Health and safety legislation requires everyone who rents out property (even if it’s just a room in your house) to undertake a risk assessment for Legionella. Legionella is a waterborne bacteria which can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially fatal pneumonia-like illness. Legionella is commonly found in the natural environment (e.g. lakes and rivers) but when it enters manmade water systems it can grow and spread rapidly. For this reason, it’s important to assess the risk of Legionella in your domestic plumbing and be able to demonstrate to the authorities that sufficient control measures are in place to minimise the risk to health.
The good news is that in most residential properties the risks are generally low and relatively easy to control. However, it is still very important that the risk assessment is done by a competent (i.e. trained and experienced) person and reviewed on a regular basis (at least once every two years).
Here’s the Compliance for Landlords guide to carrying out a Legionella risk assessment.
- Ensure competency
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) stipulates in its official guidance that a competent person must be “appointed to carry out the risk assessment and draw up and implement precautionary measures.” They must “have such ability, experience, instruction, information, training and resources to enable them to carry out their tasks competently and safely. In particular, they should know the: (a) potential sources of legionella bacteria and the risks they present; (b) measures to adopt, including the precautions to take to protect the people concerned, and their significance… (c) measures to take to ensure that the control measures remain effective, and their significance.”
This competent person could be the landlord, if (s)he has sufficient training and experience, the letting agent (if similarly trained and experienced) or an external accredited, specialist supplier such as Compliance for Landlords.
- Take a proportionate approach
As the HSE says, “All systems require a risk assessment, however not all systems will require elaborate control measures. A simple risk assessment may show that the risks are low and being properly managed to comply with the law. In such cases, you may not need to take further action, but it is important to review your assessment regularly in case of any changes in your system, and specifically if there is reason to suspect it is no longer valid.”
In other words, don’t overcomplicate matters if you have a relatively straightforward plumbing system, but do be prepared to review your risk assessment when appropriate, such as if you’ve made any changes to the plumbing e.g. done some building work or installed new appliances.
To help you gauge the risk level in your property, the HSE provides the following examples of where a low risk situation may be found: (a) in a small building without individuals especially ‘at risk’ from Legionella bacteria; (b) where daily water usage is inevitable and sufficient to turn over the entire system; (c) where cold water is directly from a wholesome mains supply (no stored water tanks); (d) where hot water is fed from instantaneous heaters or low volume water heaters (supplying outlets at 50 °C); (e) where the only outlets are toilets and wash hand basins (no showers).
- Don’t cut corners
However low risk your property, it’s very important that the risk assessment is thorough and detailed. Make sure that you look at all aspects of the plumbing system, including any harder-to-reach areas such as storage tanks in your loft, pipework in the basement, outside taps etc. Every visible section of pipework, every tap or water outlet and all water storage equipment needs to be checked. Look inside tanks to assess their condition and cleanliness; note any rust, sediment, biofilm or limescale as all are sources of food for Legionella bacteria.
Draw up a simple diagram of the water system (called a schematic drawing) to make sure that you’ve captured the full extent of the plumbing arrangements.
Ensure that all the basics are right too e.g. date of the risk assessment, name of person doing it, full details of the property etc. A sample risk assessment can be found here.
- Check temperatures
Water temperature is one of the simplest ways to control the risk of Legionella, as the bacteria lies dormant below 20°C and is killed at temperatures over 60°C. Before doing your risk assessment read our guide to checking temperatures so you can include this as part of your assessment. Set thermostats so that water is kept at the right temperature and ask your tenants to report any problems with water temperature and stipulate that they must not adjust or tamper with any temperature settings.
- Make an action list
It’s almost inevitable that some remedial action will be required to reduce some of the risks you’ve identified. This could be simple things like descaling taps and showerheads to remove limescale, or it could be something significant like replacing a rusty and corroded water tank. Make a comprehensive list of all the repairs and maintenance required and set yourself deadlines for completion of all the tasks. Also make a note of any regular jobs which need to be done to keep on top of the maintenance and ensure that you organise and budget for them at the right time.
- Take photographs/gather evidence
Your risk assessment should include evidence to show that you have been thorough in your approach, such as photographs and drawings. Read our guide to gathering evidence for hints and tips on how to do this.
- Keep paperwork safe
Make sure that you keep your risk assessment in a safe place and have copies as back-up. It’s sensible to give a copy to your tenant too, as well as to your letting agent (if applicable) so they are aware of the information and the control measures you have in place. Make a note in your diary for when you need to review the risk assessment.
- Communicate with your tenant
It’s very important that your tenant is aware of the Legionella control measures at the property and that they understand the part they can play in keeping the water system safe. It can be helpful to provide information in your tenancy pack as an easy reference guide. Having a good relationship with your tenant and treating them as an ally in the control of Legionella is particularly important if you don’t live at the property and don’t visit very frequently; they are your eyes and ears and can help you take swift action if a problem arises.
The other aspect of tenant relations is understanding whether your tenant is at a higher risk of Legionnaires’ disease. Older people, smokers, those with health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, or those with compromised immune systems are all more susceptible to infection that the general population, so this also needs to be taken into account when doing your risk assessment.
By following these eight simple steps landlords can be confident that they are complying with their legal responsibilities and doing their best to keep tenants safe from the risk of Legionella and Legionnaires’ disease.
If you have any questions, would like to enquire about training or would like a quote for us to carry out a risk assessment for you, please get in touch.