Date Published 27 March 2012



A new duty has fallen on letting agents and landlords – to carry out risk assessments for legionnaire's disease, and if necessary, take action.

The Health and Safety Executive has released a revised Approved Code of Practice: Legionaires' disease: The control of legionella bacteria in water systems.

It underlines legal requirements for landlords and managing agents to ensure that the risk from exposure to legionella from all water systems in residential rental premises is controlled.

Whose responsibility it will be – ie, agent or landlord – can be answered by a simple question: if a tap breaks or leaks, who is responsible for getting it repaired?

The new guidance insists that landlords and agents must keep records for at least five years. They must give details on all aspects of risk assessment control.

To comply with the law, landlords and agents need to be aware that legionella bacteria can multiply in hot or cold water systems and storage tanks, and be spread via showers and taps. Risk assessments must identify and assess potential sources of exposure, and steps take to prevent or control any risk that is identified.

Risk assessments can normally be carried out by agents or landlords, and include assessing whether conditions are right for bacteria to flourish – in water tempteratures between 20C and 45C. Areas of stagnant water, infrequently used outlets, debris in the system, and thermostatic mixing valves should all be inspected.

However, the part of the risk assessment likely to cause most problem is whether any particular tenants, such as older people or those already ill, might be vulnerable to infection.

Landlords and agents will also have to balance one set of advice – to raise the temperature of warm water to control legionella – against the risk of possible burns and scalding.

Steps taken to control the threat of legionella include disinfecting the system, ensuring no water can stagnate anyway, insulating pipework, and keeping water cisterns covered and free of debris.

Tenants should also be advised about risks, and told to take precautions such as flushing through showers they rarely use.

Anyone with concerns can contact their local HSE office of environmental health department.