Legionella Risk Assessments
What is a legionella risk assessment?
The risk assessment gives consideration to a variety of risk factors prescribed in the legislation, which includes examination of water storage tanks for configuration, capacity, flow pattern, materials of construction, protection against contamination, protection against heat-loss/gain, cleanliness, age and condition, and examination of distribution pipework and outlets for areas of stagnation, low-flow, heat transference, dead-legs, temperature outputs, condition and frequency of use.
The risk assessment usually takes between 30-40 minutes and the findings are produced in a risk assessment report which highlights any risks and identifies whether corrective action or any ongoing control measures are required.
Is it mandatory to get a legionella risk assessment?
There seems to be a general misconception that gas safety checks are mandatory, but legionella risk assessments are just ‘best practice’ (like electrical PAT testing), but this is not the case. The Hazardous Substances Regulations, like the Gas Regulations, both fall under the same Act of Parliament, the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, and the penalties for breach are exactly the same.
If you do not comply, you are committing a criminal offence and legal action may be taken against you because the health and safety of your tenants, visitors and passers-by is at risk.
What are the penalties for failing to comply?
On indictment (when more serious claims are taken to the Crown Court rather than the Magistrates Court), the fine is unlimited and the maximum sentence 2 years. Those punishments may seem severe but the context is that legionnaires’ disease can result in severe disability and death.
It is important to remember that you can still be prosecuted even if there is only an exposure to risk and no-one has actually been taken ill. A criminal record is a criminal record, regardless of the fact it is for a health and safety offence, and would have a significant impact on your business and your reputation.
Do I need to do legionella testing?
The HSE does recommend precautionary testing in certain high-risk situations, such as in care homes or hospitals, or if the risk assessment specifically identifies the need for one, which is rare. Legionella testing is not required because it is known that legionella bacteria is found in all water sources, including the mains supply. The key is to identify risks through the risk assessment and implement adequate control measures, so save your money and don’t be misguided into undertaking unnecessary laboratory testing.
What if I provide a let-only service to landlords?
However, even on a let-only basis, you still have a duty (as with gas) to ensure the landlord has a valid risk assessment in place before letting a tenant into occupation. You also need to ensure that tenants have been advised of the legionella risks and precautions which is an important part of the legal duty.
Is the landlord or managing agent responsible?
The party responsible for those will also be responsible for legionella risk assessments.
If there is no written agreement, or it does not specify who has responsibility, the duty is placed on whomever has control of the premises, which, if you are an agent managing the property on behalf of a landlord, means you.
What should I be advising my tenants?
In particular, they should be advised to:
Keep the hot water thermostat on the boiler or water heater at 60°C or above at all times
Regularly clean and disinfect shower heads and taps
Flush through infrequently-used outlets weekly (i.e. guest bathrooms, after a holiday and immediately on occupation)
Inform you immediately if the hot water is not heating properly so that appropriate action can be taken.
Remember to advise tenants of scalding risks with high temperatures and not to stay in the room whilst flushing.
Do all properties need a legionella risk assessment?
Even properties with combi-boilers where there is no stored water in the property (i.e. no header tank or hot water cylinder) are still required by law to have a legionella risk assessment. There are numerous risk factors which can increase the risk of legionella colonising in the system and which would change what appears (on paper) to be a low risk property into a higher risk property, (e.g. dead legs, showerheads, long pipe-runs, uninsulated pipes, output temperatures, non-WRAS approved fittings, at-risk tenants, etc.).
How often do I need to carry out a legionella risk assessment?
A change in use of a building (i.e. a flat conversion)
A change in the water system (i.e. a new bathroom installed)
A susceptible tenant moves in to a property (i.e. elderly or immunocompromised)
A tenant or visitor contracts, or is suspected of contracting, legionnaires’ disease
Some higher risk properties with more complex systems or a vulnerable group of occupants (such as residential care homes) may require more frequent and careful risk management, but this is not necessary for ordinary domestic rental property.
What precautions do I need to take during void periods?
Prior to re-letting, or immediately on occupation, the hot water thermostat should be turned up to 60°C for at least one hour and then all outlets systematically flushed in order to kill the bacteria and flush stagnant water out of the system (the tenant can be advised to do this). If the property is to remain vacant for extended periods (i.e. student lets), a regular flushing regime should be implemented by the landlord/agent, or the system drained.
What do I do if a landlord refuses to pay for a risk assessment?
However, tenant health and safety is a very serious matter and as duty holder and the party putting the tenant into the property, you would need to demonstrate to an HSE inspecting officer that you have taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to get the work done to avoid committing an offence. Ultimately, this is a commercial decision for you to decide.
How do I know if a risk assessment firm is reputable and competent?
A competent person is someone with the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and training in legionella risk management and control. If an external service provider is appointed, competency can be demonstrated by membership of an accredited body.