Three key learnings for property landlords
Legionnaires’ disease and Legionella have been making headlines across the world in the past few weeks. Positive tests have been reported in Australia, Florida and Michigan, while here in the UK court judgements and major fines have been levied against a borough council and a hotel group for failing in their duty to control the risk posed by this potentially deadly bacteria.
Given the legal requirement for all landlords to assess and control the risk of Legionella in their properties, we’ve identified three key lessons which can be learned from these news reports:
1. Be systematic
When the leisure club manager at the Landmark Hotel in Dundee left, the monitoring system broke down and his responsibilities weren’t picked up by another member of staff. Routine checks, temperature monitoring and equipment maintenance weren’t carried out and Legionella bacteria was able to flourish undetected in the hot tub. The result? 65 people fell ill and the hotel was fined £54,000.
Learning: have a clear risk assessment system in place and make sure you stick to it. Carry out regular checks and keep a record. Make sure that your tenants are aware of any responsibilities they may have for cleaning showerheads, reporting issues with water temperature etc. Ensure that you review your system when something changes e.g. alterations to the plumbing, new tenants.
2. Competence is key
In the case of Legionella, incompetence can kill. Following the death of a resident in a care home run by Reading Borough Council, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Kelly Nichols said:
"Reading Borough Council could and should have controlled the risk of exposure to Legionella to the elderly and infirm as well as those receiving immediate care prior to returning home. RBC’s failings were systemic and continued over a period of time. The control and management arrangements were not robust and the Legionella training of key personnel fell significantly below the required standard.”
Learning: don’t cut corners when assessing and managing the risk of Legionella. Health and safety law is clear that it must be carried out by a “competent person”, who it defines as “someone who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly.” As the Legionella Control Association suggests, “The competence of the assessor should be matched to the system being assessed. The assessor should be able to demonstrate that they have specialist knowledge of Legionella bacteria and of the water system(s) to be assessed, and are competent to carry out the necessary surveys and sampling. In addition the assessor should have undertaken the necessary practical training and gained experience with a competent assessor to be able to assess the system.”
3. Non-compliance is not an option
Although the risk of Legionella is small in the majority of domestic water systems, these news reports show that the consequences of not managing the risk properly are huge: hefty fines or imprisonment, not to mention the potential death of a tenant or visitor to your property.
Learning: take your responsibilities seriously and seek professional help if you don’t have the required knowledge and experience to manage the risk of Legionella yourself.