Legionella Control for Housing

by Water Hygiene Centre, on 27-09-2018
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Landlords have a legal responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their tenants by keeping property safe and free from health hazards.

What is a landlord?

Anyone who rents out a property (or even just a room) they own for a period of less than 7-years in duration. The following list is not exhaustive, but landlords include:

  • local authorities,
  • housing associations,
  • private sector landlords,
  • housing co-operatives,
  • hostels.

What is required?

The Health & Safety Executive [HSE] provide advice on their website in respect to Legionella and landlords’ responsibilities. In a nutshell, all systems require a risk assessment in the first instance. The situation was clarified following the publication in 2013 of the fourth edition of the Health & Safety Executive’s Approved Code of Practice [ACOP] “Legionnaires’ Disease, The Control of Legionella Bacteria in Water Systems”, L8. However, while the ACOP was updated, it didn't change or alter the responsibilities placed on landlords who have always had a duty to carry out risk assessments and manage the risk from Legionella bacteria to their tenants.


Risk Assessment

The water systems in many single residential properties are simple and unlikely to represent a significant risk when used regularly. Likewise control measures are also likely to be simple without the need for convoluted ongoing interventions. The information on the Health & Safety Executive’s website states:

“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.”

All systems should be assessed but the programme of assessment should be reasonably practicable. This may mean, in the first instance, undertaking a desktop appraisal of risk to identify properties that could represent an increased risk, for example:

  • properties in which the typical occupants may be of increased susceptibility to infections (e.g. sheltered housing schemes or hostels);
  • larger and more complex properties and water systems (e.g. multi-dwelling units, HMOs etc.)
  • features of the water system design that increase the likelihood of bacterial colonisation (e.g. the presence of hot or cold water storage tanks);
  • the age of construction and/or subsequent refurbishments; this may indicate properties in which plumbing is unlikely to comply with current standards.

Of course, there may be other reasons why one property represents a higher risk than another and there is no substitute for an inspection of site water services when it comes to determining the actual risk. Risk assessment of a sample of sites can provide a representative cross-section of the properties to identify the priorities for the future programme of assessments and control measures. 


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Risk assessments should identify sub-standard installations and suggest how they might be removed, replaced or improved to minimise the risk. The risk assessment should also identify any control measures that are required to prevent further risk or, where prevention is not reasonably practicable, control any residual risk that may exist. 


Control Measures

The HSE’s ACOP L8 state that:

All systems require a risk assessment, however not all systems will require elaborate control measures. A simple risk assessment may show that the risks are low and being properly managed to comply with the law. In such cases, you may not need to take further action, but it is important to review your assessment regularly in case of any changes in your system, and specifically if there is reason to suspect it is no longer valid”; and “Other simple control measures to help control the risk of exposure to Legionella include:

  • flushing out the system prior to letting the property;
  • avoiding debris getting into the system (e.g. ensure the cold water tanks, where fitted, have a tight fitting lid);
  • setting control parameters (e.g. setting the temperature of the hot water cylinder (calorifier) to ensure water is stored at 60°C);
  • make sure any redundant pipework identified is removed;
  • The risk is further lowered where instantaneous water heaters (for example combi boilers and electric showers) are installed because there is no water storage.” 

Persons undertaking the control measures and any other work on the plumbing systems should be trained in the risks from Legionella bacteria and competent to undertake the work.


Advice for Tenants

The HSE also advise that “landlords should inform their tenants about the action taken to control the risk from Legionella bacteria and advise them how they should be maintained:

  • Do not adjust the hot water temperature;
  • Keep the showerheads and taps clean;
  • Report faults with the system so that appropriate action can be taken;
  • Flush the showers and taps after any period of disuse longer than one week in duration.”


In Summary

All rental properties require a Legionella risk assessment. For landlords with only a small number of properties undertaking risk assessments, or commissioning them, should not be an onerous proposition. However, landlords or agents with responsibility for a large number of properties require a robust plan for the management of the risk from Legionnaires’ disease. These organisations need to make sure that property managers are competent and/or have access to competent help. 

Editors Note: The information provided in this blog is correct at date of original publication - September 2018. 

© Water Hygiene Centre 2019


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About the author

Water Hygiene Centre

The Water Hygiene Centre was established in 2009 to address the lack of independent water hygiene consultancy within the industry. From our humble beginnings, we have established ourselves as a market leader, helping clients identify and minimise the risk of waterborne contamination and disease, whilst improving compliance performance.

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