Legionnaires’ disease is a form of walking pneumonia which is caused by legionella bacteria commonly found in the built-in water systems of houses, flats, office buildings and hospitals.
The impact on those infected can be severe, causing death in up to 30% of cases, rising to 50% if the disease is untreated.
Increase Risk to Landlords
Property Owners and Landlords are obligated by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 to ensure that the tenants living in their properties are protected against Legionnaires’ disease.
Due to the increased volume of tenants and general size of House In Multiple Occupation properties (HMO’s), the risk is heightened and you should take time to review your HMO Landlord Insurance to check that Legionnaires cover is included.
How Does Legionella Bacteria Spread and Grow?
The hot and cold water systems installed in let properties, as well as any air conditioning systems are ideal environments for legionella bacteria growth.
HMO properties are at a higher risk of contamination due to the larger number of bathrooms with showerheads and other water outlets that generate a sizeable amount of water droplets. Here are three additional conditions that increase the chance of contamination:
- Water temperature of 20 to 45 degrees Celsius in all or some parts of the system, which is the optimal temperature range for bacteria growth
- Stored and/or recirculated water that has not been replaced or treated
- Tanks or pipes that contain deposits of rust, sludge, organic matter and other biofilms, which provide nutrients for bacteria growth
How Is Legionellosis Contracted?
People contract Legionnaires’ disease (legionellosis) by inhaling the contaminated airborne water and/or soil particulates that are dispersed through the air conditioning vents and/or water outlets.
Some tenants are more susceptible to Legionnaires’ disease than others and may be at a higher risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease if they match the following profile:
- Aged over 45 years
- Smoke and drink heavily
- Suffer from chronic respiratory or kidney disease
- Have an impaired immune system
Many HMO tenants, particularly if you are dealing with local authority placements, may fall into one or more of these categories, increasing your risk of a claim.
Best practice is to conduct regular risk assessments of the various water systems in each of your properties to mitigate the risk of tenants developing Legionnaires’ disease.
Reducing The Risk of Contamination and Infection
Landlords can take six main risk-preventive measures that you can adopt to control the risk of legionella bacteria contamination:
- Perform and document regular quality testing of the water that is stored in the tanks. A water treatment company or consultant can perform the test. If you would prefer to do the test yourself, consult the HSE’s Legionnaires’ disease Technical Guidance found here www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/hsg274.htm.
- Take steps to remove any redundant pipework to ensure that water cannot stagnate anywhere in the system. When inspecting a property’s pipework, refer to the Water Fittings & Materials Directory (www.wras.co.uk/Directory) to avoid materials that encourage the growth of bacteria.
- Ensure that water tanks have tight seals so that no debris can contaminate the system.
- Set temperature control standards of the calorifier to ensure that water is stored at 60 degrees Celsius.
- Treat the water stored in tanks or other systems to limit or control the growth of micro-organisms.
- For housing units, completely flush the water tank prior to letting the property.
Risk prevention and awareness is also partly shared by tenants. It is important that after adopting legionella prevention measures at your properties that you inform tenants of any additional responsibilities or procedures they must follow to mitigate their Legionnaires’ disease risk.
Tenants responsibilities may include:
- Not adjusting the temperature on the calorifier
- Regularly cleaning and disinfecting their showerheads
- The risk of legionella bacteria growth is reduced with regular use, but you should still encourage tenants to regularly clean and disinfect their showerheads
- Reporting any issues with the hot water, air conditioning or any other systems
Best Practice Will Minimise Risk
Reducing the risk of your let property becoming contaminated with Legionnaires’ disease is one that can be easily managed by good risk management and appropriate preventive measures.
By conducting regular inspections of your property’s water systems, pipework and water quality, you can greatly reduce the risks of infection to your tenants and your subsequent prosecution.
A key point to bear in mind is that you have a duty of care as a Landlord for the well-being protection of your tenants. By reducing risk and documenting all activity is key to minimising the risk of infection and claims under your HMO Insurance policy.
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