Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia caused by the inhalation of small droplets of contaminated water containing Legionella. All man-made hot and cold water systems are likely to provide an environment where Legionella can grow.
Landlords are responsible for ensuring that the risk of exposure to legionella in residential premises is properly assessed and controlled.
Children, the elderly and the sick are all at higher risk from Legionella and many in these vulnerable groups live in housing association properties so the duty of care must be a priority.
In this blog, we discuss the most important issues surrounding the control and management of legionella in social housing.
Who is a landlord?
Anybody that leases or rents out a property which they have rightful ownership to under a contract or license for less than a consecutive seven-year tenure is termed a landlord.
The duties of a landlord encompass several accommodations, leased or rented, which include but is not limited to residential properties rented out to the following:
- Housing associations
- Local authorities
- Private sector landlords
Legal Obligations for Landlords
Every landlord must ensure the property they are renting out (or rooms, if applicable) is safe for use. This includes assessing the safety of the water systems used in that building. Social housing must be fit for purpose and pose no danger to those staying there.
ACOP L8 provides excellent guidance on what social landlords should do to ensure they meet all legal requirements regarding the control of legionella bacteria in their properties.
This includes conducting a legionella risk assessment and then taking suitable precautions to manage any risks identified in that assessment.
The assessment should be reviewed regularly to ensure it is up to date at all times. Any changes to the water systems, management processes or to the property itself would require a review to determine whether the legionella risk assessment should be changed in any way.
What landlords must do?
As mandated by applicable health and safety laws, landlords of domestic and rental properties are legally expected to access their premises for any possible health risk arising from the exposure of legionella. However, nowhere is it explicitly directed that the assessment be in-depth or thorough.
In residential settlements, the risk of legionella exposure from hot or cold water systems is much lower owing to the frequent use of water. A small housing unit is a typical ‘low risk’ example with smaller domestic water systems; where water is continually being used and enough to upset the whole system; where cold water is gotten directly from the mains supply line (no storage tank); where hot water is gotten from low volume heaters generally lower than 50°C; and where the main outlets are washing hand basins and toilets.
An initial and simple assessment may indicate that all possible risks are being adequately mitigated and controlled. However, subsequent assessments must be carried out, as the conditions in the system are susceptible to changes.
Generally, simple and appropriate measures are often enough to keep the risk of exposure low. Temperature is key to keeping the bacteria in check. The water should always be in motion, and hot water should be kept hot and cold water cold. Other Legionella control measures include;
- Before renting out the property, flush out the reservoirs and lines
- Prevent the entry of foreign substances such as dirt and debris into the system
- Ensure that the temperature is kept fairly constant. Ensure hot water from the heater is set above 60°C
- Rusted and redundant pipework should be removed from the service
The use of instantaneous water heaters (boilers and electric showers) helps to further reduce the risk of exposure since there is always a steady flow of water.
What do tenants need to know?
Where control measures are put in place tenants should be advised e.g. guidance should be given not to adjust the temperature setting of the calorifier, to regularly clean showerheads and inform landlords if the hot water is not heating properly or there are any other problems with the system.
Where showers are installed, these have the means of creating and dispersing water droplets (aerosols) which may be inhaled causing a foreseeable risk of exposure to Legionella.
If used regularly (as in the majority of most domestic settings) the risks are reduced but in any case, tenants should be advised to regularly clean and disinfect showerheads.
Further measures for vacant properties
Water mustn’t be left to remain stagnant in the system for an extended time. Therefore, landlords and property managers should be aware of such periods where the apartment would be left vacant (e.g. during summer vacations for student accommodations).
As a rule of thumb, cold or hot water outlets should be used at least once a week to avoid water stagnation. In instances where the property is vacant, additional measures should be put in place to ensure that the system is flushed periodically.
Start with Legionella Risk Assessments
Controlling legionella in social housing starts with a legionella risk assessment of the hot and cold water systems to ensure a scheme is put in place to control the risk.
It is the responsibility of the duty holder to ensure a risk assessment is in place and reviewed periodically but it must be undertaken by a competent person. In most cases, a risk assessment would already be in place, which can be reviewed.
Communal tanks are common in large residential apartment blocks. Communal tanks will need to be adequately managed including annual inspection and sampling.
The legionella risk assessment for large council estates and social housing projects can often be done without gaining access to all of the individual apartments but a representative proportion should be agreed upon and accessed if reasonably practical to do so.
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The risk of legionella in social residential housing is real and will need to be addressed. Landlords and housing associations must undertake regular risk assessments to identify the level of risk, potential hazards and a suitable maintenance and monitoring regime to ensure continued compliance.
Celtic Water Solutions provides water hygiene solutions to a wide variety of institutions in the Republic of Ireland helping them stay compliant with health and safety laws.
Our risk assessors will always carry out an extensive risk assessment of all of the water services within the premises and provide easy to understand recommendations that will guide you to full compliance.
If you require support in managing this risk mindfully, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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