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Five firms charged after Legionnaires’ disease outbreak

Five companies have denied safety and health breaches relating to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Five firms charged after Legionnaires’ disease outbreak
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Four people died and a further 92 were infected during the outbreak in 2012. 

The source of exposure is most likely to have been a cluster of cooling towers at a site on Wheatfield Road, Gorgie, and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) served four enforcement notices on three companies during its investigation.

However, it was never confirmed that the disease originated from any of these cooling towers and the Crown decided at the time not to prosecute. 

Pharmaceutical research firm MacFarlan Smith was served two improvement notices to thoroughly clean one of its cooling towers and to provide access for inspection and maintenance. The National Museum of Scotland and North British Distillery were each served one improvement notice. 

North British Distillery had failed to implement an effective biocide control programme in one of its cooling towers. The firm took all three cooling towers out of operation in response, though the notice only covered one.

Alistair Darling, who at the time was MP for Edinburgh South West, tabled questions in parliament that revealed the HSE had not visited the whisky distillery in the previous five years. 

The new charges relate to the maintenance and cleaning of the cooling towers at the premises, which allegedly exposed people to the risk of Legionella between 2009 and 2013.   
MacFarlan Smith and North British Distillery, along with chemicals wholesaler Ashland Industries, who also operated at the site, and legionella risk assessment service provider Pera Services and water management company Chemtech Consultancy, have all been charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act. 

A date for the trial, which could last up to 12 weeks, has not been set. 


Keeley Downey is acting deputy editor of IOSH Magazine. She is a former editor of Biofuels International, Bioenergy Insight and Tank Cleaning Magazine


  • If the enforcing authorities

    Permalink Submitted by Allen Wilson on 10 December 2017 - 10:54 am

    If the enforcing authorities had been proactive, this incident resulting in numerous deaths could have been avoided. I cannot estimate the hours that went into investigating this but if just 5% had been invested in regular pro-active inspections it is likely that this may not have occurred. At the time (2012)I gave interviews to Scottish newspapers predicting the source would never be found and was latterly proved correct. What happens when there is an outbreak is that operators start pressure washing and disinfecting their equipment so by the time the enforcement authorities get around to visiting, every thing is perfect. Some of these facilities had not been inspected for a large number of years. Why don't we drink and drive? because we may cause harm or injury, yet in reality it is because it is well policed and we are frightened to. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the enforcing authorities for health and safety and operators do not have sufficient knowledge of the threat and no matter what they commonly claim, health & safety is not their first priority. In my opinion the enforcement authorities are as much to blame as the operators.


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