Plastics manufacturer fined after Legionella outbreak

One of the water-cooling towers at Riaar Plastics. Credit: HSE

A West Bromwich plastics manufacturing firm has been fined after placing workers and the public at risk of being harmed by a potentially deadly bacteria.

Riaar Plastics was investigated and fined £50,000 by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after six people were infected with Legionnaire’s disease in September 2020. One person was taken to intensive care and put on a ventilator.

A judge said the exposure of the bacteria “was extreme in nature” after the HSE found water-cooling towers inherited by the firm to be in an extremely poor condition.

It says this allowed Legionella bacteria to grow in the water-cooling towers and pipes, exposing employees and members of the public to risks of significant ill health. You can become infected after breathing in small droplets of water in air that contains the Legionella bacteria.

Riaar Plastics, of Black Lake, West Bromwich, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The company was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £11,000 in costs at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on June 2.

This prosecution was led by HSE principal inspector Jenny Skeldon and HSE senior enforcement lawyer Kiran Cassini.

HSE principal inspector Jenny Skeldon said: “The condition of the cooling towers at this site was the worst I had ever seen. The Legionella exposure risk to employees, site visitors, neighbouring duty holders and members of the public was extreme in nature.

“Exposure to Legionella can cause death or serious illness where water cooling systems are not been managed effectively. It is really important that proactive management of the risk from Legionella bacteria is taken seriously.

“There are well publicised and simple precautions for companies to take, and if followed, will ensure that employers manage and control the risk.”