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Legionella and the risk to landlords

The Legionella bacteria is present in water sources in the natural environment, and, in low numbers is harmless. However, when kept under specific conditions it can multiply to dangerous levels and is the cause of Legionnaires’ Disease, a potentially fatal form of pneumonia, as well other flu-like diseases including Pontiac Fever.

Although not a huge problem in the UK (there were 345 reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease in 2016) it is possible for the bacteria to thrive in hot and cold water systems, therefore presenting a risk to tenants. Landlords of residential accommodation have a legal responsibility to take measures to ensure that their properties are free from any health and safety hazards, and this includes taking measures to combat Legionnaires’ Disease.

Duties are placed on Landlords under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA), the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002.

Specifically, Section 3(2) of the HSWA 1974 states "It shall be the duty of every self-employed person to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that he and other persons (not being his employees) who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”

Landlords, under Section 53 of the HSWA 1974, are regarded as being self-employed and tenants, residents and visitors fall into the class of “other persons (not being his employees)”. Landlords may also be regarded as ‘persons having control of premises’ as described in Section 4. These duties include carrying out a risk assessment (or arranging for someone else to do so) to assess for conditions that can encourage the spread of Legionella, and subsequently mitigating or controlling such conditions.

Additionally, the Approved Code of Practice L8 2013 and Guidance Note HSG 274 Part 2 provide specific guidance in relation to Legionella control, and a whole section of HSG 274 is dedicated to Landlords of residential accommodation. Simple control measures can include the following:

  • Ensuring release of water spray (from showers for example) is properly controlled
  • Where possible, avoiding water temperatures and conditions that favour the growth of Legionella or other bacteria
  • Ensuring water cannot stagnate by keeping pipe lengths as short as possible or removing redundant pipework (‘dead legs’)
  • Avoiding materials that encourage Legionella growth
  • Taking measures to ensure water remains clean and uncorrupted.
  • Provided the property is ‘low risk’ (which includes most residential settings where water turnover is high), Landlords can potentially carry out the risk assessment themselves. However, the HSE state that the risk assessment must be carried out by someone who is competent to do so, with an adequate knowledge of the property’s water system and what to look for in terms of where and how the Legionella bacteria may exist.
  • Unless five or more tenants live in the property, there is actually no requirement to write down the findings of the assessment. However, if a case of Legionnaires’ Disease was to be traced back to the property, it would certainly be far easier for a Landlord to prove ‘due diligence’ in a court of law if they were able to present a written risk assessment produced by a competent person.
  • The HSE has produced a series of FAQs on the subject and these can be found here: http://www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/faqs.htm

It is important to note that Legionella testing (i.e. sampling water and having it tested in a laboratory) is required only in exceptional circumstances and, generally, not in domestic hot and cold water systems unless an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease has occurred.

In response to the requirement for competent assessors, Elmhurst is able to offer training on this subject, making the complex legal requirements clear by applying them to common situations faced by landlords. Elmhurst also provides risk assessment software which ensures assessors have the tool needed to produce the professional report expected by their clients.

The one-day training course tackles the responsibilities of landlords in relation to Legionella and provides information on its causes, including the current legislative requirements for the control of Legionnaire's Disease in rental properties. The day includes a practical risk assessment exercise and a short written test, enabling successful candidates to become accredited as Elmhurst Legionella Risk Assessors.

For more details on Elmhurst Energy and to book a place on its training courses, visit www.elmhurstenergy.co.uk.

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