Matthew Carlin, Principal Advisor Health Regulation, within the Health Risk and Regulation Unit, NSW Health presented on the imminent regulatory changes for Legionella Control, at an AIRAH educational event in May.

A number of Legionnaires’ outbreaks occurred across Sydney in 2016. As a consequence, NSW Health instituted a public health investigation which found the management practices of cooling towers wanting. Recognising the need for regulatory change, NSW Health formed an expert panel comprised of AIRAH, risk management experts, state and local government, environmental health officers and microbiologists. A number of recommendations made by the panel were put to industry in the form of a consultation paper at the end of 2016.

Fifty-three submissions commenting on these recommendations were received from industry, Office of Local Government, Public Health Units Property Managers and individuals. Clearly, this topic is of significant concern for many and has stimulated enormous discussion.  A Legionella Steering Committee, overseeing four working parties, is working through these submissions to advise NSW Health executive how best to proceed in the implementation of these changes and to develop resources to support the implementation.

For each Cooling Tower System, the following will be required:

  • A Risk Management Plan (RMP) for every system, based on AS 3666 part 3. The RMP must be prepared by a competent person every 5 years and audited annually by a certified 3rd Party to check that recommendations are implemented.
  • A unique identifying number for every Cooling Tower System. Each system must be registered annually, to ensure registrations remain current.
  • Monthly sampling of Cooling Tower Systems for Legionella and Heterotrophic Bacteria in accordance with AS 3666 part 3.
  • All cooling towers will require a dedicated sample point located on the return, fitted with a tap to enable ease of sampling.
  • Mandatory reporting of all test results that exceed 1000 cfu/mL for Legionella and 5,000,000 for Heterotrophic Colony Count by the responsible person for the cooling tower system to either Local Government or the Public Health Unit.
  • The definition of a ‘competent person’ will change and will be based on the function or role of the individual and not the qualifications.
  • Certificate of Disinfection will be discontinued and will be replaced by Certification of an RMP.

NSW Health is still to define or determine a couple of elements of this regulatory framework including:

  • Whether a site inspection of the Cooling Tower will be required annually as a part of the certification audit.
  • Where the certification of the RMP will be lodged either with a Public Health Unit or Local Government.

Interestingly NSW Health has scoped out the Development of a Statewide Cooling Tower Register and Database customised to capture all results, notifications and actions associated with these regulatory systems. This scope must be fully customised to meet the regulatory recordkeeping requirements and would be designed to streamline work flows and minimise burden on Local Government as required under the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, NSW Local Government Act 1993. This centralised register and database and all documentation will sit with NSW Health. The burden for entering this data will fall on the owners of the regulated cooling tower and likely would form a part of the contract of the water treatment provider.  Given the substantial investment this will require:

Local Councils’ Environmental Health Officers will continue to play an important role undertaking physical inspections of cooling towers.

Given the political pressure and the need to take action regulatory change will take place this year either with or without a plan to launch a Database.  To support the implementation of these regulatory changes the NSW Health working parties will produce a:

  • Model of an RMP Development of this is being lead by reknown Cooling Tower Risk Management Expert Clive Broadbent. There will be substantial alignment with the Victorian Risk Management Plan, but it will also account for demographic differences between the two states;
  • Guidelines on undertaking and implementing a Cooling Tower RMP;
  • Training for both Auditors, Competent Persons, Environmental Health Officers and Water Treatment Industry Personnel;
  • A targeted consultation process will be undertaken with industry to ensure these resources are practical and meaningful.

Critically NSW Health aim to build a fully redundant model, whereby responsibility for the health of the Cooling Towers and the risk they present to the public are shared by the building owner, the auditor and the water treatment company. Prevention will be the main focus and the framework will enable all parties to demand that each meet their obligations. NSW Health aims to ensure the all operations are providing a minimal standardized service that genuinely mitigates the risk.