A good training course should be at least three or four days long and cover all systems in depth. Any less than that and you risk not knowing the essentials.

Once you have your certification, that’s not the end of it. Competence is a combination of training and experience and I’d recommend newly qualified assessors are paired up with experienced assessors to gain experience and have peace of mind if there are any issues they are not sure about.

It’s not a quick or cheap fix, but it’s the right thing to do, especially when life needs to be protected.

If you’re still deciding whether one of these courses is right for your business: Imagine you need to go to the hospital.

Who would you trust with your life? The doctor who has completed at least seven years of rigorous study alongside on-the-job training? Or the one who completed a one-day course and a multiple choice quiz?

It’s an extreme example, but if you need to nominate someone to look after your water systems, you need to not only make sure that they are qualified but that they have the experience and knowledge for you to put your trust in them.

Your business and livelihood could depend on it.