Legionella bacteria are present in natural water sources. It can also find its way into manmade water systems such as those found in social housing. Low levels are not dangerous, but if the bacteria are permitted to multiply and spread, it raises the chance of people becoming infected with Legionnaires’ disease.
Legionnaires’ disease causes inflammation of the lungs and is a very serious form of pneumonia which can prove fatal. Legionella bacteria are responsible for triggering this infection.
In every instance where the disease occurs, the affected person has inhaled droplets of the contaminated water supply. This occurs in mist or spray form.
Health & Safety Executive’s Approved Code of Practice L8
Every landlord must ensure their properties are safe for use. This includes assessing the safety of the water systems used in their buildings. Social housing must be fit for purpose and pose no danger to those staying there.
The Health & Safety Executive’s ACOP L8 provides guidance on what landlords should do to ensure they meet all legal requirements regarding the control of Legionella bacteria. This includes conducting a risk assessment and reviewing that assessment regularly to ensure it still stands. Any changes to the water systems or to the property would require a review to determine whether the risk assessment should be changed in any way.
How important is good management of a water system?
Very important. If the water systems are not properly managed, Legionella bacteria may be given the opportunity to spread through the system and grow to unsafe levels. All properties are different – some may require more upkeep and maintenance than others. By considering all elements of the water system in the risk assessment, appropriate steps can be taken to ensure its ongoing safety. Some landlords will request legionella services from an outside firm. However, they still remain responsible for the maintenance and safety of the property.
Can landlords perform their own Legionella risk assessments?
Yes, landlords can do their own Legionella risk assessments, although many may choose to hire an expert, and there are many good reasons for this. Competency in conducting the assessment is an important requirement of the Health & Safety Executive.
How often is water testing required?
In many situations, the risk assessment may deem the dangers from Legionella and Legionnaires’ disease to be very low. In such cases, no water testing would be needed. However, in other scenarios, legionella testing can perform a vital role in helping to confirm that the water systems are safe and levels of bacteria in the system are under control. It can, of course, also highlight whether a problem may exist.
Is there a need to provide information and advice to tenants?
Yes, it is always wise to inform tenants of the various controls that are in place to protect them from the dangers of exposure to Legionella bacteria. For example, if the temperature of the boiler system is set at 60ºC to prevent the growth of Legionella bacteria, tenants should be made aware they should never change the temperature.
Landlords should also notify residents of the importance of regular flushing and cleaning of taps and showers, if they are included within the rooms or the property. Regular flushing, cleaning, descaling and disinfection of all showerheads and other water outlets will help to ensure the risk levels are reduced, especially if the water outlets are used only occasionally or the tenant has been away for some time.
Protecting people from the dangers of Legionella bacteria and Legionnaires’ disease is a legal requirement for all UK businesses, including landlords. The Health & Safety Executive’s ACOP L8 and guidance HSG274 give excellent guidance, and are highly recommended. Maintaining safe water supplies in social housing is a legal responsibility.
Simon Dooner is director at Legionella Control