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*UPDATE* £1.8m fine for Legionnaires’ disease risk at G4S site

The cash transit arm of security giant G4S told the court it was embarrassed for failing to maintain hot and cold water systems at its offices in Harlow, Essex, that put workers at risk from Legionnaires’ disease. 

As we reported two weeks ago, Environmental health officers (EHOs) from Harlow Council inspected G4S Cash Solutions (UK)’s offices in October 2013 after receiving a report that an employee had contracted Legionellosis, a respiratory disease caused by Legionella. 

Though they never confirmed that the disease had originated from the site, the EHOs found that G4S had failed to maintain its water systems in compliance with the Health and Safety at Work Act, Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, and L8, the Health and Safety Executive’s approved code on the control of Legionella in water systems.

The company had an unsigned health and safety policy from 2009 that identified the need for a risk assessment, but one was not completed until 2012. G4S had no contract with the water treatment firm that carried out the assessment and failed to resolve most of the 17 high-risk issues it identified. 

EHOs found several risk factors of Legionnaires’ disease at the site, including the routine use of only one of two water pumps, dead legs in the system, a blocked air-conditioner drain, unidentified thermostatic mixer valves, hot water calorifiers that were over capacity, and key sampling points that had been unchecked. 

Staff were inadequately trained in Legionella risks and there was no schematic diagram of the complex water system.

G4S, represented by Weightmans LLP, pleaded guilty to breaching ss 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act at a previous hearing on 20 June. At Chelmsford Crown Court on 2 September, Her Honour Judge Emma Peters decided the company’s culpability was very high because of its “flagrant disregard for the law”.

The company failed to take on board advice given by Harlow Council in 2013, ignored subsequent written warnings, and declined to attend PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) interviews twice, which it was entitled to do. 

Judge Peters said G4S was a very large company with the means to put right these failings, Harlow Council’s principal EHO, Chris Bennett, told IOSH Magazine. “It was inexpensive and straightforward to resolve some of these issues. For example, on the day of the inspection my colleague got G4S to put in a system there and then that alternated the pumps to avoid stagnation.” 

The seriousness of harm risked was level A, with “statistics from the World Health Organization suggesting that the fatality rate is around 10%”, Bennett added. The likelihood of harm was low, putting the offence in harm category 3. “There is a low susceptibility rate to Legionella, there is no evidence that the employee contracted it from that site, no other workers were known to have been ill and there were no positive samples taken from G4S,” Bennett explained.

G4S’s turnover of around £250m qualified it as a very large organisation. The judge set the starting point for the fine at £2.7m (the top end of the range for a large organisation), which was reduced to £1.8m when the company’s guilty plea and mitigation were taken into account. It was given 28 days to pay the fine plus Harlow Council’s costs of £34,000.

G4S said it was embarrassed by the significant failings and told the court it had taken steps to resolve them. It engaged a new water treatment contractor and, since spring 2015, was “broadly compliant with L8,” said Bennett. There is a new group health and safety manager and a new operations director responsible for health and safety. 

It has also revised its approach to health and safety generally. The company agreed a Primary Authority partnership with Reading Council that was formed late in the investigation but was in place before the sentencing.

 

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

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