Landlords have many health and safety obligations. One of these includes carrying out Legionella risk assessments.
But, many landlords are still in the dark about how to go about this.
What is Legionella? What harm can it cause? Should you carry it out yourself, or hire a professional?
Here’s a closer look at the importance of a Legionella risk assessment.
What is Legionella?
Firstly, it’s important to identify the cause of the issue. Many of us, including landlords, are unaware of what Legionella is, let alone what harm it can cause.
Legionella is a type of bacteria found in water systems, such as pipes, as well as central heating systems and air conditioning units.
What Harm Can Legionella Cause?
The bacterium causes Legionnaires’ disease, which is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia.
The bacterium presents a threat to anyone, however those who smoke or suffer from existing health conditions, such as heart disease or a weakened immune system, are particularly at risk.
Legionella can also cause Pontiac fever and Lochgoilhead fever, which also pose health risks.
Therefore, it’s easy to see why, when it comes to Legionnaires’ disease, landlords need to take it seriously.
Where Can It Be Found?
Legionella can be found naturally in freshwater, such as rivers. However, when found here, it rarely causes humans any harm.
But, when found in man-made water systems, conditions such as maintained temperature allow the bacteria to grow rapidly.
It can then become airborne, for example in water vapour or mist.
How Can You Get Infected?
People get infected with Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling the droplets of water containing Legionella.
Recirculated or stored water is particularly at risk from developing the bacteria.
What is the Law Surrounding Legionella Testing?
In 2014, the Health and Safety Work Act 1974 was revised to include testing of Legionella in all domestic properties.
While the risk in domestic properties is less compared to public buildings, such as businesses, an assessment still needs to be carried out by all duty holders.
But, landlords can do this themselves unless they feel uncomfortable or are unsure how it’s done. As it’s one of the most important landlord’s responsibilities, it’s recommended to seek professional help when undertaking the Legionella assessment.
If a landlord does choose to carry out the Legionella test themselves, they need to provide evidence of this and show proof of their findings.
Failure to comply can result in a serious fine.
How Can You Control Legionella?
There are many ways you can control and prevent the spread of Legionella. These include:
• Replacing or removing any faulty or needless pipework
• Preventing any dirt from entering the water system, for example by fitting a tight lid
• Flushing the water system between each tenancy
• Ensuring the temperature of any water tanks are set high enough (60°C is the optimum temperature, while 20°C- 45°C are often the right conditions to develop the bacteria)
• Make sure water cannot stagnate anywhere in the system
• Treat the water to control growth of any bacteria
As the landlord, the responsibility of Legionella testing lies with you, whether you use a professional or do it yourself, to identify any risks and deal with them accordingly.
What is the Responsibility of the Tenants?
Your tenants do not have to keep your property free from Legionella. However, it’s important to inform them of the risks so that they can help reduce them.
You tenants should be:
• Cleaning shower heads regularly
• Not changing the temperature of the water systems once you have set them
• Informing you if they find debris in the water
• Telling you if the water system isn’t working
• Telling you if the hot water temperature is too low
• Turning on any less frequently used water systems at least once a week
However, while tenants can play their part, the responsibility falls with the duty holder. This is where property visits come in.
The Dangers with Vacant Properties
Void periods between tenancies are a nightmare for landlords for a variety of reasons. But, losing rent isn’t the only concern.
Extra attention needs to be paid to the water systems of vacant properties, as the water will stagnate more easily.
For example, if your property is rented out to students and is empty during the summer, you’ll need to schedule regular visits to run the water. If the property is vacant for prolonged periods of time, it may be necessary to drain the water system completely.
Always flush the water system before new tenants move in.
Evidently, Legionella tests are vital. To take the stress and hassle out of carrying out one yourself, as well as ensuring it’s done correctly, we recommend using our professional Legionella risk assessment service. We’ll ensure your property is safe and that you’re compliant with regulations. These form part of the many services we offer for landlords and letting agents. Find out more about our property services here.
No Letting Go is hosting a series of free webinars to help landlords and letting agents get to grips with the legalities and praticalities of assessing legionella risk in residential rental properties.
Following the launch of its Legionella risk reporting service earlier in the year, Gary Claven, No Letting Go’s operations manager said, “We were surprised at how much confusion there was in the market place about compliance and the whole risk assessment process. We decided that a series of interactive webinars would be a good way for people to get concise and accurate information first hand.
Karen Morris, Lettings Manager for Hunters in Wokingham said, “I now have a thorough understanding of exactly what our obligations are around Legionella risk; the webinar really clarified things for me.”
Stacey George, Lettings Manager of Hunters, St Leonards on Sea added, “I’ve been able to put together a really good document for the team, we can now confidently answer any questions surrounding Legionella. We know exactly what we need to do and what records need to be kept. It was also good to get an understanding of what is involved in the assessment process, how risk is calculated and reported.”
Potentially fatal, around 550 cases of Legionella are reported each year. It’s thought that the numbers could be as high as 180,000; detection levels are low as it is not usually tested for and the disease presents with pneumonia-like symptoms.
It is recommended that landlords perform a Legionella risk assessment every two years to meet their legal duty in ensuring that the risk of exposure of tenants to Legionella is properly assessed and controlled.
We are always looking for additional ways to add extra value to our client’s services that in turn helps provide a better service to their landlords. Legionella risk assessment makes a lot of sense for us as we have the right skill set to ensure this work is carried out to the highest levels and can in turn be offered in addition to our inventory management services.
Outsourcing this activity through us is an efficient and cost-effective way for landlords, agents and property managers to demonstrate they are compliant. We can perform the risk assessment as a separate visit or whilst we are already attending the property for a check-in, check-out or mid-term report allowing for us to offer better overall value.
Legionella is a bacteria naturally found in water systems. Whilst the bacteria at low levels do not pose a health risk, under certain conditions, in water storage tanks for example, and in certain temperature ranges, the bacteria can multiply increasing the risk of Legionnaire’s Disease. Risk increases in water systems that are unused for any period of time; making rental properties particularly vulnerable. Legionnaire’s is a potentially fatal disease with flu-like symptoms often mistaken for pneumonia contracted by inhaling bacteria contained in water droplets.
We are to provide full checks of the entire water system in residential property including water tanks in lofts, pipes, taps, toilet and shower systems. The risk assessment will indicate whether any action is required on the part of the landlord and if not is a record demonstrating compliance in protecting tenants.
Photo sources: bwt-ni.co.uk – housemanwaterhygiene.com