Legionella FAQ – What Landlords Need to Know About Legionella
This article provides a compilation of the most frequently asked questions we receive from landlords about the control of legionella in their properties and what they need to do to comply with the law. It covers a range of popular questions with comprehensive answers from our experts, along with a number of free downloads (full versions) for key guides produced by the Health and Safety Executive dealing with the control of legionella including their ACOP L8 and HSG274 Parts 1, 2 and 3.
Legionella FAQ Contents
- What do landlords need to know about legionella?
- Do landlords need to take further action after the legionella risk assessment?
- Can you do the legionella risk assessment or should someone else do it for you?
- Who is the competent or responsible person for legionella?
- How to control legionella risks in your water
- Do you need to test for legionella in your water?
- How often should you carry out legionella testing?
- Is it necessary to employ a water treatment company?
- Do you need to make sure your water systems are clean?
- Is your water system at greater risk of allowing the spread of legionella?
What landlords need to know about legionella
Business owners, landlords and property managers have a duty of care to all those who work, visit and live in the properties under their control.
While this responsibility extends to many areas, in this FAQ style article, we are going to focus on common queries landlords and property managers have regarding the control of Legionnaires’ disease and their legal obligations.
As a landlord what am I expected to do about legionella?
As a business owner, landlord or property manager you must consider all potential risks concerning the water systems present in the properties under your control.
If you own or operate several properties or sites, a separate water safety – legionella risk assessment must be conducted for each one.
Do I need to take further steps following the legionella risk assessment?
You only need to take further action if the findings of the risk assessment report highlight that you do so.
Most domestic water systems are simple and do not require complex steps to manage the risks associated with Legionella bacteria.
However, larger and more complex sites would likely require further steps to reduce risk and keep the site safe.
Regular use of the water systems should suffice in most cases.
However, you should always flush through the water system before a new tenant moves in.
The same process should be completed if there are gaps between tenants or the building is left unoccupied for an extended period.
If your legionella risk assessment highlights pipework that is no longer used (called a dead-leg or dead-end), it should be removed to prevent stagnation of the water inside.
If water is stored, storage tanks should be insulated and have proper lids with no gaps to allow anything to fall in as this could provide a source of ‘food’ for legionella and other dangerous bacteria.
Furthermore, the water system should allow hot water storage to occur at 60 degrees Celsius.
60 degrees Celsius is well above the ideal range in which Legionella bacteria can multiply.
Do I need to complete the legionnaires risk assessment or can someone else do it for me?
Under many circumstances either option would work although competency to complete the risk assessment correctly is the vital consideration.
However, if you do not have the required competency, you are more likely to miss risk factors and potentially put people at risk.
Most residential properties have fairly simple water systems.
If you possess a good understanding of the risks from legionella and how that system works, you should be able to complete the risk assessment yourself.
It’s also important that you are be able to identify all potential risks in the system, and these should form a key part of the legionella assessment.
You should also know how to tackle those risks that are identified.
Ideally, removal of the risk is best, but mitigation can also be employed.
Risks include the water being stored at between 20-45 degrees Celsius, which provides the ideal breeding ground for Legionella bacteria.
As a rule-of-thumb, your cold water should always be kept cold (below 20 degrees Celsius), and your hot water hot (at or above 50 degrees Celsius) at hot water outlets such as taps.
Other risks include stagnant or poor water flows, and the presence of aerosol generating outlets such as showers, spray taps etc.
If you decide to enlist the services of an external legionella company such as Legionella Control International, the law states that you are still responsible for making sure they are competent to do the job correctly.
Who is the competent or responsible person for legionella?
The competent or responsible person is the title given to the person who is responsible for identifying legionella risks and managing them daily to ensure people are kept safe.
You can appoint yourself to take on the role, but you must be sure you know what you are doing and have suitable training.
How can I control legionella risks in my water?
The best scenario is to prevent as many legionella risks as you can.
Unfortunately it’s likely that some of the risks that are identified cannot be removed, and therefore these should be managed to reduce their impact to within acceptable levels.
For example, a water spray carries a risk, but it may not always be removable.
A shower head must be in use, but you can mitigate the risks by making sure your tenants and other people using the property use it often or flush it through regularly.
Regular cleaning of the shower head would also remove any build-up of dirt or scale that could potentially increase the amount of legionella in that part of the system.
Do I need to test for legionella in my water system?
The need for legionella testing depends on a number of factors including the type of building, the cleanliness and complexity of the water system.
Most domestic properties would not need such testing.
Experts in legionella testing should be employed for this purpose.
It is the responsibility of the landlord or person responsible for the building to confirm those selected for the job of testing are qualified and able to do so.
The crux of this issue relates to whether the system is open or closed.
A standard household water system is a closed system, for instance, whereas a cooling tower is considered open.
Legionella testing is required for open systems as they are considered a higher legionella risk.
How often should I carry out legionella testing?
The more complex the water system is, the more likely testing should be done more often.
Quarterly legionella sampling should suffice in many cases where testing is required.
However, in some instances, sampling may be needed more often.
It is important that your water samples should be analysed in a UKAS accredited lab.
Furthermore, the results from the lab should be interpreted by a qualified and trained individual, such as one of the expert team at Legionella Control International.
Is it necessary to employ a water treatment company?
No, it isn’t always necessary to employ a specialist water treatment company… there is no law that stipulates this.
However, if you do wish to do your own water treatment, you must be trained and have the required knowledge in this specialist area.
If you do not have the required competency, you are more likely to miss risk factors and potentially put people at risk.
You may also fall short of adequate testing and management procedures which again, could have serious consequences.
Do I need to make sure my water systems are clean?
Yes, keeping your water systems clean along with proper maintenance is essential as this helps prevent Legionella bacteria from multiplying.
When conducting a legionella risk assessment, proper consideration must be given to cleanliness, how often the water system requires cleaning, and how this should be done.
Various risk factors should be noted that will influence the proper course of action.
For example, cleaning and disinfecting a household system will require minimal action.
Conversely, an industrial cooling tower would require an in-depth plan that allows for regular water treatment, cleaning, maintenance and water testing to take place.
Is my water system at greater risk of allowing the spread of legionella?
Any water system can create the circumstances to allow Legionella bacteria to multiply and colonise the system.
The risk assessment is the starting point in the risk management process.
A proper water safety assessment helps to identify the risk factors from legionella so appropriate action can be taken to keep the risks under control.
These can relate to the water system itself and the people using it, or those that are exposed to it (in the case of aerosols created by hot tubs, spas or cooling towers, for example).
There are many documents that provide more information on assessing risk and combating legionella in water systems.
The most comprehensive are those published by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) including their ACOP L8 and HSG274, downloads available here:
- ACOP L8 – Control of Legionella
- HSG274 Part 1 – Cooling Towers
- HSG274 Part 2 – Hot & Cold Water
- HSG274 Part 3 – Other Risk Systems
In some cases, the Legionnaires’ disease risks will be minor and can be managed with sensible precautions.
In other cases, further steps will be required to reduce risk and/or manage it in future.
Regardless of the simplicity or complexity of the water system, the legionella risk assessment should be regularly reviewed, we recommend at least every two years and sooner if there are significant changes.
Regular reviews help to ensure nothing has changed that may lead to additional steps being required to combat risks legionella at your property.
Legionella risk management specialists
Our teams of legionella specialists support landlords, business owners and those responsible for the control of waterborne pathogens in the workplace, helping them to protect their staff, tenants and others and so meet their health and safety obligations in this specialist area.
We deliver expert legionella risk assessments, independent compliance auditing, training courses, expert witness support and other environmental risk management services that help keep people safe.