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Is Legionella Risk Assessment Mandatory?

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Legionella Risk Assessment – Despite modern infrastructure, it is important to remember that water-borne diseases are still a risk. One of important hazard to be aware of is Legionella. 

Legionella bacteria, and the associated illness caused by them, affect the lives of people across the country each year. If allowed to, these bacteria can quickly breed in domestic water systems, from where they can then infect anyone in the vicinity. 

Due to the risk involved, employers and those that are in control of properties have legal duties when it comes to legionella. In this article, we will explore exactly what legionella is and look at what these legal requirements are. 

What You Need to Know About Legionella

Legionella is a naturally occurring bacteria in ponds, rivers, and lakes that also thrives in man-made water sources. In order to breed, the bacteria require a temperature between 20-45°C, as well as nutrition (rust, scale, sludge, or biofilm) to eat. The final element that helps the bacteria succeed is stagnation – water systems are not flushed or changed frequently. 

The ideal breeding grounds for Legionella are buildings that recirculate water or possess facilities that store water for long periods of time. This includes systems such as AC units, plumbing systems, fountains, swimming pools, spa pools, and humidifiers, among others. 

What is the most common way of contracting Legionella?

Legionella bacteria are most hazardous when they are allowed to disperse on aerosols. When water vapour spreads, for instance, from a whirlpool bath or a showerhead, the bacteria travel along with the vapour. If someone then breathes in this vapour, the person can then become infected. 

The contaminated moisture can cause a range of illnesses (collectively known as Legionellosis), which includes Legionnaire’s disease. 

What’s Legionnaire’s Disease? 

Legionnaire’s disease is a lethal form of pneumonia that at first seems like the common cold or flu, making early diagnosis harder. If caught early, it can be treated with antibiotics, but if undiagnosed, it can put someone into a coma (requiring a ventilator) or lead to death. 

The most common symptoms are:

  • Coughing
  • Diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Chest & muscle pain
  • Disoriented or confused state 

While anyone can be afflicted, males over 45 are more susceptible to it, especially if they have underlying medical conditions such as kidney, heart, or lung issues, a compromised immune system, or diabetes. Drinkers and smokers also have a higher risk of contracting Legionella. 

Since Legionella can be life-threatening, assessing a property for risks is of utmost importance when it comes to safeguarding the health of workers and tenants. 

Is Inspecting for Legionella a Legal Responsibility? 

Legionella legal responsibilities fall under legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the Management of Health and Safety at Work regulations 1999, and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002. 

Under these laws, employers and those in control of premises are obligated to assess and control Legionella risks of work activities and water facilities on the premises. This means a risk assessment must be conducted and controls put it in place. Note that it does not mean you must obtain a professional ‘Legionella free’ license, such an accreditation is neither a requirement, nor recognised by the HSE. 

A failure to conduct a risk assessment on its own won’t result in prosecution. However, there is an enhanced risk of litigation if a tenant were to contract legionella. 

Risk assessments must be updated every 24 months, unless there is a change in tenancy or the building’s water systems, in which case it needs to be repeated earlier. 

The Health and Safety Executive provides an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP), which gives guidance on how to meet these legal duties.

 What is a Legionella Risk Assessment?

A legionella risk assessment is an in-depth audit and examination of a building’s water sources and storage facilities, identifying all potential areas of risk and control measures that could be employed to rectify them. 

Besides this thorough review, it includes: 

  • Recording digital temperatures of all hot and cold-water sources 
  • Conducting a detailed evaluation of past assessments
  • Noting down details of water systems and all other findings (for future assessments)
  • Appointing a responsible legionella person on the property 

Water is also laboratory tested for legionella at industrial sites with large and complex water facilities such as cooling towers. This is not a part of routine risk assessments at domestic households or small workplaces, but professional services who conduct assessments often include this testing in their packages. It may take up to 10 days to receive test results. 

The duration of this assessment varies, depending on the size and complexity of the site. In a simple household with minimal risk, it doesn’t last longer than 20 minutes. 

Who Is Responsible for Legionella Risks Assessment?

It is the responsibility of the business owner, landlord, persons in charge of the water systems, or the person otherwise appointed as responsible for the property. They can conduct the assessment themselves or hire a third-party service to do so. 

How Much Does a Legionella Risk Assessment Cost? 

This will depend on the risk assessor you work with. But fees can run between £250 to £750. 

A cost-effective and easy solution for some is to conduct the assessment themselves. This is particularly possible if the building has a simple hot and cold-water system, as no professional training or license is required. Someone inspecting for legionella only needs to be aware of the property’s water facilities, the health and safety requirements, and the risks improper assessments can present. 

However, it may be advisable to get professionals to conduct an inspection if the site is too complex or the property owners feel they are not equipped for the undertaking. 

How Can You Learn to Conduct Legionella Assessments? 

There are numerous training programmes available, if you are interested in learning how to conduct your own legionella risk assessment. Several different organisations offer training courses on site across the country. 

To save time and some expense, online training options are also available. For instance, provider Human Focus offers Legionella Awareness Plus and Legionella Management for Responsible Persons, which give you the knowledge you need along with the convenience of studying in your own time and at your own location. Legionella Awareness training is also available to give an awareness level understanding of this hazard. 

How You Can Protect Yourself from Legionella? 

In the meantime, if you, as a tenant or a landlord, are looking for measures to lower legionella risk on your property, there are several things you can do. 

These include:

  • Regularly cleaning and disinfecting showerheads 
  • Adjusting and maintaining strict temperature parameters 
  • Informing landlords if the water is not heating or cooling effectively 
  • Not allowing water to collect over a long period of time 
  • Ensuring that water storage systems are tightly sealed
  • Using all hot and cold-water outlets regularly 

A detailed review of further control measures is covered in the Legionella Risk Management Principles for Responsible Persons course at Human Focus. 

The Bottom Line

A Legionella Risk Assessment is legally mandatory and in the best interests of everyone that occupies a property. However, conducting one is neither difficult nor expensive. If Legionella Awareness is made more accessible, anyone can employ measures to protect their property against a Legionella outbreak and conduct a risk assessment themselves.

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