How distilleries can ensure safety and compliance

With a number of distilleries currently pausing or scaling back production in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, those responsible for the safety of the facilities must ensure the plant is managed correctly to prevent Legionella contamination.

Just like many businesses, spirit distilleries have had to make adjustments to operations due to the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak and the necessary restrictions put in place as a result. While some have reduced production to allow their employees to social distance effectively others have halted work completely. Regardless of the response, any change in the use of equipment must be managed correctly to ensure safety, water hygiene and regulatory compliance is maintained.

What are the risks?

Precautions should be taken to maintain the safety of all equipment, but particular attention must be paid to evaporative cooling systems as these can provide an ideal environment for Legionella bacteria to grow if not controlled correctly. Therefore, it is crucial that an effective cooling tower water treatment process is in place to strictly control bacterial growth.

Anyone who has a part in managing the facilities (dutyholder) has a responsibility to protect employees, visitors and the public from these risks. Employers have a legal responsibility to protect their employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Furthermore, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations includes biological hazards such as Legionella. Health and safety law also makes businesses responsible for protecting the public from any hazards that arise due to their operations.

What should be done?

Where a halt or reduction in production means that specific cooling systems are not required the equipment must be shut down in a way that does not create a potential hazard and can be safely restarted when production returns to normal.

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) guidelines on Legionella control in these systems (HSG274) provides specific advice for the temporary shut-down of equipment. It recommends that if the system is to be kept out of use for under a month, biocide water treatment chemicals should be circulated through the system regularly – at minimum once a week. If the suspension of activity is going to be longer than one month then it should be drained and shut down in line with the site’s Legionella control scheme.

It is essential that where systems remain operational the normal safety procedures are still followed. This includes all monitoring, testing, water treatment and cleaning of the equipment. If this cannot be completed due to staff shortages or other restrictions, then the production process has to be halted and the cooling system shut down. To continue without the correct measures in place risks the health of employees and the public.

When a plant that has been shut down is required again it must be recommissioned correctly in line with the HSE guidance HSG274. It states that recommissioning should only be carried out when the system will be immediately brought back into use and it should not be refilled with water until recommissioning begins. The guidelines also require records to be kept of the process and for independent verification of the test results, such as by an engineer.

In addition, distilleries should look at their servicing schedules to make sure that regular checks and maintenance are still being carried out where necessary. This will help ensure an issue-free restart of the systems when operations resume.

How Veolia Water Technologies can help

We have vast specialist expertise and experience in industrial water treatment chemicals, and in particular the control of Legionella. We are an accredited member of the Legionella Control Association and our extensive experience working with distilleries on all areas of water treatment means we understand the importance of getting this right.

We have engineers and technical teams in all areas of the UK to ensure customer needs can be met swiftly. This includes a team based in East Kilbride that is already helping whisky distilleries in the area guarantee the safety of their equipment throughout any shut-down. We are also able to provide support during the recommissioning process so businesses can be sure of the safety and compliance of their facilities.

Our local manufacturing, storage and logistics capabilities for water treatment chemicals allows us to deliver what is needed quickly with no risk of disruption. This includes weekly deliveries from a facility in Teesside.

Despite the current uncertainty it is important for distilleries to ensure their systems remain safe and compliant with the regulations, especially if they are taken out of use due to reduced operations.


To find out more about the products, support and services we can offer,  contact a member of our team.



Robert Denny

About the Author

Robert Denny

Rob started his career working for Anglian Water, before moving on to become a technical sales specialist within the industrial water treatment sector designing water treatment programs for a number of industrial applications across the UK and Australia. Over the last 10 years he has been responsible for leading sales teams within this market, and for the last 3 years has been leading the Water Treatment Chemical services team for Veolia Water Technologies in the UK.