A NEWPORT company has been fined £75,000 for failing to prevent the risk of Legionnaires' disease in two cooling towers for five years.

Coilcolor Ltd, of Whitehead Estate, Docks Way, was accused of serious failures of health and safety laws and putting at risk the lives of employees and members of the public, including patients and staff at the nearby Royal Gwent Hospital.

The company was fined £30,000 for the risk to staff and £45,000 for the risk to the public, as well as being ordered to pay costs of £28,393.50 and a victim surcharge of £120, with the bill to be paid within six months.

The company admitted failing to maintain two cooling towers leading to the possible incubation and distribution of Legionnaires' disease.

 Newport Crown Court heard today the offences occurred between 2009 and 2014, with health and safety inspectors discovering the breaches as part of a nationwide campaign to ensure every cooling tower in Wales was effectively managed.

It came after the company was alerted to a build-up of legionella bacteria in both of the cooling towers in 2009.

The matter was addressed at the time but barrister Alan Fuller, who was prosecuting on behalf of the health and safety executive, told the court that this "should have triggered a systematic enquiry of what was wrong with the system".

The court heard that prior to 2009 the company had a contract with Acorn Chemical Services, which provides legionella risk assessments and water treatment services, at a yearly cost of around £6,500.

But around 2009 the contract was not renewed and the company carried out “occasional tests” of chlorination levels at a yearly cost of £700, said Mr Fuller.

He said there were "serious failures over a very considerable period of time" at the site.

He told the court that Legionnaires' was "ubiquitous" in the environment found in cooling towers and that the disease was something that had been a concern to the public over the last few decades.

He added that it had a 12 per cent mortality rate, with the infection and mortality rate reportedly higher in the elderly and infirm.

He added: “The company as a defendant should have known the potential risk arising from this industrial process, in particular this evaporating cooling system, and should have taken appropriate steps to guard against it."

The directors of the company said they were "horrified" when they discovered drift eliminators had not been installed on the cooling towers, and took immediate action to rectify the issue.

James Leonard, who was representing the directors in court, said in mitigation they were "absolutely mortified" when they were told what had been happening over a period of five years.

He added that there was no fatality or a proven injury, and that expert evidence about the possible distribution of Legionnaires was difficult to be clear about.

He added: “They readily accept that it is a risk that needs to be controlled and they should have been doing more over a significant period of time.”

He said that the saving of not renewing the contract of around £20,000 to £25,000 “was not an incentive for a company of this size”.

He added: “They have not sought to cut corners to increase profits.”

He added that the company faced difficult trading conditions and had a significant amount of stock not fit for purpose, as they had stock from China that they couldn’t sell because of defects.

Recorder Nicholas Gareth Jones said that the cooling towers hadn’t been maintained for several years and there was a serious risk of build up of harmful bacteria and that there was a dangerously high build-up of sludge on other parts of the towers.

He added: “I’m told that the company has done everything has done everything it can to put things right, but instead of heeding a warning from Acorn in 2009 nothing seems to have been done and the risk clearly increased.”

The company, which employs about 60 people, has had an average turnover over the last three years of £1.2million.

HSE inspector Joanne Carter said: “Operating cooling towers, without proper controls in place can present a significant risk to employees and members of the public; in this case the company operates next to a housing estate and within one kilometre of the Royal Gwent Hospital.”