Minimising Legionella Risks in Rental Property
In this article the risk management specialists at Legionella Control International look at how UK landlords can minimise legionella risks in their rental properties, and so keep their tenants safe and comply with the law.
The article gives clear guidance on a landlords legal responsibilities for the control of legionella, and outlines three essential steps required to keep building water systems safe from Legionnaires’ disease.
How to minimise the risks from legionella in rental properties
Throughout the UK all landlords have a legal duty to ensure their rental properties are safe for the tenants renting them. This applies to properties rented for both residential and commercial purposes.
Part of these responsibilities includes making sure the property is not at increased risk of harbouring Legionella bacteria.
Legionella can cause the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease which is a serious pneumonia type infection.
In buildings, it is typically found in dirty and poorly maintained water systems including hot and cold plumbing systems, air conditioning, decorative fountains, hot tubs etc.
As the bacteria are likely present in most building water systems (usually at low or very low levels) it is important to ensure that they do not rise to dangerous levels.
Do all landlords need to take steps to control legionella?
In most cases, a landlord does not need to take overly complex steps and precautions to manage their risks.
For instance, in a normal domestic property with a simple water system, the risk from Legionella bacteria is likely to be small.
The greatest risk would likely be in circumstances where the property is left empty and the water within the system allowed to stagnate.
This is easily resolved by regularly flushing through the system.
Turning on taps and shower heads for a while ensures water flows and does not become stagnant.
Landlords who manage properties other than those with simple water systems are more likely to benefit from taking extra measures to protect those in the building.
Legionella Control International cover many of these measures considered below.
Introducing legionella control measures in rental properties
Preventing legionella from spreading is far better than dealing with the consequences if something goes wrong.
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to minimise the risks in rental properties with more involved water systems.
Conducting a legionella risk assessment
The first and most important step in any legionella control programme is to carry out a detailed legionella risk assessment.
Doing one will tell you will tell you where your risks are.
This type of risk assessment should be done by someone who has the right skills and experience to assess all the legionella risks properly.
The legionella assessment will identify the risks at your property and give guidance on how to deal with them.
Regular water temperature checks are important
Legionella bacteria thrive in water temperatures between 20-45 degrees Celsius.
Hot water that reaches 60 degrees Celsius kills the bacteria in minutes.
You should make sure water temperatures are always kept outside the growth range for legionella (20-45 degrees Celsius).
Water should be kept moving to avoid stagnation, hot water should be kept hot – at least 50 degrees Celsius at taps. Cold water should be kept cold – below 20 degrees Celsius.
If hot water is stored in a cylinder, you can make sure it is always at a safe temperature by installing a thermostat.
To ensure the water is safely stored, you can program the thermostat to make sure the stored water is heated to 60 degrees Celsius every day.
This means you do not need to visit the property daily to perform this action.
Once it is programmed to perform the daily check, you don’t need to do anything further.
Of course, regular checks to confirm it is working properly would be a very good idea.
You could also consider buying a smart thermostat.
The above example requires you to set the control on site.
A smart version can be controlled using your smartphone or tablet.
This makes a lot of sense as you can stay informed on the safety of your rental property’s water system temperature.
Legionella control where solar panels provide heat for the property
We know the temperature range that appeals to the growth of Legionella bacteria.
If you own or manage a property that generates energy via solar panels, it is vital to make sure the hot water is always reaching a safe temperature to kill the bacteria.
During the summer, this may not be an issue… however, if sufficient energy isn’t generated by the panels during the winter, the hot water supply temperatures may dip below safe levels to increase risk.
It’s important to make sure any anti-legionella thermostat you install does not rely on just green energy sources to operate.
If it does, it could fail to do the job it is intended for leaving your water systems exposed to increased legionella growth.
Swapping a standard expansion vessel valve for a flow-through or anti-legionella valve
Flow-through or anti-legionella valves can help control legionella risks at your property.
A standard valve does not allow the water to flow correctly and can cause isolated stagnation.
Stagnant water is far more likely to harbour increased levels of Legionella bacteria.
However, the bacteria find it difficult to multiply in areas where water is flowing.
By installing an anti-legionella valve, part of the flow of water is directed into the expansion vessel… this is a continuous process.
It means that stagnant water is not able to form if the system is not used for a while… and once installed, nothing else needs to be done other than check it is working correctly.
The essentials of legionella control
You can see the above steps relate to three important steps:
- Assess your risks
- Keep water temperatures at a safe level
- Make sure the flow of water is continuous
If you don’t assess your legionella risks you won’t know what they are, nor will you know what or how to manage them effectively.
Any water system can harbour stagnant water if a building is unoccupied for a time.
Hence why regular flushing through a system is recommended after a period of inactivity.
Making sure the water is always outside the ideal range for legionella growth is also vital.
Any steps you take should consider these three important aspects as a starting point.
As we previously stated, most landlords won’t need to take overly complex steps and precautions to manage their risks.
However, even with the simplest of properties landlords need to get the essentials of legionella control right.
If you maintain a property with more complex water systems the situation is different, and it makes sense to keep those using your property safe from potential harm.
Employing some or all the above measures is sensible starting point and protects the health of your tenants, and you from possible prosecution if an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease was permitted to occur.
The saying, prevention is better than cure, has never been truer than it is here.
Expert legionella management solutions for landlords
Legionella Control International is a world-leading legionella and water safety specialist. Our teams of experts support landlords and those responsible for the control of waterborne pathogens including Legionella bacteria 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 a range of specialist risk management solutions including risk assessment, legionella testing, regulatory compliance auditing, training, expert witness support and other services that help keep people safe.