The Legionella lowdown

There’s been some confusion recently about Legionnaires’ disease and agents’/landlords’ responsibility in managing the risk of Legionella in their properties. Below, UKALA clarifies* the situation.

What is it? 

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by the bacterium Legionella Pneumophilaa and can be a potentially fatal form of pneumonia. It’s often present in natural sources of water and can multiply to harmful levels in manmade water systems.

Why the confusion has arisen

Landlords (and in some cases agents) have always had a duty to assess and manage the risk of Legionella exposure to their tenants and late last year the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)  produced a revised, simplified version of the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) to deal with the issue. While the ACOP was updated, it didn’t change or alter the responsibilities placed on landlords or agents in any way but it seems to have caused some confusion.

Your responsibility

Landlords have a legal duty to ensure the risk of exposure of tenants to Legionella is assessed and controlled and in most residential properties . Where smaller domestic-type water systems are installed and there is regular water usage, a simple assessment may show that there are no real risks. This can be carried out as part of a mandatory visit such as gas safety checks or as routine planned maintenance and it should be possible for landlords to assess the risk themselves. Of course, if landlords aren’t comfortable doing so then they can instruct their agent to take care of the matter or arrange an assessment with a specialist supplier if necessary.

UKALA advice

For landlords: carry out a simple, straightforward assessment and where this shows the risks are low, no further action is required. Where a risk is found, the type of action necessary will follow on from the nature of the risk but will normally only require simple control measures, outlined in the guidance at the end of this blog.

For agents: it’s important to remember there’s been no change in law but it is sensible to remind your landlord clients of their obligations and signpost to advice and or services. If you offer a risk assessment service but your landlord client declines this, then it may be wise to get written confirmation that they intend to deal with the issue themselves.

If you conduct a risk assessment yourself…

….then a visual inspection of the water system’s installations and fittings should be carried out. Visit the HSE (see links below) for advice or seek advice from a consultant or competent person if necessary. For example, your plumbing engineer should be competent if they are suitably familiar with the HSE guidance.

We also suggest the practical steps below:

  • Check the cold and hot water temperature – To prevent Legionella growth, cold water should be maintained, where possible, d below 20°C and hot water stored at 60°C and distributed at e 50°C.  Where possible, set control parameters eg temperature on the hot water tank to ensure water is stored at 60°C.
  • Are there areas where stagnant water occurs (deadlegs), eg pipes to a washing machine that is no longer in use? You can ensure water cannot stagnate anywhere in the system by removing redundant pipework or appliances.
  • Have any rooms or properties been vacant for long enough that water will have been stagnant in the pipes or are there infrequently used outlets, eg showers, taps? If so, have a system for periodically running the taps/showers and flush the system through prior to letting the property.
  • Is there debris in the system, such as rust, sludge or scale (often a problem in old metal cisterns), that could provide food for growing legionella? Avoid debris getting into the system eg ensure cold water tanks, where fitted have a tight fitting lid. Check periodically and clean out when necessary. Consider modernising old tanks and cisterns.
  • Are any tanks covered to prevent access to mice, birds, insects and general dirt and debris? All water cisterns should be covered and insulated.
  • Is backflow possible from fittings into pipework? Particularly consider hoses attached to external taps as they are more likely to suffer contamination, which could then be drawn into the property.
  • Is there a cross-connection between pipes conveying water supplied for tenants’ direct use with pipes conveying water from some other source? Follow pipes to track the flow of water, particularly those people will have direct contact with.
  • Are any of your tenants vulnerable to infection, eg older people, those already ill? You should advise about the risks, the control measures you are taking and the precautions they can take.
  • What if there is a problem with the system during tenancy? Advise your tenant to inform you if the hot water is not heating properly or if there are any other problems with the water system, so that you can take appropriate action.
  • Finally, are you about to carry out maintenance to or renovation of old systems or units that have been vacant for some time?

Further references and guidance

As always, UKALA members have access to our online library for more help on this and a wide range of other issues. The following links may also be of help:

*The advice in this article has been approved by the HSE.

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