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Legionnaires’ Disease update : what do you need to know?

We first blogged on Legionnaires’ Disease here, but as this seems to be a popular topic amongst our helpline calls it seemed time to revisit.

What is Legionnaires’ Disease?

Legionnaires’ Disease is an illness contracted by inhaling droplets of water which are contaminated by Legionella bacteria. The bacteria are found in most water systems, but the risk is in places where the bacteria can multiply and increase to dangerous levels. The bacteria can survive low temperatures and thrive in stagnant waters with temperatures between 20 and 45 degrees celcius. The bacteria are killed in temperatures above 60 degrees celcius.

What do I have to do as landlord/agent?

Landlords are responsible for ensuring that the risk of exposure to Legionella in their property is properly controlled. A landlord has the duty to assess the risk from exposure to the tenant and, where a risk is identified, take appropriate steps to remove or minimise the risk. This risk assessment can be carried out by a third party, but the ultimate responsibility is the landlord’s.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) can impose fines or imprisonment if you do not comply with these requirements. This can happen even if there is an exposure to risk without someone actually being affected.

How do I carry out a Legionella risk assessment?

When carrying out the risk assessment you should be asking the following questions in relation to each water system and associated equipment:

1. Is the water stored or re-circulated?
2. Is the water temperature in some or all parts of the system between 20-45 degrees?
3. Is there rust, sludge, scale or organic matter in the system?
4. Are there any conditions present which would encourage the bacteria to multiply, e.g stagnant water in any areas of the water system? This could include redundant pipework, or any outlets that are not frequently used.
5. Is it possible for water droplets to be produced and, if so, can they be dispersed over a wide area?

Individuals with weaker immune systems are most at risk of contracting Legionnaire’s Disease so you will need to think about the age and any pre-existing illnesses of the person that will be living in the property when you carry out the assessment.

Even if there is no storage of hot or cold water in the system you still need to carry out a risk assessment. There may be other factors in the system which increase the risk, including shower heads and long runs of pipework.

You should keep a written record of the risk assessment which should include:

1. The name of the person carrying out the risk assessment;
2. The review date;
3. A list of the systems you are assessing;
4. Any potential sources of risk;
5. Any controls in place to control risks;
6. Your monitoring, inspection and maintenance procedures; and
7. Records of the monitoring results, inspections and checks you have carried out.

Who can undertake the risk assessment for Legionella?

The risk assessment needs to be carried out by a competent person. The HSE defines a competent person as ‘someone with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience’. This does not need to be a contractor. An agent can carry out the risk assessment, but they need to have an understanding of how to inspect the premises for any risks as set out above. This can be provided through proper training and by ensuring that each agent is following the guidelines that have been set out by the HSE.

What do I do when a risk is identified?

Where you have identified a risk you should take steps to deal with it, such as flushing out the system, avoiding debris getting into the system, or maintaining the correct water temperature. You should also advise the tenant of any risks and provide them with instructions on how to avoid them (e.g. flushing out the system after periods where the system has not been used). Humidifiers, pools and spas are potentially high risk so if any of these are present in the property you should ensure that the tenant is provided with the manufacturer’s instructions and that the items are serviced regularly.

You should ensure that the risk assessment is reviewed regularly and carry out a new assessment whenever any element of it changes, e.g. vulnerable tenants move in or a system is updated/altered.

There are a few things that you can do to prevent or control any risks, including:

1. Keeping water in the boiler at a minimum of 60 degrees;
2. Dismantling, descaling and cleaning any shower heads regularly and between lets;
3. Regularly flush through any water units that are not regularly used; and
4. Inspect the cold water tank regularly and ensure that it is insulated with a closed lid.

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