The management of Legionella in NSW is set for some big changes from mid-2018. These changes move the industry from a relatively self-regulated position to the Australian Standard’s risk management framework which is followed by other jurisdictions in Australia.
NSW Health has already taken the first step towards these changes – introducing compulsory monthly testing for HCC and Legionella from January 2018. In addition, “reportable test results” (Legionella >1,000 or HCC >5,000,000) must be notified to Local Government within 24 hours.
The introduction of measures to improve performance outcomes is strongly supported by the water treatment industry.
Given the significant changes in enforcement at Local Government level being implemented in parallel with the regulatory changes, as discussed below, it is critical that stakeholders continue to work together.
Penalties and Shut-Down Notices
Building owners, FMs and HVAC contractors should be aware that recent changes in Local Government’s approach to enforcement may have significant operational and financial impacts.
From the start of 2018, Local Government in NSW has been issuing penalty notices (and, in at least one example, a prohibition notice) for “reportable test results”.
Sydney’s Channel 9 news reported on 7 March that Local Government issued a prohibition notice requiring the shut-down of a 10 storey commercial building’s cooling tower system following a “reportable test result”. The prohibition notice was only cleared once a negative Legionella result was provided – given the test period is 7-10 days, the building’s air-conditioning was prohibited from operating for at least 1 week. The news report stated that tenants in the building were advised not to attend work for 2-3 days whilst temporary air-conditioning was organised.
It is important to note that there were no cases of Legionnaires’ disease associated with this building. The shut-down notice was issued on the basis of the reportable Legionella result. Local Government advised that this precaution was necessary in order to protect the public health.
As stated above, the water treatment industry strongly supports improvements to the regulatory approach in NSW. However, the issuing of penalty notices and notices requiring shut-down of cooling tower systems is unprecedented and was unexpected. In this environment, it is important that all stakeholders demonstrate a proactive willingness to engage with the new requirements.
Risk Management Plans
The most significant change to the control of legionella in NSW is the introduction of a risk management framework.
A risk management plan (RMP) will need to be conducted for every cooling tower system. The timeline for completion of the RMP will be based on the Local Government’s assessment of the risk each system represents to public health. RMPs for high risk systems must be completed prior to September, medium risk prior to December and low risk prior to March 2019.
The RMP must be completed by a “competent person” on the NSW Health “Approved Form”. As a consequence of the introduction of a regulated “Approved Form”, any RMPs that have been developed prior to the publication of the regulations will need to be revised.
In the future, RMPs will be required to be reviewed each year if the system is deemed to be “high risk” and every five years if the system is “medium risk” or “low risk”. RMPs will need to be registered with Local Government.
Many cooling tower systems are located on roof-tops and in services areas behind industrial buildings. It is common that only HVAC and water treatment technicians visit the immediate vicinity of such systems with any frequency.
Based on experience in other jurisdictions, the increased activity associated with the development of risk management plans, audits and Local Government involvement will result in a number of consultants and inspectors visiting each cooling tower system over the next 12-24 months. This activity is likely to result in ‘more eyes’ reviewing the system and its immediate environment.
With this activity, there is likely to be increased focus on the ability of technicians to access all components of the cooling tower for servicing and cleaning activities. There will also be a focus on the safety and environmental aspects associated with chemical storage and handling
Provision of Previous Five Years Documentation
Building occupiers will need to provide the previous 5 years of documentation within 4 hours of a request by Local Government. “Documentation” includes all service reports, micro reports, RMPs, audits and the name and contact details of each person who has maintained the system in the last 5 years. This requirement is likely to pose a practical challenge given the changes that can occur in building ownership, building management and the contractors engaged over a five-year period.
All cooling tower systems will need to be audited on an annual basis to confirm compliance with the RMP. Audit certificates will need to be registered with Local Government.
Support for the New Framework
We strongly support the improvement in regulation of cooling tower systems in NSW. As always with periods of change, there will no doubt be some difficulty – especially in the early stages before NSW Health has implemented its planned education program.
Importantly, no doubt, the outcome will be an improvement for public health – which is an improvement for all of us, our families, colleagues and friends!
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