What You Need to Know About Legionella Risk Assessments
In this article the water safety specialists at Legionella Control International take a detailed look at the need for legionella risk assessments and what landlords and property owners need to know.
Our experts consider why there is a need for these specialist water safety risk assessments, whether you can do them yourself, and if you do what to look out for. The article goes on to consider things you can do to control the risks, and concludes by highlighting scenarios that may require expert help.
A version of this story about legionella assessments and what you need to know first appeared in Legionella Control International’s newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
Recognising the risks from Legionella bacteria
Are you aware of the risk of Legionella bacteria in the hot and cold water systems in your properties? If you are a landlord or property investor, an awareness of legionella and its dangers is just the start.
If you rent a building, whether to private tenants or business owners, you have a legal duty to make sure you are not exposing them to the unnecessary and preventable risks from Legionella bacteria. This bacteria is responsible for causing Legionnaires’ disease, a serious and potentially fatal form of pneumonia.
Assessing the risks from legionella
Each property you own or manage must be assessed for risk. A legionella risk assessment looks at the water systems in the property and considers whether there are any risks present.
Such risks could lead to an opportunity for Legionella bacteria to rapidly multiply, colonising the system and presenting a health risk to all those who use the property or even those who are nearby.
Can you carry out your own legionella risk assessment?
Whether you can carry out your own legionella assessment very much depends on the property in question and your skills and competence to do the job properly.
Many landlords own private properties such as houses, flats, and bungalows. They rent these out to private tenants. In this case, most sensible and competent landlords should have no reason to hire someone else to conduct the Legionnaires’ assessment for them. The average sized domestic property will typically hold little risk of triggering an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, especially if it is continually occupied. The water systems present in the property are usually fairly straightforward, simple, and logical, with few risk factors involved.
However, even in these cases, a risk assessment for legionella must still be undertaken. A record of the assessment and any subsequent actions you take should be kept, and that record should regularly be reviewed. If anything changes, the risk assessment should be conducted again to capture any changes to the level of risk.
For example, if a new boiler were fitted in one of your rental properties, you should then repeat the legionella risk assessment as something has changed.
What should you look for when assessing the risks?
When carrying out the assessment the most important factor is risk. Which parts of the water system present a risk to those using the property? These may be occasional risks, such as a shower that may harbour bacteria if the property is left empty for a few weeks.
However, risks like these are easily dealt with. In this example, you would need to enter the property, turn on the shower to full heat while minimising any spray, and leave it to flush through for several minutes. Ideally, this should be done at least once a week to ensure legionella and other bacteria does not get a chance to build up.
How to remove legionella risks
In some cases, legionella risks can be removed rather than being minimised, as in the case of the shower head we mentioned above. A good example of this would be a new bathroom suite, where a sink has been moved to a different position and new taps installed. This may result in certain sections of the hot and cold water pipework becoming redundant.
Since legionella thrives in places where stagnant water has a chance to develop, this redundant pipework (sometimes called a dead leg) should be removed. This removes the risk associated with it. Such pipework can also carry rust, scale, and other elements the bacteria would feed on to develop further, helping to feed the colonisation of the rest of the water system.
Is hot and cold water temperature important in controlling legionella?
Other considerations landlords need to include in their assessment of risk are hot and cold water temperatures. Scientists have shown that legionella flourishes most readily when the temperature is between 20-45 degrees Celsius. This means that any stored or recirculated hot water in the property should reach the tap or outlet at 50oC or above (55oC in healthcare premises). The cold water temperature should be kept below 20oC.
Landlords should also consider who is using the building. If older residents or people with underlying health conditions live or work there, they would be at greater risk from Legionnaires’ disease if the bacteria did establish itself in the water system.
When should you consider bringing in a specialist legionella company?
In some cases, landlords would benefit from calling in a specialist company experienced in conducting legionella risk assessments. If there are multiple properties to visit, large or complex water systems it may be prudent to enlist the help of someone else to handle the assessments on your behalf. Certainly, if you know it would take you a long time to complete the assessments or you feel the task may be beyond your technical capabilities, you should certainly call in an expert to do them for you.
The legionella risk assessment must be carried out before renting out a property. We have seen that in many cases, a simple risk assessment would suffice. However, you must be competent to do this and know what to look for and how to deal with any risks that might be present. If you feel at all uncertain, you should think about hiring a specialist legionella company, such as Legionella Control International to take over this aspect for you.
Perhaps the most common scenario where a landlord would ask an expert to perform the assessment for them is in larger buildings or ones with more complex water systems.
For instance, you may rent out rooms or apartments in a larger complex. While the water system in each individual unit may seem simple, the entire building will have one large water system in place. This presents additional potential risks you may not be aware of.
Another example might include a property that is rented to business owners instead of private tenants. Offices, warehouses, shops, and other larger buildings naturally have different requirements for the water supply compared to private properties. They may include storage tanks, cooling towers, decorative water features, hot tubs and other features that would not be present in a residential property.
You should also consider hiring a Legionnaires’ risk assessment expert if the property has been added onto at various points. Older buildings are most likely to have more complex hot and cold water systems, perhaps with the dead legs we highlighted earlier.
Competency to assess the risks correctly represents the bottom line
Even if you manage and rent out residential houses and flats as a private landlord, you must still be competent to conduct a legionella risk assessment if that’s the route you take. The odds of someone in a private rental property contracting Legionnaires’ disease are relatively small. However, this does not negate your responsibility to ensure all your rental properties are safe to use.
As such, if you do not feel competent or are not confident that you can recognise all the potential risks in the water system, seeking advice from an expert is always a good idea. It is still your responsibility, however, to employ someone who is experienced and knowledgeable in the task you want them to do, so make sure you check them out first.
Legionella Control International is a world-leading legionella and water safety specialist. Our teams of experts support owners and managers of hotels and other hospitality premises, helping them to protect their staff, guests and other stakeholders and so meet their social, health and safety obligations in this specialist area.
Expert legionella management solutions for property owners
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.