If tenants in rented properties come into contact with water droplets infected with Legionella bacteria, the resulting illnesses can be fatal. This guide outlines landlords’ health and safety duties for controlling the risks of Legionella and explains whether a risk assessment for Legionella is a legal requirement for landlords.
Legionella is a bacteria found in purpose-built hot and cold water systems such as water tanks, showerheads and whirlpool baths. If the bacteria become airborne and people inhale them through water droplets or spray, it can cause pneumonia-like illnesses.
With 295 cases reported from January to October 2020 in England and Wales, Legionnaires’ disease is rare in the UK, but landlords must consider the risk of Legionella bacteria in their rental properties.
Read our guide to understanding what Legionella is and how dangerous it is.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) imposes a general duty of care on landlords for looking after their tenants’ health and safety, including ensuring that water on the premises is safe to use. In addition, the control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) outlines actions landlords must take to assess and control the risk from biological agents such as Legionella.
Help control exposure to Legionella with our IOSH Approved Legionella Awareness Training course, including the importance of a landlord’s Legionella risk assessment and duty holder responsibilities.
The main risk of Legionella in rented properties
All purpose-built hot and cold water systems are likely to provide an environment where Legionella bacteria can grow. Favourable conditions that encourage the bacteria to thrive include:
- Water temperatures between 20 and 45°C.
- Systems where water is stagnant and/or recirculated.
- Rust, sludge or scale in the water system that provides nutrients the bacteria needs to multiply.
- Water droplets, mist or spray that are dispersed into the air by systems such as whirlpool baths and showerheads.
Older properties with stored water systems that serve multiple properties are most at risk from Legionella. Newer properties tend not to have water tanks or stored water systems, although this is not always the case.
Vacant properties, such as student accommodation, can be a breeding ground for Legionella bacteria if water is left to stagnate. Many such properties have been left empty due to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact, increasing the need for greater Legionella awareness and management.
The Health and Safety Executive advises that hot and cold water outlets should be used at least once a week to keep water flowing and flushing and draining should take place between lets and if the property remains vacant for a long time. Ultimately what landlords and employers need to do is to undertake a risk assessment that helps decide on what controls and precautions are required.
The main responsibilities of landlords
Landlords who rent out a commercial or domestic property or a room in their own home have legal responsibilities for ensuring their tenants’ health and safety.
A landlord is defined as anyone renting a property they own under a lease or a licence shorter than seven years. Their health and safety duties cover a wide range of accommodation – including residential properties – provided for rent by:
- Local authorities.
- Housing association.
- Private sector landlords.
- Housing co-operatives.
- Local authorities.
Landlord’s legionella risk assessment
There is some confusion around whether a landlord’s Legionella risk assessment is a legal requirement.
The answer is that landlords must assess the risk of exposure to Legionella, but a detailed landlord’s Legionella risk assessment is not required. This is because the risk of exposure in domestic properties is low due to the frequent use of water in a commercial property arrangement this might be different and there are dual responsibilities.
If a tenant contracts Legionnaires’ disease from the water system in their home, the landlord may, however, be liable to prosecution. The landlord would have to demonstrate in court that they had fulfilled their legal duty of care, so they must assess, control and record the risks.
Landlords can carry out an assessment themselves if they are competent. Taking our Legionella awareness course is a good way to understand the risks and duty holder responsibilities. If a landlord doesn’t feel competent or is not inclined to conduct the assessment themselves, they can employ the services of a Legionella risk assessment specialist and use a service such as our Legionella Water Risk Assessment.
The landlord’s Legionella risk assessment should assess the risk of exposure to Legionella bacteria and identify if:
- Water is stored or re-circulated.
- The water temperature is kept between 20–45°C.
- Sources of bacteria nutrients, such as rust, sludge, scale, are present.
- Water droplets can be produced and if they could be dispersed over a wide area, such as through showers and aerosols from cooling towers.
- Any residents or visitors are likely more susceptible to infection due to age, illness, a weakened immune system – and whether they might be exposed to contaminated water droplets.
If no risks are identified, then it maybe that no further action is needed however circumstances may change at premises and the risk of Legionella proliferation still needs to monitored.
Read our in-depth guide to Legionella risk assessments.
Landlords are not legally required to review the assessment annually, but it should be reviewed if anything changes in the water system occupancy or use, for example the premises not being used due to the Covid19 pandemic.
Controlling the risk of Legionella
Appropriate control methods should be implemented to keep reduce Legionella risks. The Health and Safety Executive recommends the following simple measures for domestic properties:
- Keep hot water hot and cold water cold to control the proliferation of bacteria.
- Keep the water moving.
- Flush out water systems before letting the property.
- Ensure water tanks are tightly fitted to prevent debris from getting inside.
- Use control parameters, such as setting the temperature of hot water cylinders to ensure water is stored at 60°C to control bacteria proliferation but is at a safe temperature at the point of delivery such as the shower head or tap outlet.
- Remove redundant pipework.
Landlords should inform tenants of control measures that need to be maintained, such as regularly cleaning and disinfecting showerheads to prevent risks from water droplets. Tenants should inform their landlord if hot water is not heating properly.
Water should not be allowed to stagnate in properties left empty for the long term. This can be prevented by using hot and cold water taps and showers once a week.
Testing for Legionella is not usually required for domestic hot and cold water systems, and landlords are not required to obtain or produce a Legionella test certificate.
Recording an assessment’s findings is a statutory duty for employers, so landlords do not necessarily need to keep a record. Still, the Health and Safety Executive says: “they may find it prudent to keep a record of what has been done for their own purposes”.
Landlord’s Legionella risk assessment – commercial vs residential
Commercial buildings are likely to have more complex water systems than domestic premises, so a more detailed risk assessment will be required. A specialist with expert knowledge from within the organisation or an external consultancy may be required to take on the role of the ‘responsible person’.
Employers and organisations must keep records of the assessment findings, the steps taken to control or prevent the risks and the results and dates of maintenance, inspections and tests. The records should be kept for at least two years. In this way the duty holder will have established a Legionella management system.
Our Legionella awareness course provides all the knowledge you need to understand the risks of exposure to Legionella bacteria and the importance of risk assessments, regular monitoring, roles and responsibilities and water systems maintenance where these dangerous bacteria may be found.
Get expert, specialist advice with Praxis42’s Legionella Water Risk Assessment service. A competent person can visit your premises to determine if a full Legionella risk assessment and prevention plan needs to be established.