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Legionella Risk Assessments: What Do I Need To Know?

30th Apr 2015

Category: Property advice

Tagged: Legislation, Property Management

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 imposes a statutory duty on landlords and letting agents in respect to health and safety, with secondary legislation passed to deal with specific items.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has released a revised Approved Code of Practice: Legionaires’ disease: The control of legionella bacteria in water systems (ACOP L8), to deal with this issue in particular and has called for risk assessments to be carried out to all rented properties and remedial action taken if necessary.

To say that the information surrounding Legionella is puzzling is a great understatement, so we have put together a useful fact sheet that may help dispel some of the confusion!

What Is Legionnaire’s Disease?

Legionnaire’s disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia caused by inhaling small droplets of contaminated water containing the legionella bacteria. Legionella is classed as a ‘dangerous substance; in law, in the same way asbestos is.  Initial symptoms include a high fever and muscle pain. If the bacteria infects the lungs, a persistent cough may also develop.  Other symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pains, and sometimes vomiting, and diarrhoea. It is treated by intravenous antibiotics.

How Does Legionella Spread?

It breeds in waters, and all made-hot and cold water systems are potential breeding grounds! The main risk comes from places where the water is then spread, i.e. showers, taps, dishwasher and washing machine pipes, and combi boilers. It is not restricted to dead legs and water tanks, as commonly thought. Legionella bacteria will feed on sludge, rust, and slime. It will survive low temperatures and thrive at temperatures between 20- 45°.  It is transferred through water vapour if the conditions are right, and water is left to stagnate. It is not a contagious disease.

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Previous legislation for Legionella disease applied to water systems over 300 litres in capacity which was generally only found in industrial or commercial buildings.  Recent changes in this legislation has removed the 300 litre limit entirely, and brought every landlord, letting agent, and private rented property under the legislation. It is therefore mandatory that landlords and agents undertake risk assessments and preventative action to prevent tenants, their guests, tradesmen, and employees from contracting the disease. The HSE is active, and is increasing criminal prosecutions against those failing to adhere to the law.

To date it has been found that in an excess of 5% of all rented properties analysed have had significantly high and dangerous levels of the bacteria.

What Does The Risk Assessment Involve?

The ACOP L8 require certain practical measures to be undertaken to identify whether the system is likely to create a risk from exposure to Legionella..The risk assessment must be carried out by a competent person, who has both the practical experience and formal training to ensure that the UK standards are met.  Landlords must complete necessary training if they wish to complete the risk assessments themselves or an expert should be contracted.

The risk assessment should identify whether:

  • water is stored or re-circulated as part of your system

  • the water temperature in some or all parts of the system is between 20–45 °C

  • there are sources of nutrients such as rust, sludge, scale and organic matters

  • conditions are present to encourage bacteria to multiply

  • it is possible for water droplets to be produced and, if so, whether they could be dispersed over a wide area, eg showers and aerosols from cooling towers

  • it is likely that any of your employees, residents, visitors etc are more susceptible to infection due to age, illness, a weakened immune system etc and whether they could be exposed to any contaminated water droplets

Your risk assessment should include:

  • management responsibilities, including the name of competent person and a description of your system;

  • potential sources of risk;

  • any controls in place to control risks;

  • monitoring, inspection and maintenance procedures;

  • records of the monitoring results, inspections and checks carried out;

  • arrangements to review the risk assessment regularly

Is The Risk Assessment A One-Off Requirement?

As the above suggests monitoring and regular reviews are required. Once the first risk assessment has been carried out, any preventative actions recommended to potential sources of risk must be completed.  This may include flushing out the system, stopping  debris getting into the system, maintaining the correct temperatures, removing redundant pipework, and advising tenants of the risks and how to avoid them.  

The risk assessor may not be able to do this work themselves and professionals must be contracted to complete the necessary works.  Continual monitoring of the potential risk is then required and a record of the results must bekept. How often a risk assessment is needed depends very much on the results of the first risk assessment, also on the suscptibility of the tenant i.e. is the tenant elderly, a heavy smoker, or have respiratory problems. Generally the findings should be recorded and retained for at least 5 years, and reviewed at least every 2 years, or whenever there is reason to suspect the assessment is no longer valid, such as when there is a material change to the system.    

How much Do Legionella Risk Assessments Cost?

Companies will typically charge between £100- 150 plus vat. However the price is entirely dependent on the amount of water services in the property and the size of the property.

Where Can I Find More Information?

For a comprehensive over view of the HSE’s guidance on Legionnaires disease and risk assessments follow the link below: ###a href="http://www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/what-is.htm">http://www.hse.gov.uk/legionna...

You can download a free copy of the ACOP L8 using the link below: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/bo...

You may also wish to contact your Environmental Heath department of your local Council for further advice.

Hannah Greatorex-Davies

Portfolio Manager

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