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- Landowners who have a cooling tower system on their property and every business that owns or operates a cooling tower system need to understand their responsibilities under Victorian law.
- Victorian laws governing cooling tower safety include the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, the Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations 2019 and the Plumbing Regulations 2018.
- All cooling towers must be registered; penalties apply for failing to do so.
Landowners who have a cooling tower system on their property and every business that owns or operates a cooling tower system need to understand their responsibilities under Victorian law and carefully consider the risks relating to their cooling tower system and business.
We have prepared this guide and a template of an RMP to help businesses comply with Victorian law, but ultimately the responsibility rests with the owner of the land and the businesses involved to maintain a safe environment for staff, contractors, customers and the general public. The recommendations in the guide will assist owners and managers to comply with the laws, but individual business needs and environmental conditions may require different or more stringent maintenance regimes, based on individual risk assessments. The responsibilities of the various stakeholders of a cooling tower system are summarised in Appendix 2.
Legal responsibilities of landowners
The Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (see ‘Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008’) places a number of obligations on the owner of any land on which there is a cooling tower system. These include registering that system with the department, developing a Risk Management Plan (RMP) and having that plan independently audited by an approved auditor.
Responsibilities of owners and managers of cooling tower systems
The Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations 2019 describe the minimum requirements for maintaining a cooling tower system. Testing for Heterotrophic colony counts is required monthly. Legionella must be tested for at least 3-monthly, at a minimum; in the event of adverse results, certain immediate actions must be taken to bring the system under control.
Key challenges for owners and managers of cooling tower systems
The main challenge is to take immediate steps to minimise the risks associated with cooling tower systems on land for which owners and managers have responsibility. Several other elements, summarised below, are critical to the success of a risk management approach.
In larger organisations, commitment means recognition by management that a cooling tower system is an asset requiring careful management.
Information gathering and forward planning
Any organisation with a cooling tower system must have adequate information on which to base its decisions. This includes:
- reviews of the cooling tower system to determine any shortfalls in design or performance
- development and implementation of an action plan or upgrade plan to address any deficiencies.
Control and performance measures
Organisations must develop reliable management systems – especially monitoring of performance measures such as Legionella testing – to ensure that the system is under effective and consistent control. Management reporting of variances from regulations or organisational targets is also important. Such reviews must look at more than just engineering solutions. They must also consider the people who may be exposed and ways to minimise their exposure.
Alternatives to cooling towers
The only way to eliminate the risk from Legionnaires’ disease associated with a cooling tower is to remove the cooling tower. Viable alternatives to a cooling tower should be reviewed.
Larger organisations need to carefully consider the contractual relationships between the landowner and those involved in managing and maintaining a building. It is critical that communication between the parties about safety-related matters is clear and rapid.
The final key challenge is to raise employee awareness about the cooling tower system and the programs in place to minimise the risks. This must include the development of communication plans detailing who will be informed if Legionella is detected in the cooling tower system.
Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008
The Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 requires the owner of land on which there is a cooling tower system to:
- register each cooling tower system with the department. Registration periods are 1, 2 or 3 years, and there is a fee associated with registration. More information on the registration fees page.
- prepare and implement an RMP for every cooling tower system on the site, which addresses the following critical risk factors
- stagnant water, including lack of water recirculation in the cooling tower system, and the presence of dead-end pipework and other fittings in the system
- nutrient growth, including the presence of biofilm, algae and protozoa in the cooling tower system; water temperature within a range that will support rapid growth of microorganisms in the system; and exposure of the water in the system to direct sunlight
- poor water quality in the cooling tower system, including the presence of solids, Legionella and high levels of microorganisms
- deficiencies in the cooling tower, including deficiencies in the physical design, condition and maintenance of the system
- location of, and public access to, the cooling tower or cooling tower system, including the potential for environmental contamination of the system and exposure of people to the aerosols of the system
- have the RMP independently audited every year to confirm that it addresses the risk factors described in the Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations 2019, and the critical risks in relevant Australian standards. The audit must also confirm that there is documented evidence that the plan is being satisfactorily implemented (see Audits Section 11)
- review the RMP at least once every year.
Under the Act, the registration holder must advise the department within 30 days of the:
- addition of a cooling tower to the system or removal of a cooling tower from the system
- removal or permanent decommissioning of the system (see Appendix 3)
- relocation of the system on the lot of land on which it stands.
The maximum penalty for failing to register a cooling tower system is 120 penalty units for an individual and 600 penalty units for a body corporate. The maximum penalty for failing to prepare an RMP is 60 penalty units for an individual and 300 penalty units for a body corporate. Penalty units are updated annually; in 2021–22, the value of a penalty unit is $181.74.
Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations 2019
The Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations 2019 require the person who owns, manages or controls a cooling tower system to ensure the following with regard to system maintenance:
- The system is maintained and tested as described in part 7 of the Regulations, unless it is shut down or is otherwise not in use.
- The water in the system is continuously treated with one or more biocides to effectively control the growth of microorganisms, including Legionella. It must also be treated with a biodispersant, and other chemicals to minimise fouling, formation of scale and corrosion.
- A chlorine-compatible biodispersant is added to the recirculating water of the system, and the system is disinfected, cleaned and re-disinfected
- immediately before initial start-up following commissioning or any shut-down period of more than 1 month
- at least every 6 months.
- The system is inspected at least monthly to ensure that it is operating without defects.
- The water in the system is tested by a laboratory for heterotrophic colony count (HCC) at least monthly and for Legionella every 3 months.
- Maintenance and testing records are kept for 12 months and can be produced for an authorised officer (2) from the department on request.
The regulations require that action is taken in response to an HCC result of more than 200,000 colony forming units per millilitre (CFU/mL) or to the detection of Legionella in a sample taken from the cooling tower system. The actions are summarised in Appendix 4, Figures A1–A3. It is an offence to not comply with these requirements.
It is also an offence to tamper with a water sample from the cooling tower and to falsify a laboratory report.
Plumbing Regulations 2018
The Plumbing Regulations 2018, among other things, set out requirements for the installation of cooling tower systems and licensing requirements for plumbers working on cooling tower systems.
The Plumbing Code of Australia is adopted by, and forms part of, the Plumbing Regulations 2018. Part E1 of the code specifies the objectives and performance requirements relating to the installation of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. Australian/NewZealand Standard AS/NZS 3666.1 (Air-handling and water systems of buildings – Microbial control – Design, installation and commissioning), is a ‘deemed to satisfy’ document listed in Part E1 of the Plumbing Code of Australia and contains a section on ‘Design, installation and commissioning of cooling water systems’.Cooling towers on a rooftop: The tower in the foreground is of fibreglass construction and is often described as a bottle tower. The larger tower at rear is made of metal. Both are induced draught counter flow towers.
2. The department’s authorised officers have been specifically appointed for the purposes of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008. Authorised officers must be suitably qualified and trained to perform their roles in enforcing the requirements of the Act and the Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations 2019 in relation to cooling tower systems. Authorised officers carry an identity card that contains their photograph and signature, and is signed by a delegate of the Secretary to the department.
Reviewed 08 October 2015