Legionella raises exposures for building contractors

Source:, November 20, 2013
By: Gavin Souter

Legionella is a relatively new liability exposure for construction firms, but pending safety standards concerning the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease should raise risk management concerns, underwriting experts say.
Contractors should ensure that projects they work on comply with the new standard to shield them from liability and to protect their workers, they say.
Legionella often is associated with entities such as cruise lines or hotels, where well-publicized outbreaks of the disease have caused deaths, but the bacteria that causes the disease can be all over construction sites, said Diana Eichfeld, Philadelphia-based assistant vice president at Ace Environmental Risk, a unit of Ace USA.
The disease usually is transmitted through inhalation of water vapor and can be located in water systems such as decorative fountains, in heating systems, and on construction materials, such as PVC and rubber, she said.
“The key issue with Legionella is the individual’s susceptibility,” Ms. Eichfeld said during the International Risk Management Institute Inc.’s annual conference in San Diego. The elderly and people who already are ill are more likely to contract the disease, but healthy, young construction workers are not immune, she said.
Risk management concerns regarding the bacteria will be heightened by a proposed new safety standard focused on preventing it from entering building water systems that has been formulated by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, which is expected to be published in January, said Frank Westfall, Philadelphia-based vice president of Esis Inc., a unit of Ace.

Most commercial buildings affected

The standard will be applied to most commercial buildings, and the building owners will have to deploy a plan to manage and monitor the risk, he said.

For contractors doing work on the buildings, “if you deal with the water system, you can create an exposure,” Mr. Westfall said.
As a result, contractors need to be concerned about the risk to protect their own employees and to limit the possibility of being found liable for a disease outbreak, especially when they are working in buildings with vulnerable individuals, such as hospitals, he said.
“Contractors should ask building owners at the bid stage whether they have the standard in place,” Mr. Westfall said.
When an outbreak of Legionella does occur, liability can be identified, said Ms. Eichfeld, and the liability can be costly.
In one instance where work was being done on an East Coast apartment building, an elderly man contracted Legionella and later died from the infection. The incident resulted in a $300,000 pollution liability settlement, she said.

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