Legionella Awareness

There are new laws for landlords and letting agents to make sure their tenants are protected from legionella.

Following an update to ACoP L8 (the legislation designed to stop the spread of Legionnaire’s Disease), landlords and letting agents are required by law to carry out a risk assessment on all hot and cold water systems to ascertain the threat of legionella – or face hefty penalty fines of up to £20,000. Previous guidance stated the risk assessment should take place every two years, the new L8 recommends that a review takes place when necessary – e.g. when there has been a change in the system (or tenants).

To comply with the new law, landlords and agents need to assess whether or not conditions allow bacteria to thrive, as well as identifying and inspecting areas of stagnant water, infrequently used outlets, debris in the systems and thermostatic mixing valves.

L8 was updated in 2013, and landlords should be checking their properties. If a tenant falls ill or, at worst, dies because of negligence, then landlords are liable to be charged under the health and safety at work act with hefty fines possible.

If a risk is found, the landlord must appoint a responsible person to implement control measures and improvements.

Q: Can an installer carry out a risk assessment on domestic properties and what does this entail?

A:  Yes, the risk assessment can either be carried out by the landlord/agent or they can task another person with relevant knowledge, experience and training – such as a plumbing and heating professional – to do this for them. All gas-elec engineers have completed a legionella awareness course and are familiar with the requirements of the risk assessment which covers the following:-

– Are there hot and cold water systems that can generate water sprays which can be breathed in by tenants and other occupants? If so, are there areas of corrosion, slime deposits, dead legs and stagnant water?

  • Is hot water at a minimum temperature of 60C and cold water below 20C at the outlets? Legionella bacteria flourishes between 20C and 45C in dirty systems.
  • Are systems and thermostatic mixing valves free of debris, correctly installed and maintained?
  • Are water cisterns covered and pipework insulated in-line with current Water Regulations?
  • Are shower heads clean and in good condition? These should be cleaned and de-scaled regularly
  • Have domestic hot and cold water systems that are not regularly used (such as in properties that have remained un-tenanted for more than a few days) been flushed through? This should be done on a regular basis.

The following should be understood by the landlord/managing agent.

Q: What advice should Landlords be giving to tenants so they can minimise the risk?

A: Landlords should inform tenants of the potential risk from Legionella and advise them on any actions arising from the Risk Assessment this may include:-

  • Controlling the release of water spray or stored water
  • Raising the temperature of water – this can cause a scalding risk, so thermostatic mixing valves should be installed.
  • Showers that are rarely used, for example, should be flushed through regularly and water should not be left to stagnate.

The Risks

The risk increases with age but some people are at higher risk including:

  • people over 45 years of age
  • smokers and heavy drinkers
  • people suffering from chronic respiratory or kidney disease
  • diabetes, lung and heart disease
  • anyone with an impaired immune system

The bacterium Legionella pneumophila and related bacteria are common in natural water sources such as rivers, lakes and reservoirs, but usually in low numbers. They may also be found in purpose-built water systems such as cooling towers, evaporative condensers, hot and cold water systems and spa pools.

If conditions are favourable, the bacteria may grow increasing the risks of Legionnaires’ disease and it is therefore important to control the risks by introducing appropriate measures outlined in Legionnaires’ disease – The Control of Legionella bacteria in water systems (L8).

Where does it come from?

Legionella bacteria are widespread in natural water systems, e.g. rivers and ponds. However, the conditions are rarely right for people to catch the disease from these sources. Outbreaks of the illness occur from exposure to legionella growing in purpose-built systems where water is maintained at a temperature high enough to encourage growth, e.g. cooling towers, evaporative condensers, hot and cold water systems and spa pools used in all sorts of premises (work and domestic).

How do people get it?

People contract  Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling small droplets of water (aerosols), suspended in the air, containing the bacteria. Certain conditions increase the risk from legionella if:

  • the water temperature in all or some parts of the system may be between 20-45 °C, which is suitable for growth
  • it is possible for breathable water droplets to be created and dispersed e.g. aerosol created by a cooling tower, or water outlets
  • water is stored and/or re-circulated
  • there are deposits that can support bacterial growth providing a source of nutrients for the organism e.g. rust, sludge, scale, organic matter and biofilms

Cases of Legionnaires’ disease are often the result of infections caught in the UK, but a number of cases occur abroad.

Symptoms and treatment

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to the symptoms of the flu:

  1. high temperature, feverishness and chills;
  2. cough;
  3. muscle pains;
  4. headache; and leading on to
  5. pneumonia, very occasionally
  6. diarrhoea and signs of mental confusion

Legionnaires’ disease is not known to spread from person to person.

How is it treated?

The illness is treated with an antibiotic called erythromycin or a similar antibiotic.

What to do

  • If you develop the above symptoms and you are worried that it might be Legionnaires’ disease, see your general practitioner.
  • It is not always easy to diagnose because it is similar to the flu. A urine or blood test will be helpful in deciding whether an illness is Legionnaires’ disease or not. When doctors are aware that the illness is present in the local community, they have a much better chance of diagnosing it earlier.

If you suspect that your illness is as a consequence of your work then you should report this to your manager, as well as your health and safety representative and occupational health department, if you have one. There is a legal requirement for employers to report cases of Legionnaires’ disease that may be acquired at their premises to the Health and Safety Executive.

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