Commercial Property and Legionella: Clarifying Responsibilities for Control
In this water safety review the experts at Legionella Control International review how responsibilities for the control of legionella in commercial properties are assigned, and what can be done to improve management processes to reduce the risk of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
The article outlines the current regulatory environment for water safety in the UK, who has responsibility under health and safety law and what they need to do to comply. It then goes on to highlight the importance of property management contracts and the need to clearly identify roles and responsibilities at the outset of any agreement.
A version of this story dealing with the control of legionella in commercial property appeared in Legionella Control International’s newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
Managing legionella in commercial properties
While some landlords manage their own rental properties, others use the services offered by specialist property management and commercial real estate companies. Landlords are more likely to require these services when they have multiple properties or large and geographically dispersed property portfolios to manage. This may apply regardless of whether they have residential or commercial properties to let, or indeed industrial ones.
Yet in all cases, there is a responsibility to provide a safe water system in each property… this is requirement underpinned by current health and safety law. If those responsible for this do not meet their legal obligations in this area, there is an increased risk that legionella bacteria could have an opportunity to spread through the water systems in a building. This in turn may cause an outbreak of the potentially deadly Legionnaires’ disease.
Preventing Legionnaires’ disease
Most people understand that preventing Legionnaires’ outbreaks is far more desirable than resolving them if they are given a chance to occur. Whenever an outbreak does happen, it can lead to expensive measures being required to correct matters. Those responsible for maintaining a safe water system could also be taken to court for failing in their legal obligations to prevent this from occurring to begin with. Reducing out of control levels of legionella bacteria is also an expensive and complex process that could lead to the premises being out of bounds for a considerable time.
Who is responsible for controlling legionella risks?
In the case of commercial real estate, landlords, property managers and the responsibilities of each party to control the risks from legionella, it can be easy to fall into the trap of assuming the other party holds responsibility for preventing such occurrences. The services offered by property managers and commercial property companies can vary, so it must be crystal clear as to which party has the responsibility for managing this aspect of each property from the beginning of any service contract.
The property management contract comes first
If you currently use the services of such a property management company to manage your properties, you should already know who has this responsibility. If not, check the service contract between you and the management company. Some companies take on a greater role than others, covering maintenance along with managing rent and finding new tenants when required.
The contract should ideally confirm whether the management company has taken on the responsibility of maintaining the water systems for each property. It should also confirm that this includes regular assessments of the system and identification of ways to reduce or remove exposure to legionella bacteria regarding the tenants. This should all be in accordance with current legislation and guidance including the Health and Safety Executives ACOP L8 and HSG274.
What if there is no property management contract or it does not clarify who is responsible for the water systems?
If there is no contract or the contract does not specify who is responsible for the management of the building water systems, then the legal duty falls to the person or people with control of the building. This would therefore include the water systems inside that building. This is confirmed by the guide HSG274 Part 2, Legionnaires’ disease: The control of legionella bacteria in hot and cold water systems. This is available using the link below.
The management contract should specify who is responsible for the control of legionella
An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease can be incredibly disruptive and may put lives at risk. Clearly, preventing such outbreaks is the aim here. This is done by the relevant parties taking responsibility for the control of legionella in the buildings they manage. This would include following all the relevant codes of practice and guidance documents pertaining to the management of the water systems in the buildings.
It’s easy to see that there could be situations in which the two parties involved – the landlord and the property management company – could point to each other, assuming the other held responsibility rather than themselves. No one wants to do this in a court of law, so it is best to clarify who holds that responsibility from the outset, according to the details laid out in the legal agreement. Indeed, in most cases, it may be best for this to be put down in writing to avoid confusion later on.
What should the legionella responsible person do?
Once the legionella responsible person role has been established, the person responsible for water safety in each building should be sure of covering five key areas:
- Conduct a legionella risk assessment to identify potential risk factors.
- Create a Water Safety Plan where required, identifying ways to eliminate risks where possible, and control them where they cannot be removed.
- Adopt regular precautions such as monitoring and controlling risks to keep the bacteria under control.
- Maintain appropriate records to document all these steps.
- Make sure a competent person (typically someone with relevant qualifications and experience in the safe management of water systems) ensures all laws and obligations are being followed.
We can see that the responsible person could be the landlord or someone within the property management or commercial real estate company hired to oversee the management of the property or properties concerned. However, in either case, the responsible person can hire a third party to assist with all elements involved in maintaining the water systems to a safe standard. An outside expert should have relevant experience, training and qualifications for this role. However, no matter how things pan out in this area, the responsibility and accountability for the control of legionella should always fall to the responsible person and duty holder.
What about the complexity of the requirements for managing legionella risk in commercial properties?
As for complexity of managing the risks from legionella in commercial properties, this is always dependent on the specific property in question. There is clearly a huge difference between a small rented residential property and a large shopping centre, office block or building with multiple users. The latter is far more likely to have a more complex water system as well.
However, the bottom line is that the landlord and property management or commercial property company should always recognise which party holds responsibility for looking after and providing a safe water system for each property. And in cases where they share that responsibility, this should also be clear… and agreed in writing. It is only by adopting this clear stance that the correct measures can then be followed by each party.
Independent legionella and water safety specialists
Legionella control Internationals teams of experienced water safety specialists support commercial landlords, property management companies and those responsible for the control of legionella in the workplace, helping them to protect people and so meet their health and safety obligations in this specialist area.
We are experienced workplace safety specialists and deliver professional legionella risk assessments, water quality testing, independent compliance auditing, City & Guilds training and other risk management services that help keep commercial properties safe to use by tenants, staff and others.
To speak with one of our independent legionella specialists about managing your water risks call us today on 0330 223 36 86 or contact us here …