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One less visible yet critically important concern that has emerged from property being left void is the heightened risk of Legionella bacteria in underused water systems, indicating the importance of a legionella risk assessment.

According to Public Health England, approximately 300 to 500 cases of Legionnaire’s Disease are reported each year among residents of England and Wales. Of these, approximately 10% of cases are fatal. For that reason alone, a legionella risk assessment is absolutely fundamental to the safety of a property’s visitors and occupants.

Legionella, which is responsible for Legionnaires' disease, thrives in stagnant water environments found in unused or infrequently used properties. This was really brought into view as businesses and residential buildings shut down to curb the spread of COVID-19. Since then, there has been a heightened emphasis on managing Legionella.

However, to achieve that, understanding the risks associated with Legionella and ensuring proper water system management is crucial. In this blog we’ll look at the nature of Legionella, outline the risks associated with it, and provide a comprehensive guide on conducting a Legionella risk assessment.

Specifically, we will highlight how using Inventory Base’s Legionella risk assessment template can make this critical process much simpler.

What is Legionella?

Legionella is a type of bacteria that naturally occurs in freshwater environments like lakes and streams but can become a health concern when it grows unchecked in human-made water systems, especially in our homes and business premises.

This bacterium is the cause of legionellosis, an umbrella term for diseases caused by Legionella, including the severe form of pneumonia known as Legionnaires' disease and the milder flu-like illness known as Pontiac fever.

How is Legionella contracted?

Legionnaires' disease is contracted when individuals inhale microscopic water droplets or mist contaminated with the bacteria. It is important to note that the disease does not spread from person to person but through inhalation of contaminated water droplets from environments where the bacteria have multiplied.

Public Health England states: “Cases occur throughout the year but a seasonal pattern is observed with many more cases reported with onset of symptoms over the summer months from June to October.”

Common sources in the built environment include shower heads, cooling towers, hot tubs, and plumbing systems—anywhere water can stagnate enough to allow the bacteria to thrive.

What temperature does Legionella need to thrive?

The ideal growth temperature for Legionella is between 20°C and 50°C (68°F and 122°F), with optimal proliferation occurring when water temperatures are between 35°C and 46°C (95°F to 115°F).

This makes poorly maintained water heaters and other water systems potential breeding grounds for the bacteria. If they’re not properly managed, these systems can create a health risk to occupants, particularly the elderly or individuals with weakened immune systems or chronic lung disease.

The first step is understanding Legionella

Given the potentially fatal outcomes of Legionnaires' disease, understanding how to control and prevent Legionella growth in water systems is crucial for those responsible for building maintenance, including property managers, agents and landlords.

This understanding starts with a thorough legionella risk assessment, ideally supported by things like a purpose-built legionella risk assessment template, which helps ensure all regulatory requirements and safety measures are checked off efficiently and effectively.

What are the legal requirements?

Managing the risk of Legionella in water systems is not just a best practice but also a legal requirement. For property owners, agents and property managers, understanding and complying with these regulations is crucial to safeguard the health of occupants and avoid potentially severe legal problems down the line.

In the United Kingdom, the control of Legionella bacteria in water systems is governed by several key pieces of legislation and guidelines, which include:

Health & Safety Executive L8 (Fourth Edition) Approved Code of Practice and Guidance on Regulations (2013)

This document, often referred to simply as ACOP L8, provides practical advice on how to comply with the law concerning the control of Legionella bacteria in water systems. It outlines the legal responsibilities of duty holders, which include employers, those in control of premises, and people with health and safety responsibilities for others.

HSE Legionnaires’ Disease Technical Guidance HSG274 Part 2

The HSE guidance provides detailed information on specific control measures for systems known to be a risk, such as hot and cold water systems, cooling towers, and other plant equipment. It lays out how to design, operate, and maintain water services under conditions that prevent the growth and proliferation of Legionella bacteria.

What are the compliance requirements for Legionella?

The compliance process generally involves several key steps. This is not an exhaustive list, so be sure to follow the legal guidance outlined by Public Health England and the Health & Safety Executive.

  1. Risk Assessment: This is a foundational step which involves identifying and assessing sources of risk. This includes examining all potential sources of Legionella and identifying whether conditions allow the bacteria to flourish. The assessment must be performed regularly and whenever there are changes to the water system or its use, or changes to the building usage.
  2. Written Scheme of Control: This involves creating a written scheme of control for preventing or controlling the risk from Legionella. This should detail the measures in place to manage risks and achieve compliance with the law.
  3. Implementation: After that, implementing and managing the control measures as described in the written scheme is vital. This includes regular monitoring of the system’s conditions, maintaining and inspecting the equipment, and ensuring water quality.
  4. Record Keeping: Maintaining records of the implementation and monitoring of the system cannot be forgotten. Records should include details of the control measures applied and the results of any checks carried out. These records can help prove compliance in the event of an inspection or audit by health and safety officers.
  5. Training and Competence: Another fundamental element is ensuring that all employees involved in work that affects water system safety are competently trained and understand their responsibilities. This extends to employing or contracting individuals qualified to carry out the risk assessment and related control measures if this cannot be effectively done in-house.

Using technology to manage Legionella risk

For property owners, agents and managers to simplify compliance with these detailed requirements, it is advised they use technology such as specialised software that helps them conduct a detailed Legionella risk assessment.

These apps can help organise and manage the necessary documentation, guide users through the compliance process step-by-step, and provide reminders for regular maintenance and reassessment, thus ensuring ongoing compliance with legal requirements.

Of course, the first step is understanding the legal requirements and guidelines, as non-compliance can lead to severe penalties, including fines and imprisonment, besides the obvious health risks to building occupants. After that, it’s important to ensure that duty holders are able to safely and efficiently carry out their legionella inspections.

Inventory Base Legionella Risk Assessment template download
Inventory Base’s Legionella Risk Assessment template generates bespoke, shareable reports

Why use a Legionella Risk Assessment template?

As we’ve seen, when it comes to the management of water systems, ensuring compliance with health and safety regulations is absolutely vital. A Legionella Risk Assessment Template can be a crucial tool that helps to guide users through the process of assessing and managing the risk of Legionella in their properties.

Let’s take a look at how this template not only facilitates compliance but also enhances the effectiveness of the risk management process:

A structured and comprehensive approach

Any Legionella Risk Assessment Template worth its salt is designed to align with the Health & Safety Executive's guidance. It provides a systematic approach to evaluating the potential risks associated with Legionella in water systems, ensuring that all regulatory aspects are addressed:

  • Section-by-Section: Each section of the template correlates specifically to relevant parts of the HSE guidelines, ensuring that the assessment is comprehensive and leaves no regulatory stone unturned.
  • Detailed risk assessment: The template includes detailed checklists and prompts that help identify potential risk factors in the water system, breaking down the legionella risk assessment into manageable sections.

Simplifying compliance

One of the primary benefits of using a Legionella Risk Assessment Template is because it makes the whole process of compliance much simpler. Risk assessment templates are not to be used as a legal aid – users should still ensure they are qualified and competent to evaluate the risks by completing a certified course.

  • Ensuring consistency: The template standardises the risk assessment process across different properties, giving consistency which is crucial for businesses and individuals that need to ensure uniform compliance.
  • Ease of use: Designed with clarity and ease of use in mind, a legionella risk assessment template will guide users through the necessary steps of conducting a risk assessment, reducing the risk of oversight.
  • Documentation and record keeping: The template helps users maintain proper documentation, which is, as we’ve discussed, a key requirement by law, providing an audit trail that can be critical in the event of a Legionella outbreak.

Manage Legionella risk with Inventory Base

Inventory Base’s Legionella Risk Assessment Templates (basic and detailed) are an invaluable resource for property managers, agents, inventory professionals, and anyone responsible for the maintenance of water systems in properties, providing a clear, structured, and easy-to-follow framework.

The template aids in compliance and significantly enhances the effectiveness of Legionella risk management efforts, ultimately protecting the health of both the occupants and the property, while also providing peace of mind by ensuring that all regulatory requirements are met comprehensively.

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