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How do you protect your water system from legionella? Are your safeguards adequate enough to deal with Legionella? In this article, you’ll learn some of the steps needed to keep Legionella at bay from your property.

Every year cases of Legionella are occurring in the UK and around the world. For landlords, such outbreaks can prove costly. There are also the legal issues involved but this scenario is avoidable. First, you need to exercise regular monitoring in your property’s water system.

What is Legionella?

Legionella is a bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease. People who inhale small water droplets contaminated by these bacteria may develop pneumonia. Under the right conditions, Legionella will grow in many hot and cold water systems. They also thrive in certain areas that contain rust, sludge, and other debris inside the pipes.

Definition of Landlord and Responsibilities

Under UK law, a landlord is anyone who rents out their property for a period that doesn’t exceed seven years. This definition covers not only private sector landlords but also includes:

  • Housing association or cooperatives
  • Hostels
  • Local authorities

As landlords, you have the responsibility to safeguard the health and well-being of your tenants. Several legal regulations have been set up for this. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) is one of them.

Risk of Contracting Legionella

Tenants getting Legionnaires’ disease is not common but this is a severe ailment. In addition, the elderly and infirm are the most vulnerable. Legionella is usually found in:

  • Older homes
  • Water storage tanks
  • Large structures such as apartments, housing and commercial complexes
  • Water systems that have been left unused for long periods of time

 

How Landlords Should Deal With Legionella

Aside from the COSHH, there’s also the Legionella Control Guidance HSG 274 provision regarding hot and cold water systems.

  • If your property has a hot and cold water system, temperature control is key to keeping the legionella bacterium at bay. Keep the hot and cold water pipes separate. Also, keep the water flowing. This means as long as the water is used daily, the risk of Legionella is low. You can also adopt several precautions by:
  • Installing combi boilers, electric showers, and other instant water heaters. This will eliminate the need for water storage tanks.
  • Making sure all the lids are fitted tight especially for cold water tanks. This will prevent any debris from getting inside the pipe systems.
  • Making periodic checks that the hot water is set at a minimum temperature of 60C.
  • Removing any redundant or unnecessary pipes from the water system.
  • Meanwhile, your tenants also share some of the responsibility in keeping the property safe from Legionella. As a landlord you need to:
  • Inform tenants about the control measures you put in place against the Legionella bacterium
  • Warn them not to adjust the calorifier’s temperature settings
  • Brief them on the need to clean and disinfect their showerheads on a regular basis
  • Tell them of the need to inform you if there’s a water heating problem

In the case of vacant properties, you shouldn’t let the water system stagnate for a long period of time. Open the outlets of the hot and cold water systems at least once PER WEEK. This practice will prevent the water system from stagnating. You should also consider draining the storage tanks if the vacancy will take a long time.

Testing for Legionella

Strictly observing and monitoring the water systems is a big step to prevent the occurrence of Legionnaires’ disease. In addition, testing a water sample also gives you an assurance that the system is clean.

Take the case of ‘Sanctuary Housing’ in Liverpool. Traces of Legionella in their water supply were uncovered by routine testing. Thanks to this early detection residents were immediately warned of the danger and were evacuated. As a result, no one contracted the disease.

As you can see, regular water testing is an effective way against the disease. Under the law, however, Legionella testing for landlords are not required except under special circumstances (HSG274 Part 2, para 2.120). While you don’t usually even have to keep assessment records it’s still important to keep one. As a result, the HSE or local authorities don’t inspect properties and ask landlords for “Legionella free certifications”, but what if one of your tenants contracted Legionnaires’ disease from your property’s water system? You may find yourself liable under HSWA. If that happens, the court will demand proof that you complied with all the legal requirements.

This is why you need to keep a record of your water system assessment and monitoring. Records of regular Legionella water tests will also prove that you’re a responsible landlord. Remember, keeping the water system safe from health hazards like Legionella makes good business sense. As long as your properties are well-maintained you will always attract tenants.

Author: Duncan Hollis