Protecting Residents from Legionnaires’ Disease: A Guide for Landlords and Commercial Property Owners

    As a landlord, you have a responsibility to keep your residents safe to the best of your ability. One thing you need to be aware of is the legionella risk assessment for your properties. Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria, poses a significant health risk in communal living environments. For landlords and commercial property owners, understanding and mitigating this risk is not only a matter of public health but a legal responsibility as well.

    Understanding Legionnaires’ Disease

    Legionnaires’ disease is contracted by inhaling small droplets of water contaminated with Legionella bacteria. Common in natural water sources, these bacteria become a health concern in man-made water systems like cooling towers, hot tubs, and large plumbing systems. Symptoms resemble pneumonia, including coughing, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, and headaches. The disease can be particularly severe, sometimes fatal, especially among older adults, smokers, and those with weakened immune systems. Its occurrence in properties like apartment buildings, hotels, or hospitals, where many people share water systems, underscores the need for stringent water safety practices.

    Legal Responsibilities of Landlords and Property Owners

    The law requires landlords and commercial property owners to ensure their water systems are safe and do not pose a health hazard to residents. This responsibility involves adhering to regulations, including guidelines set by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Failure to comply can result in significant legal repercussions, including fines and lawsuits, especially in the event of an outbreak traced back to negligence in water system maintenance. Regular inspections aren’t generally conducted by officials but it is recommended that legionella testing is conducted regularly or when changes are made to the water system, particularly the installation of combi-boilers or new shower systems.

    Preventative Measures

    Preventing Legionnaires’ disease centers on proper maintenance of water systems. Regular inspection, cleaning, and disinfection of water tanks and plumbing are crucial. Landlords need to ensure regular inspection and check every time there is a major change to the water system for their properties. Key preventive measures include:

    • Ensuring water temperatures are either high enough to kill bacteria (above 140°F) or low enough to hinder their growth (below 68°F).
    • Regularly flushing out water systems, particularly in low-usage areas, to prevent water stagnation.
    • Implementing a water safety plan, as recommended by the World Health Organization, tailored to the specific water systems of the property.
    • Conducting periodic water tests to detect the presence of Legionella bacteria and keeping a regular log of all Legionella tests and examinations.

    These measures not only prevent disease but also demonstrate a commitment to tenant safety, which can enhance a property’s reputation and trustworthiness. To ensure their knowledge and understanding, you should keep them informed of any checks and make

    sure they are aware of when the water systems will need to be checked to minimize disruption.

    Responding to a Legionella Outbreak

    In the event of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, immediate action is required. This includes consulting the HSE immediately and following its advice, conducting a thorough investigation to identify and eliminate the source, and deploying regular water testing. You may also need to make tenants aware of the risk, depending on the nature of the case. Communicating transparently with residents about the situation and measures taken can help reassure tenants that the right action is being taken and that they are safe.

    This is also why legionella record keeping is incredibly important. Not only does this allow you to reassure residents that the correct steps have been taken but in the case that an outbreak does happen, you will be able to prove that it wasn’t caused by negligence. Regular testing and documentation for legionella help ensure that both you and your tenants are safe and protected.

    In summary, the threat of Legionnaires’ disease in communal living and commercial spaces requires landlords and property owners to be vigilant. Through regular maintenance, adherence to legal guidelines, and prompt response to potential outbreaks, you can significantly reduce the risk and ensure a safe living environment for your residents.


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