The Legionnaire’s disease outbreak in Edinburgh last week bore all the usual hallmarks –an unconfirmed  source, an early fatality and an increasing numbers of suspected cases.

Of course the concern is always for the individuals directly affected by the outbreak and the responses from hospitals is swift and well communicated in an effort to minimize the impact in terms of casualties and indeed fatalities.

But let’s look into the impact a little deeper.

Whilst the source remains unconfirmed there will be many Health and Safety Managers heeding the warning to check that procedures are being adhered to for their own premises. Often the regular procedures that keep the disease in check are contracted out to third parties – they have the right kit, the required materials and of course the specialist knowledge. They know what they are doing so week after week, month after month everything runs to plan without raising any concerns. When an outbreak occurs those responsible suddenly start demanding assurances that required disciplines are being properly followed.

When an outbreak does occur several issues arise which will have a direct impact on whether your organisation can continue to operate normally.

Firstly the problem has to be dealt with. This means all traces of the disease have to be eradicated by thoroughly cleaning the relevant systems. This could involve the air conditioning, water cooling or even shower systems being shut down potentially rendering the building unusable for a time.

Secondly there will be people issues to address. Would you want to work in a building that has just had a Legionnaires outbreak? If I had any underlying health issues I would be staying well away and even if I was a healthy employee I would be demanding assurances that the building was safe before I resumed work. This can take time.

If the outbreak has involved hospitalisation of work colleagues, or worse still a fatality, your workforce will be even more reluctant to return and will be even more demanding in their expectations of you and your organisation.

You may even feel obliged to provide support to your workforce for the stress related aspects and impacts experienced – especially if fatalities have occurred.

Without your people, without access to your premises you need to be thinking about your business continuity strategies over both the short and possibly the longer term if eradication of the disease becomes complicated.

Finally, once the situation has returned to normal make sure you don’t become complacent about the ongoing disciplines necessary to keep the disease in check.