A story in the media earlier this week, about the Sellafield nuclear site being censured for not controlling the risk of Legionella in one of its cooling towers, highlights the importance of carrying out proper risk assessments and – even more importantly – undertaking any necessary plumbing repairs or improvements swiftly. Identifying hazards is only part of the process; it’s what you do to reduce or eliminate them which really matters.
It’s an all-too-familiar story, especially for a busy landlord managing multiple properties. You or your tenant spot a repair that needs doing but, if it’s deemed to be ‘non-urgent’, the temptation is to put it off until a later date or just add it to your never-ending action list of jobs to get around to at some stage. That unspecified future date could be a few weeks, months or even years away, and in the meantime the hazardous risk is probably getting worse.
In the case of Legionella bacteria, the fact that it’s invisible adds to the problem. You may be thinking that a rusty pipe or corroded tank isn’t a major problem, particularly if it’s hidden away in a cupboard or loft, and as long as it’s not leaking, it’s not really a problem, right? Wrong. Rust and corrosion are an excellent food source for Legionella so you’re serving up a banquet for the bacteria and they’ll be merrily multiplying and waiting for someone to have a shower so they can be released into the air.
When you do your Legionella risk assessment, think about all the weaknesses in your plumbing system which could be exploited by the bacteria:
- Are there access points which enable it to get into your pipes, such as cracks, ill-fitting water tank lids or weak joints?
- Are you providing food for the bacteria in the form of biofilm, limescale, rust or debris?
- Is your water being stored at the correct temperature (under 20°C or above 50°C) to stop bacteria multiplying?
- Are there are parts of the plumbing system which allow water to collect and stagnate e.g. dead legs or blind ends?
- Are all your water outlets (taps, showers, toilets) used regularly to flush through any bacteria?
At each step, think about what action you need to take to fix the problem or reduce the risk. Make a detailed list of all the remedial tasks required and set yourself a deadline to get everything done in good time. If you need to employ a professional to make sure the jobs are completed to a high standard, find a reputable tradesperson (a botched job is likely to make any problem worse as well as cost you more money in the long run).
There are many ways of recording your risk assessment, from a written report to using a digital app. Whatever format you choose, it needs to be comprehensive and clear. As you can see from this sample report, it’s useful to give a priority rating to grade tasks and risks, to give you an at-a-glance guide to what you need to do next.
The benefit of using a digital app is that you can set automatic reminders and prompts so your action list is automatically entered into your calendar. We use a new app called CAT-SI which is very simple to use and gives you complete control via your smartphone or tablet. All the data is stored securely on the cloud so no more problems with paperwork going missing!
However you decide to approach your Legionella risk assessment, make sure you set aside the time and money to get repairs done properly to keep your plumbing in good, safe working order.