Key messages

  • Cooling tower systems and warm water systems are governed by the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 and the Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations 2009.
  • This legislation resulted in some changes for cooling tower management, which are summarised on this page.
  • To ensure your risk management plan (RMP) reflects current legislation, use the RMP template as a guide.

The Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 and the Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations 2009 commenced on 1 January 2010.

The Act and Regulations are available at the Victorian legislation and parliamentary documents website.

The following is a summary of the changes introduced by the Act and the Regulations:

  • Registration of a cooling tower system will be done by the department rather than the Building Commission.
  • Penalties for failing to register a cooling tower system have increased significantly.
  • Registration periods can now be up to 3 years.
  • Risk management plans must now include the steps that you are taking to comply with the maintenance and testing requirements (including remedial action following an adverse test result).
  • The HCC trigger level for action has been increased to 200,000 cfu/mL and there is now an alternative process which can be followed when a high HCC result is obtained. This is described in ‘Your legal responsibilities’.
  • There is a mandatory requirement for a minimum of a Legionella test every 3 months. We still strongly recommend the risk management approach, which in most sites and systems will result in an increased level of testing that reflects the risks associated with that your system and your site.

We also now strongly recommend that your risk management plan (RMP) confirms that you have labelled the towers and the sampling point of each cooling tower system with the cooling tower system (CTS) registration number (CTS ID). The RMP template (available for download) now includes this issue.

Your legal responsibilities

The following information is a brief explanation of the requirements under the Act and Regulations. It is strongly recommended that any one developing a RMP read all parts of the legislation before completing a plan. The Act requires the following elements –

The owner of the land on which there is a cooling tower system to ensure that each cooling tower system on that land is registered with the department at all times that the cooling tower system is in operation.

The registration holder to notify the department within 30 days of:

  • a change in the ownership of the land
  • a change in their mailing address or their contact details
  • a change in the numbers of cooling towers in a cooling tower system
  • the removal or decommissioning of the cooling tower system
  • the relocation of the cooling tower system on land.

The owner of the land on which there is a cooling tower system to take all reasonable steps to ensure that a risk management plan is developed for the cooling tower system and continues to exist at all times the system is in operation. The plan must:

Address five critical risks:

  • stagnant water, including the lack of water recirculation in a cooling tower system and the presence of dead-end pipework and other fittings in the cooling tower system
  • nutrient growth, including:
    • the presence of biofilm, algae and protozoa in a cooling tower system;
    • water temperature within a range that will support rapid growth of microorganisms in a cooling tower system
    • the exposure of the water of a cooling tower system to direct sunlight
  • poor water quality, including the presence of solids, Legionella and high levels of microorganisms in a cooling tower system
  • deficiencies in a cooling tower system, including deficiencies in the physical design, condition and maintenance of the system
  • the location of, and access to, a cooling tower or cooling tower system, including the potential for environmental contamination of the system and the potential for exposure of people to the aerosols of the system
  • address any matters raised in a report from any person engaged by the owner of the land or the owner of the cooling tower system that refers to control measures being inadequate or requiring improvement
  • Set out the steps to be taken to ensure compliance with the maintenance, service and testing requirements described in the Regulations 2009 of a cooling tower system. For example, the plan will need to describe how you will respond to an adverse microbiological test result (such as the detection of Legionella or a high HCC result).

The owner of the land on which there is a cooling tower system to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the risk management plan is audited annually.

Owners, occupiers and managers of property should note that the Act provides the Department’s authorised officers with extensive powers of entry to sites with cooling tower systems.

The Regulations require the person who owns, manages or controls a cooling tower system to ensure that:

  • the water in the system is continuously treated with
    • one or more biocides to effectively control the growth of microorganisms including Legionella
    • chemical or other agents to minimise scale formation, corrosion and fouling
    • a biodispersant
  • a chlorine-compatible biodispersant is added to the recirculating water of the cooling tower system, and the system is then disinfected, cleaned and re-disinfected immediately prior to initial start up following commissioning or any shut down period of greater than one month, and at intervals not exceeding 6 months
  • the system is serviced at least once each month
  • a water sample is taken from the cooling tower system at least once each month and sent to a laboratory for a HCC count.
  • a water sample is taken from the cooling tower system at least once every three months and sent to a laboratory for a Legionella test.

The regulations also require the person who owns, manages or controls a cooling tower system to take certain actions following a high HCC result or the detection of Legionella.

What the changes mean for your risk management plan

The easiest way to comply with the requirements of the legislation is to use the ‘Cooling tower system risk management plan template’ in appendix 1 of the new guide.