Socialist Worker

Cuts are to blame for Edinburgh Legionnaires disease outbreak

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2307

Cutbacks in the number of health and safety inspectors and inspections lie behind the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Edinburgh.

There are 87 confirmed or suspected cases of infection in the area and one person has already died.

The city council has cut its environmental health officers by 18 percent in the last three years—double the Scottish average cut.

There are now just 50 left in the city.

And the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has also suffered serious cuts.

According to the Prospect union, which represents HSE inspectors, the number of preventative workplace inspections was slashed last year from 30,000 to 20,000 a year.

The cuts were described as “staggering, shocking and savage” by Professor Andrew Watterson, head of the occupational and environment research group at Stirling University.

“The crippling impact of cuts is now threatening public health,” he said.

“The Legionnaires’ outbreak should be a wake-up call because so-called ‘low-risk’ premises such as offices and large shopping premises have cooling towers that require continuing regular inspection as well as proper maintenance if public health is to be protected.”

He said the cuts “could cost lives in the future.”

Simon Hester, chair of the Prospect union’s HSE branch, told Socialist Worker that the outbreak is a “stark reminder” of the severity of the situation.

“David Cameron announced that he wanted to kill off the ‘health and safety monster’ for good this year,” he said.

“In reality the government is killing off protection for workers and communities. They must be stopped.”

Legionella bacteria is found in sources of water, such as rivers and lakes. The bacteria can end up in air conditioning, water services and cooling towers.

Legionnaires’ disease is contracted by breathing in small droplets of contaminated water.

Symptoms are mild headaches, muscle pain, fever, persistent cough and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

The toll from this outbreak shows cuts put people’s health at risk.

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Article information

Tue 12 Jun 2012, 19:45 BST
Issue No. 2307
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