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Legionnaire’s Disease

ALL landlords and letting agents in control of private rented properties are now required BY LAW to protect their tenants against the risk of contracting legionnaire’s disease.

Landlords are being urged to ensure that risk assessments of water systems within their properties are carried out in order to reduce the risk of Legionnaires’ disease.

Landlords now have a legal duty to ensure that all water systems in their property are properly maintained to prevent any water-borne infections. In order to assist landlords in fulfilling their responsibilities, the Health and Safety Executive has released a revised Approved Code of Practice (Legionnaires’ disease: The control of legionella bacteria in water systems), containing information on how to identify and assess potential sources of exposure, and methods of introducing a course of action to prevent or control any identified risk.

The Code can be found here:- http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/l8.pdf

Previously the Approved Code of Practice imposed a 300 litre limit for hot and cold water services, which removed responsibility from landlords. But as the 300 litre limit has been removed, private landlords are now required to comply with the Code.

What is Legionnaires’ disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is a serious lung infection caused when an individual inhales small droplets of water that contain Legionella bacteria. The disease can’t be passed from one person to another.

Legionella bacteria is found in the natural environment and in most water systems. But in the right conditions the Legionella bacteria in water systems, taps and pipework etc. can multiply and increase to dangerous levels. And although unlikely, Legionnaires’ disease has also been reported to have arisen from contaminated baths and showers, sprinkler systems and air con systems that use water for cooling purposes.

Certain conditions increase the risk from Legionella, including:

Where the water is stored between 20-45°C

 Stored and or/re-circulated water

 Where there is sludge, rust, scale, algae or limescale in the water system

 Where vulnerable tenants, who are weakened by illness are residing at your property.

How to help prevent Legionnaires’ disease?

The best way to prevent an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease is to ensure any water system under your control is properly maintained and conforms to health and safety regulations.

Under the Code landlords are required to:

Carry out a risk assessment to identify and assess potential sources of exposure

 If a risk is identified, introduce a course of action to prevent or control a risk.

By conducting a risk assessment, landlords will be able to identify areas where conditions could be right for bacteria to flourish. A risk assessment should pay particular attention to areas where water temperatures are between 20°C and 45 °C, stagnant water, debris in the water system and thermostatic mixing valves.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) advises that:

Water in the boiler should be kept at a minimum of 60°C. But landlords should also be aware of the possible risk of scalding by doing this.

 Shower heads and hoses should be dismantled, cleaned and descaled regularly between lets.

 Water units that are not used regularly should be flushed through weekly.

If the property is empty for more than a week, the water pipes, taps and showers should be flushed through before reletting.

The cold water tank should be inspected regularly, checking for any debris and if necessary cleaned and disinfected. The tank should be insulated and protected with a closed lid.

 Water should be kept free of impurities and kept moving so it doesn’t stagnate.

 Landlords are being advised to tell their tenants of the risks too, and to support each other in managing the risk. It would be recommended that landlords ask tenants to regularly flush through showers that they don’t use and take similar precautions to protect themselves.

What happens if the landlord doesn’t fulfil their obligations?

Landlords are urged to follow the approved Code of Practice in order to provide a safe and habitable environment for tenants, and to protect themselves in the event of prosecution. Heavy fines or imprisonment can be imposed if someone were to die from the disease, and landlords can even find themselves prosecuted even if someone didn’t become ill but were found to be exposed to risk.

Landlords should regularly review the risk assessment at least every two years, or whenever circumstances change. Landlords should keep a written record for at least five years of the dates and the details of the individual that conducted the review, a list of the systems that were assessed, potential sources of risk, the written control scheme and details of its implementation and results of the inspection and further checks.

Although most properties will be low risk, it is vital that landlords conduct the appropriate checks to ensure their property is safe, and to protect tenants from the potentially fatal disease. If you feel competent enough to do so, you can carry out a risk assessment at your own property to identify whether the conditions are right for bacteria to flourish.

Alternatively, we have obtained a contractor who can carry out a compliant risk assessment and certificate service, designed specifically for the domestic letting market. This risk assessment has been developed in accordance with the guidelines and recommended practices issued by the HSE and the HSC, and will have a significant impact on providing a defence and reducing your liability should problems occur.