Sports Grounds – Legionella Control and Prevention

An image of a sprinkler in operation at a football ground

Over the past few months SGSA Inspectors have on an increasing number of occasions reported on discussions at Safety Advisory Groups about the need to include in the annual inspections of certificated sports grounds, reference to risk assessments that are undertaken to establish any potential risks of legionella bacteria growth in their water systems.

Legionella bacteria are the cause of pneumonia-like illnesses the most serious of which is legionnaires’ disease. This particular condition is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia to which everyone is susceptible to infection, with some people being at higher risk, including:

  • people over 45
  • smokers and heavy drinkers
  • sufferers from chronic respiratory or kidney disease; and
  • those with an impaired immune system

Legionella bacteria is widespread in the environment (rivers, lakes etc.) and as such may contaminate and grow in purpose-built water systems, common examples of which include cooling systems, evaporative condensers (both of these can be linked to air conditioning) hot and cold water systems, showers, spa pools, whirlpool baths, irrigation systems etc.

Effectively, any water system that has the right environmental conditions could potentially be a source of legionella bacteria growth and, therefore a source of infection. There is a reasonably foreseeable risk in a water system if:

  • water is stored or re-circulated as part of the system
  • the water temperature in all or some part of a system is between 20-45 °C
  • sources of nutrients are present such as rust, sludge, scale and organic matters
  • conditions are likely to encourage bacteria to multiply
  • it is possible for water droplets (aerosols) to be produced, and if so, dispersed over a wide area, such as showers and from cooling towers
  • if any employees, visitors, local residents are susceptible to infection (see above) and whether they could be exposed to any contaminated water droplets from man-made water systems

Sports grounds are no different to other premises such as offices, hospitals, leisure centres and hotels where the person in control has health and safety duties to employees and others, such as visiting spectators. Those in control have duties to take reasonable precautions to prevent and control the risk of exposure to legionella in their premises’ water systems. There is specific health and safety law and guidance - see references below.

To identify and assess sources of risk, prevent or control risks and ensure sustained compliance in premises water systems it is necessary for those in control, either through their own competent person or external consultants, to carry out a risk assessment. Whatever the outcome of an assessment it is important to review them periodically in case anything changes in the relevant system.

From some of the potential sources of risk that can generate water droplets during operation and expose visiting spectators, as well as staff, sports grounds do include water systems that need to be assessed such as air conditioning plant that discharge exhaust onto concourses, or fine spray from pitch irrigation systems used pre-kick off and at half time, in this particular instance on a windy day fine spray drift can be seen covering terraces.

Including legionella control and prevention compliance processes and documentation in the annual inspection, and appropriate safety certificate schedule,  where there is a potential source of risk to the visiting public at a sports ground, would appear to be a legitimate course of action. 

Detailed advice should be available from the local authority Environmental Health Service that covers the area in which your sports ground is located.

Useful reference documents to help those with responsibilities for premises are available from the Health & Safety Executive and include: