Legionella – risk assessments that landlords cannot afford to ignore

  Nick Ainger, MD, AgilitySurvey

The outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Midlands in June this year is a timely reminder to private landlords that they have obligations to carry out legionella risk assessments of water systems within their rental properties. A man, in his fifties, died following the outbreak in June– and a total of seven people were affected.

Risk assessments have long been a subject of debate amongst landlords in the UK. Despite the onus to perform risk assessments sitting squarely on landlords’ shoulders, many have argued that they are both a waste of time and money. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) Approved Code of Practice and Guidance for Legionnaires’ Disease confirms that ALL private landlords have a duty to perform a risk assessment on the water systems in their properties. Previously, the Code imposed a 300 litre limit for hot and cold water services which effectively exempted private landlords from conducting a risk assessment of a normal domestic water system. That limit has now been removed, meaning all private landlords are now obliged to comply with the Code.

The Code requires private landlords to:
•         carry out a risk assessment to identify and assess potential sources of exposure, and thereafter, where a risk has been identified
•         give an advice document informing tenants of the risks of Legionnaire's Disease from hot and cold water systems, as well as relevant information relating to the system in place
•         introduce a course of action to prevent or control any identified risk.

Landlords can carry out the assessment themselves, if they are competent enough to do so. But beware the many individuals who have overnight declared themselves to be legionella risk assessors – unqualified ‘surveyors’ providing low-cost, and low-quality services. Legionnaires’ Disease is potentially a fatal lung infection caused when individuals inhale legionella bacteria. The bacteria can exist in any man-made water system e.g. water storage systems, taps and pipework. Clearly, it is not worth risking lives for an inadequate, cut-price report. 

The recent outbreaks in the Midlands (and the huge outbreak in New York where 121 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ Disease have been recorded since June 2015) have highlighted why landlords are expected to take their responsibilities seriously to prevent Legionnaires’ Disease. With the Mayor of New York approving new laws for regular and stringent inspections of cooling towers, local governments are going to start aggressively pursuing those failing to comply. In the UK, we may see similar moves towards sanctions and penalties for landlords ignoring the threat of legionella.

Landlords engaging professionals should ensure that they check insurance documents and confirm they are qualified and competent to execute a legionella risk assessment. Try before you buy – landlords should request a sample report to ascertain what information will be provided to tenants and how to mitigate any risks.

For more information or to book a legionella risk assessment, contact AgilitySurvey.