Health and Safety, Occupational Hygiene

Sewage leaks and legionella in workplace put civil servants at risk

Civil service unions have condemned “unsafe and unsanitary environments” for workers at government offices.

  • Data obtained by the Liberal Democrats reveals over 100 sewage leaks in government buildings across the UK in the past 12 months, with the Ministry of Defence being the most affected department.
  • Civil service unions criticize the “unsafe and unsanitary environments” for civil servants, as Legionella bacteria was also discovered in water outlets in HMRC’s Liverpool offices.
  • The government states that it manages a large property estate and has invested over £50m in maintenance and improvements, but some departments have declined to answer questions or cited disproportionate costs in gathering data.
  • The MoD recorded 102 sewage leaks from May 2022 to May 2023, according to parliamentary questions tabled by the Liberal Democrats.
  • In Whitehall, sewage was reported to have leaked at the Cabinet Office, the Department for Education, the Department for Transport and the Department for Work and Pensions.
  • Last month an insect infestation led to four floors of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero in 1 Victoria Street, London, being closed for deep cleaning.SF Blog MOD

Trade unions have called for a safer working environment for civil servants after it emerged that legionella, insect infestations and more than 100 sewage leaks were discovered in government buildings in the past year.

It was reported that guidance had been followed by capping off pipework, flushing the system and retesting. However, the building was not closed and vulnerable members of staff were told to work from home.

An HMRC spokesperson said the safety of staff was “of paramount importance” and that when the issue was discovered, immediate treatment and measures were put in place.

Last week, 39 people were removed from the Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset after traces of legionella bacteria were found in the onboard water system.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, which represents civil servants, said: “The state of government buildings is a disgrace, outdone only by the way the government treats the people who work inside them.

“The situation in Liverpool is indefensible. The government has finally accepted the danger to people on the Bibby Stockholm from legionella, yet refuses to act to protect its own staff.

“Legionella is a dangerous disease, especially for those who are disabled or vulnerable, and any decent employer would do all they can to keep their workforce safe.”

Amy Leversidge, assistant general secretary of the FDA union, which represents civil servants, said in a statement: “It is clearly unacceptable for civil servants to be working in unsafe and unsanitary environments, and these incidents could cause serious harm or sickness. Nobody should have to work in these conditions.”

“The Government Property Agency must take responsibility and control of this, clear the maintenance backlog, and guarantee the very basic right of a safe working environment for all civil servants.”

But the government says it manages over 140,000 buildings across the country and has invested over £50m in maintenance and improvements.

Parliamentary questions tabled by the Liberal Democrats reveal there were a total of 138 sewage leaks in government buildings over the past 12 months.

Statement on the Bibby Stockholm – 11/08/2023

Posted by:Home Office news team, Posted on:11 August 2023

“The health and welfare of individuals on the vessel is our utmost priority.

“Environmental samples from the water system on the Bibby Stockholm have shown levels of legionella bacteria which require further investigation.

“Following these results, the Home Office has been working closely with UKHSA and following its advice in line with long established public health processes, and ensuring all protocol from Dorset Council’s Environmental Health team and Dorset NHS is adhered to.

“As a precautionary measure, all 39 asylum seekers who arrived on the vessel this week are being disembarked while further assessments are undertaken.

“No individuals on board have presented with symptoms of Legionnaires’, and asylum seekers are being provided with appropriate advice and support.

“The samples taken relate only to the water system on the vessel itself and therefore carry no direct risk indication for the wider community of Portland nor do they relate to fresh water entering the vessel. Legionnaires’ disease does not spread from person to person.”

The Importance of Legionella Monitoring

Legionella bacteria causes Legionellosis, a collection of serious diseases that includes Legionnaires’ disease, Pontiac fever and Lochgoilhead fever.

What conditions do Legionella grow in?

  • Water systems from 6 to 60 degrees
  • Warm, motionless water systems with low levels of oxygen
  • Pipe and tank surfaces, rubber and other natural fibres found in washers and seals, water heaters, hot water tanks and in pipes and showers
  • water distribution systems needed for large buildings like hotels and hospitals

Legionnaire’s disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia that can affect anyone – there were 84 deaths in England and Wales from 2011 to 2013.

It is therefore vital that consistent and effective monitoring is undertaken to ensure that tenants, visitors and passers-by are not exposed to Legionella bacteria and the potential consequences.

Why Safety First?

With over a decade of experience, our legionella experts can conduct a thorough risk assessment of your premises and provide a full report detailing any actions that need to be taken in order to be compliant with standards within 25 days.

Contact our friendly team of experts to find out more about Legionella risk assessments or any of our other services HERE.


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