Legionella is a bacteria that, if inhaled, can cause Legionnaire’s disease, a potentially fatal type of pneumonia. Although cases are normally incredibly rare and Legionella is not something to worry unduly about, the bacteria can be dangerous to those whose immune systems are already compromised, particularly in the area of the chest and lungs. That’s people who suffer from things like asthma and flu – and now, anyone who may be affected by the coronavirus.
Where does Legionella come from?
The bacteria is able to form in standing water where the temperature is between 20 and 45 degrees celsius and nutrients such as sludge, scale and rust are present.
In most occupied domestic properties, the risk is already low because the hot and cold water are generally used regularly, which keeps the supply moving. If your property has a combination boiler and electric showers, the risk is further lowered because water is not being stored.
How rare is Legionella?
Among a population of around 59m, there were just over 500 cases of Legionnaire’s disease in England and Wales in 2019, according to Public Health England. Half of these were due to travel and around half were in communities. So, if we’re considering the number of cases that arise in residential homes, there really is a tiny percentage chance of your tenants being affected, in ordinary circumstances.
However, with the government reportedly currently working on the assumption that coronavirus could spread, it is worth double checking your water systems in your rented property do not present a risk.
Your obligations under the law
While there are mixed views on the requirements for Legionella checks, the government’s Health and Safety Executive says:
“The practical and proportionate application of health and safety law to landlords of domestic rental properties is that whilst there is a duty to assess the risk from exposure to Legionella to ensure the safety of their tenants, this does not require an in-depth, detailed assessment.”
This means it’s up to you as a landlord to decide whether you are happy to check and confirm the property is free of Legionella yourself, or secure an independent, expert assessment and agree who is liable should something go wrong.
Steps you can take to minimise the risk of legionella bacteria forming:
- Flush the water system between lets
- Flush all toilets weekly if the property is standing empty
- Avoid debris getting into the system, e.g. by making sure any cold water tanks have well-fitted lids
- Set the temperature of the hot water cylinder to ensure water is stored at 60°C
- Remove any redundant pipework.
Ideally tenants should:
- Regularly clean and disinfect showerheads
- Not adjust the temperature setting on the calorifier (water heating) tank
- Report any problem with the water system as soon as it is noticed.
If you would like any further information the Health and Safety Executive website is a great place to start.