There is much confusion surrounding the need for Legionella Risk Assessments in the housing sector, especially when it comes to testing for landlords of private residential properties. This is despite the fact that it is crucial landlords are aware of their legal responsibilities and lettings and property management agencies give correct advice.
Domestic hot and cold water systems provide favourable conditions for the growth of the group of bacteria known as Legionella, which is responsible for causing Legionnaires’ disease.Legionella is most likely to grow where temperature is between 20-45°C, water is stored for a period of timeand there are deposits such as rust and scale. These deposits provide nutrients that speed up the growth of Legionella. Legionnaires' disease is then contracted through the inhalation of small droplets of water from water outlets containing the bacteria, for example shower heads or taps.
What the law says
Contrary to recent reports, there has been no change to UK legislation with regard to the requirements for Legionella risk assessments. However, Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA)requires landlords to ensure that their tenants are not exposed to health and safety risks. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) provides a framework of actions to control the risk from a range of hazardous substances, including biological agents. This includes a requirement for landlords of both domestic and business premises to assess the risks of exposure to Legionella. While it is not a legal requirement to produce a Legionella water sample test certificate, a landlord may be liable to prosecution under HSWA if a tenant were tocontract Legionnaires’ disease from the water system in their home. The landlord would then have to provide evidence to a court that they had fulfilled their legal responsibility.
The Legionella risks facing landlords
With this in mind,landlords would be wise to consider levels of risk within their properties and take appropriate action. Since thethreat of the water system becoming contaminated with Legionella is higher when water is allowed to stagnate, high risk properties include those that have stood empty for any length oftime such as student accommodation. To help control the risk of exposure to Legionella the HSE advises flushing out the system, avoiding debris getting into it, setting temperature control parameters and removing redundant pipework.
About the author: “Geoff Shalders is the MD of Brodex Ltd, an independent and experienced water treatment and hygiene company based in Merseyside. The company, which specialises in Legionella risk assessments and water management schemes, also has offices serving customers in the Midlands, the South-East and South-West.”