New regulatory requirements for cooling water systems
NSW Health has strengthened the laws relating to cooling water system management to prevent the growth and transmission of Legionella bacteria, which can cause disease.
Legionnaires’ disease is an infection of the lungs (pneumonia) caused by Legionella bacteria and can occur after a person breathes in contaminated water vapour or dust. Outbreaks are sometimes associated with contaminated cooling towers that are part of air conditioning systems in large buildings.
Symptoms typical of Legionnaires’ disease includes fever, chills, a cough and shortness of breath. Some people may also have muscle aches, headache, tiredness and loss of appetite however Legionnaires’ disease can usually be cured by treatment with antibiotics.
Effective management of cooling water systems is essential for protecting public health. Poorly managed cooling water systems can provide ideal conditions for the growth and transmission of Legionella bacteria.
An expert panel assembled by NSW Health recommended taking a performance based, or risk management, approach to managing cooling water systems which allows each system to be managed according to its risk of Legionella contamination.
In its fact sheet, NSW Health says the new Regulation, which commenced 1 January 2018, requires:
- assessing risk of Legionella contamination and preparing a Risk Management Plan (RMP) – every 5 years (or more frequently if required)
- independent auditing of compliance with the RMP and Regulation – every year
- providing certificates of RMP completion and audit completion to the local government authority
- sampling and testing for Legionella and heterotrophic colony count – every month
- notifying reportable laboratory test results (Legionella count ≥1,000 cfu/mL or heterotrophic colony count ≥5,000,000 cfu/mL) to the local government authority
- displaying unique identification numbers on all cooling towers.
How does this mean affect me?
- Occupiers must ensure that their cooling water system is managed in accordance with the Act and Regulation.
- Duly qualified persons manage the cooling water system on a routine basis
- Competent persons undertake a risk assessment and prepare an RMP
- Independent auditors conduct audits of compliance with the RMP and Regulation
- Laboratories that are accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities test microbial samples
- Authorised officers have powers to ensure the above stakeholders comply with the Act and Regulation
- Local government authorities regulate cooling water systems in their area
- NSW Health sets legislation and policy, supports local government authorities, monitors disease, and investigates outbreaks.
For more information about legislation, please refer to legislation on legionella control.
The full set of fact sheets can be found on the NSW Health website.