Because of the potentially fatal consequences of Legionnaires’ disease, the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008requires that all land owners register any cooling tower located on their land with the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. The registration of all cooling towers on any land is mandatory and is the obligation of the land owner. This process is essential to prevent people from becoming ill with Legionnaires’ disease and to control an outbreak of the disease should it occur.
Following media interest in a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in the Frankston area, the Department was contacted by an anonymous caller who reported an unregistered cooling tower at the Frankston Arts Centre. Authorised officers from the Department entered the site and confirmed that a cooling tower not registered with the Department was in operation, and that Frankston City Council was the owner of the land. Testing of that cooling tower by the Department’s authorised officers did not identify any Legionella bacteria.
Despite there being no Legionella bacteria identified at the unregistered cooling tower, in July 2018 Frankston City Council pleaded guilty to breaches of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 by failing to comply with the requirement to register a cooling tower and failing to audit the cooling tower risk management plan.
Frankston City Council was fined $30,000 and was ordered to pay the Department’s legal costs of $5,000. Notably, the Magistrate accepted concessions made by Frankston City Council that this type of offending is ‘absolute liability’ – meaning that, the Department does not need to make out any intention of wrongdoing and only needs to make out that a cooling tower was not registered, was in operation and was otherwise located on land owned by a landowner.
Stuart Adcock from the Legionella Team said, “It is important that all cooling towers are registered with the Department. We also need current contact details so we can contact the right person if a cooling tower needs to be disinfected.” He added, “Facility managers change, and if our records are not up to date, this may delay important steps being taken to protect public health.”
In 2018 to date, the Department has been notified of 65 people who have been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease. In 2017, the Department was notified of 100 cases.
About Legionnaires’ disease
Legionnaires’ disease is a rare form of pneumonia which can be fatal. It is caused by Legionella bacteria.
Legionella bacteria can be found in natural water bodies such as rivers, lakes, creeks and hot springs. The bacteria are also found in spas, potting mix, warm water systems and artificial systems that use water for cooling, heating or industrial processes, such as cooling towers.
Legionnaires’ disease causes flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, chills, muscle aches and pains, followed by respiratory problems and pneumonia developing over three or four days. The onset can be up to 10 days after the initial contact with the bacteria. High-risk groups in the community are people aged over 50, heavy smokers, heavy drinkers, people with diabetes or chronic lung disease and those with lowered immunity.