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The safety of water systems is an important legal requirement for the management of every property. It is never more vital than when a property is standing empty, as Legionella bacteria can thrive and multiply in unused water systems. We look at how a regular property inspection can help manage risks and potential liabilities.

Why is management of water systems in a property so important?

Landlords have a legal duty to assess and control the risk to tenants, visitors and occupiers relating to Legionella. Legionella bacteria are found in nature but they can thrive and grow in water systems, particularly if the property stands unused for any period of time, the systems are not kept moving and/or not kept at a sufficiently high temperature. Legionnaires disease can result from exposure to Legionella, resulting in pneumonia and even death. 

To manage the risk of Legionella, it is important that properties are subject to regular review while they remain empty and that the necessary management action is taken before the property is used again. 

How can a property inspection help to manage legionella risk?

With any property the landlord should notify the tenant of the risk of Legionella exposure in the property and the consequences of such exposure. They should also share any action points from their risk assessment if this is relevant in the circumstances, and give tenants common sense but necessary advice about managing day to day risks. This will include, for example, requiring tenants to notify their landlord if the heating or water systems are not working correctly and advising tenants to keep the water system flowing and not to reduce the temperature of hot water in the heating system. 

Managing Legionella risk is particularly important where a property has not been used for some time. There are additional actions which should be undertaken before the landlord allows the property to be reoccupied, for example flushing through the water system by running all the taps, cleaning and disinfecting shower heads and reinspecting water tanks and the heating controls. Any water tanks should have close fitting lids to reduce the risks. The property inspection should also check whether there have been any changes to the property which have made pipework redundant, in which case the redundant pipes should be removed to prevent water standing in them. 

It is wise to make sure that the heating and water systems in an empty property are used at least once a week, but if this cannot be achieved then the property manager should consider draining the system completely before reoccupation. 

Hot water should be heated to at least 60 degrees centigrade and stored at or above this temperature to reduce the risks associated with Legionella but it is not uncommon for tenants to reduce heating temperatures. The heating controls should therefore be checked to ensure that the settings remain appropriate to manage risk. Those responsible for managing any property should always follow the latest Legionella guidance available from HSE and carefully record the steps they have taken to assess and manage Legionella risk. 

Failure to correctly assess and control the risk from Legionella quite rightly has severe consequences for landlords. Exposure to bacteria can be fatal. For this reason, breach of the legislation can result in fines or even imprisonment for landlords and a prosecution can result from exposure of an occupier or visitor to the property to risk, even if ill health does not actually result. 

Given the potential consequences of failing to correctly assess and control Legionella risk, it is vital for those managing property to keep full and accurate records of the action they have taken to assess and control the risks. It is here that Inventorybase can help: our innovative property inspection app allows you to capture records, produce reports and attach them to properties quickly and easily. 

Our property inventory software updates you on diary actions required for each of your properties in real-time, meaning that you can be assured that you will not miss a required inspection or action date. Using our software, you can quickly check whether risk assessments have been carried out and when updates and inspections are due, and check that all required information has been given to tenants at the outset of a tenancy.