How to protect your tenants and your property from Legionnaires’ Disease
Landlords and Legionnaires Disease
Landlords have a duty of care to the tenants they house, and as such have to be aware of potential dangers to tenant health. These range from the visible like the integrity of the structure or ensuing the electrics are safe, to the less obvious and potentially hidden dangers like Legionnaires' Disease. But what actually is Legionnaires'?
What is Legionnaires’ Disease?
Legionnaires’ Disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila and other related bacteria that can be found naturally in environmental water sources such as rivers, lakes and reservoirs. In a domestic setting, it can multiply where there is water stored between 20°C and 45°C.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can catch the disease, but the middle aged, elderly and those with poor immune systems are more likely to become infected.
How is it contracted?
The disease is contracted by inhaling small droplets of water containing the Legionella bacteria from the air, by drinking infected water, or from another infected person.
Although their presence is more likely in large systems such as cooling towers, air conditioning systems and whirlpool spas, Legionella bacteria can also multiply in the water systems and storage tanks in residential properties.
Showers, boilers and other smaller tanks may still support the growth and proliferation of legionella organisms. In multi-occupied buildings, there is often inadequate pressure from mains water to supply all dwellings, so water may be stored. This could be in a header tank at the top of the block or even tanks at a lower level, with booster pumps to supply water to the units. Any such tank presents potential places for the bacteria to grow.
What can landlords do to limit the risk of infection?
It is estimated that up to 1.5 million houses could be contaminated with the legionella organism, with 532 confirmed cases reported in England and Wales in 2018. To reduce risk to tenants, landlords should look at their entire water system to identify potential sources of contamination or exposure.
In most residential properties where smaller domestic water systems are installed and there is regular water usage, a simple assessment should be carried out and where this shows the risks are low, no further action is required. The risk is even lower where combi-boilers are installed and hot water is instantaneous, as there is no water storage but simple control measures will ensure the risks remain low.
If you identify any risks, you must take action to prevent or control them. This however may be as simple as routine planned maintenance.
It should be possible for you to assess the risk yourself, but you can obtain help and advice from a consultant, or other competent person if you consider it necessary. Your plumbing engineer should be competent if they are suitably familiar with the HSE guidance.
Are landlords legally required to prove their property is free from Legionnaires’ Disease?
Health and Safety law does not require landlords to produce a ‘Legionnaires testing certificate'. Legionella testing is required only in exceptional circumstances and generally not in domestic hot and cold water system.
If you want to learn more about this issue, including how to undertake a risk assessment, you can find out more on our Online Library section titled Legionnaires Disease. The NLA Online Library is free to members – please see your options for joining here.
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