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Legionella Testing and Assessments

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Legionella Testing and Assessments

Although most people have heard of it, many people simply do not know what exactly Legionnaires Disease actually is. As a landlord, you have a number of legal responsibilities that you need to take care of when it comes to preventing this potentially fatal disease. In the UK, it is fatal in around 10 – 12% of cases for those who contract it.

There are some fundamental questions that need to be addressed when one owns or is the managing party of a property including knowing what legionella testing is, what it entails, when you need to arrange it. This is all in addition to the assessments and the costs and processes that are associated with it.

As in the case of Building Regulations, air tightness testing, ventilation testing and other compulsory practices for a varying degree of properties and developments, Legionella testing is crucial to avoid tenants and inhabitants’ harm. Furthermore, those who do not comply with the laws around Legionella testing and the prevention of Legionnaires disease risk harsh penalties imposed by the courts.

What is Legionnaires Disease and Legionella?

Legionnaires’ disease is an uncommon but potentially fatal type of pneumonia that is related to the exposure of bacteria in rivers, lakes and streams. These bacteria are able to grow in almost all man-made hot as well as cold water systems. The infecting particles [bacteria] are usually inhaled; contained in droplets of water that have been contaminated by the Legionella. Importantly, there are certain conditions which can encourage the development of this disease, including:

  • The presence of materials that can encourage the organism to grow such as scale, sludge or biofilm
  • Water droplets produced and dispersed
  • Water that is stored
  • Water that is recirculated
  • Specific temperature ranges of water (legionella is known to grown at between 20°C and 50°C)

Whilst the actual disease usually only ends up affecting a small proportion of the population; on average in the UK around 350 people are reported to contract the disease due to the legionella bacteria each year. The disease is serious enough though to prove fatal, and this is why it is vital that landlords take the necessary precautions to ensure that risks are eliminated, as you will be considered responsible if an outbreak of legionella occurs in your property or development.

What is a Legionella Risk Assessment?

According to the Health and Safety Executive’s legislation, you will need to ensure that a risk assessment for exposure to Legionella bacteria is carried out, but this does not necessarily require an in-depth and detailed assessment. This also means that unlike in cases where Building Regulations stipulate a specific factor or test, Legionella assessments can be relatively cheaper.

In most cases it is possible for the landlords themselves to be able to undertake the necessary steps of a legionella assessment, with no professional training or accreditation required, however it is also possible for someone to carry out this work on your behalf if you do not feel able or have the time to do so.

When carrying out a legionella risk assessment you will need to identify potential water-related hazards in the building. This includes things such as:

  • If there are conditions present that could encourage bacteria to multiply
  • Are there sources of nutrients (e.g. scale and rust)
  • Whether or not water droplets be produced, and potentially dispersed over a wide area
  • Whether the water temperature in certain or all parts of the water system is between a temperature of 20 to 35 degrees
  • The water circulation as part of your water system

You can find these out by looking at an appropriate diagram of the property in question which will show the layout of water systems that are in the property.


Who Could be at Risk of Legionnaires Disease?

You will need to take into account who could be at potential risk within the property if there were potential legionella bacteria found on the premises, this includes people such as tenants and residents, visitors, contractors and employees, there may also be particular categories of people at greater risk, such as those with existing respiratory conditions, the elderly or children.

Implementing Legionella Control Measures

It is also important that you ensure that new legionella measures are put in place. Firstly however, you should make sure that you have inspected the property to see whether or not the existing controls are sufficient and if they need to be updated to lower the risk of legionella.

Depending on the precise circumstances and the findings of an assessment, the following measures may be suitable:

  • Monitoring the water temperatures in the property
  • Making sure that parts of the water system (e.g. the bath or shower head) are regularly cleaned
  • Ensuring that it isn’t possible for unauthorised people to get access to water tanks and pipework
  • Ensuring that hot water is stored above 60°C and putting in place control parameters so it remains the same
  • Before letting out the property; making sure that water systems have been flushed out to ensure that stagnant water has been removed

When it comes to water testing and monitoring bacteria levels that are in a property you should remember that these should be carried out be a specialist as opposed to a landlord. They are also not usually needed to be carried out on domestic properties due to the low level of risk that is involved with them.

Why You Need a Legionella Assessment

It is a legal requirement for landlords to both control and assess the level of risk when it comes to the exposure of legionella bacteria, this follows rules ensuring that you are renting out a property to your tenants that is free from hazards and is safe to live in. However, it should be noted that the Health and Safety law in itself does not require landlords to obtain or provide a ‘Legionnaires testing certificate.’