Landlords are being urged to carry out an assessment on their properties to help control the threat of Legionnaires’ disease.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is directing residential property landlords or their managing agents to comply with a recently revised Approved Code of Practice ‘Legionnaires’ disease: the control of legionella bacteria in water systems’
Legionnella are bacteria common in artificial water systems such as storage tanks, pipework, taps and showers. People can catch the disease if they inhale into their lungs tiny water or vapour droplets carrying the bacteria. Illness starts with flu-like symptoms, but can develop into lung infections or pneumonia, which can prove fatal in one in ten patients, which was sadly seen in recent separate outbreaks in Stoke on Trent and Edinburgh.
Whilst legionella bacteria are usually associated with larger water systems such as cooling towers in commercial buildings and hospitals, they can thrive and multiply in hot or cold water systems and storage tanks in flats and houses, and can be spread through the property by showers and taps.
The guidance underlines new legal requirements for landlords or their agents to ensure the risk from legionnella, in all forms of water systems found in residential rented premises, is fully risk assessed and controlled.
Properties should be checked as plumbing systems need to run at 60C to kill off the bacteria. Particular attention should be paid to water storage and header tanks, thermostatic mixing valves and to the potential for any build-up of debris, such as sludge, in a system. A risk is also posed if water could become stagnant in an under used area of the property, for example taps, showers or washing machine pipes.
Part of the risk assessment that is likely to cause most problems is whether any particular tenants, such as older people or those already ill, might be vulnerable to infection. Landlords and agents will also have to balance one set of advice – to raise the temperature of warm water to control legionella – against the risk of possible burns and scalding.
Steps taken to control the threat of legionella include disinfecting the system, ensuring no water can stagnate anyway, insulating pipework, and keeping water cisterns covered and free of debris. Particular attention should be paid to void properties before re-letting. In all cases, landlords should keep a written record of the risk assessments they have carried out and action taken.
Tenants should also be advised about risks, and told to take precautions such as flushing through showers they rarely use.
For more information, see: http://www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/index.htm