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G4S fined £1.8m over Legionnaires’ risk

G4S Cash Solutions (UK) Limited has been fined £1.8m after a prosecution by Harlow Council of the company for failing to protect its workers from the risk of Legionnaires’ disease. At a sentence hearing on Friday, September 2, at Chelmsford Crown Court the judge decided to fine the cash handling arm of the security contract company, after it pleaded guilty on June 20 to two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. As well as a fine, the company will pay the council’s court costs of around £34,000.

Harlow Council Environmental Health Officers inspected G4S’s Harlow site in October 2013 after it received a report that a Harlow resident had contracted Legionellosis. Al potential sources of infection were investigated. The resident worked at the site and although it was never confirmed that the disease was contracted from there, Harlow Environmental Health Officers started to uncover what the court heard was a serious lack of compliance in maintaining water systems at the site.

They found that the monitoring and testing of systems was erratic, staff had received inadequate training, and there were no up to date policies or suitable and sufficient risk assessments in place to safely operate or manage the building’s water systems. G4S did not take the steps required to reduce the risk of Legionnaires’ disease from its water systems and this was despite a long-standing duty, extensive guidance, advice from their own consultants and advice from Harlow, the court heard.

Around 200 people are believed to work at G4S’s site in Harlow with various contractors and drivers visiting the site throughout the day.

The company advised the court that they have since taken a number of measures to improve health and safety across G4S.

After the court case, Councillor Danny Purton, Portfolio Holder for Environment, said: “The health and safety of our citizens is our number one priority and the Council will always encourage employers to make improvements that protect their workers. However, there are cases where if necessary, we will prosecute because you simply can’t play with people’s lives. Although some improvements were made eventually, it had taken G4S almost three years from the date of a risk assessment in 2012 to reach minimum standards to protect its staff and visitors from exposure to Legionella bacteria.

“The million-pound-plus fine should send a serious and important message to other companies. Legionnaires’ disease is a real risk and companies need to take their health and safety duties to their employees and others very seriously. Council Environmental Health Officers up and down the country are working hard, often unnoticed, behind the scenes enforcing health and safety laws and I hope cases like this will give them the recognition they deserve.”

The health and safety regulator says that inhalation of small droplets of contaminated water containing Legionella bacteria can causes Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially fatal form of pneumonia. Hot and cold systems are likely to provide an environment where Legionella can grow if not managed: visit www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires.


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