Are you aware of the recent change in legislation that puts the onus on you to properly control and assess the risk of your guests’ exposure to legionella?
You may think Legionnaires’ Disease isn’t all that common, but there are some very good reasons why the change in legislation has been introduced – and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Firstly, it might be more common than you think; it’s just not always diagnosed, and there are likely a lot more incidences than are recorded as the cause of illness – or even death.
However, a recent outbreak of Legionnaires actually led to the deaths of four people, whilst 96 were hospitalised and thousands more were very ill.
So, how can you ensure your guests are safe from this risk as part of your legal requirement?
As an experienced holiday letting agent, it’s not only my duty to ensure my guests’ are safe, but also to make other holiday let owners aware of the risks – which is why I’m writing this blog.
Legionnaires’ Disease: the facts for holiday let owners
Potentially fatal, Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia that can be contracted by inhaling very fine water droplets.
Anyone could be susceptible to legionnaires’, however, the risk of infection increases with age, along with other factors.
Those at higher risk include:
- Anyone aged 45+
- Smokers and anyone who drinks heavily
- Anyone suffering from lung or heart disease, chronic respiratory or kidney disease, and diabetes
- Anyone who has an impaired immune system
(Of course, with guests, it’s impossible to know these things unless they tell you – in contrast to, say, a long-term tenant – which is why it’s important to assess the risk and take measures to control it)
It’s common for legionella bacteria to be found in natural water sources, including lakes, rivers and ponds.
However, they can also be present in purpose-built water systems, like:
- Hot and cold water systems
- Spa pools and jacuzzis
- Cooling towers
- Evaporative condensers
A typical incubation period can be anywhere from two to 10 days, and symptoms can be very similar to what you’d expect from the flu, or pneumonia, including chills, high fever, a dry cough, headaches, muscle pains and breathing difficulties.
What action do you need to take right now?
There are some essential things you should do when managing legionella in your holiday let, and I’ve listed them out below:
- Arrange for a legionella risk assessor to conduct an assessment of your property’s hot and cold water systems (or if you feel you’re competent, you can do this yourself). The assessment should include the overall risk, an asset register, a legionella control problem, and a water system schematic.
- Implement necessary and appropriate measures to prevent or control the risks of legionella in your holiday let, by following the recommendations in your risk assessment.
- Inform guests of their responsibility to inform you if there are any defects in the heating or hot water.
- Review the risk assessment at a minimum of every two years (with a quick review every 12 months) – or when any changes are made to your system (such as changing your central heating, or making changes to the building).
- Regularly check and inspect water temperatures, ensure shower heads and hoses are routinely (at least every quarter) cleaned and disinfected, and flush water systems once per week. A risk assessment checklist is available here.
- Keep a notice on your boiler asking guests not to alter the boiler temperature and to report any issues straight away to you (the owner). You should also check this hasn’t been turned down during changeovers, as guests may not even realise they’ve done so.
- Ensure the temperature of stored hot water is kept at a minimum temperature of 60°C (Psst! It’s also wise to ask your engineer when he’s doing the gas safety check – which is also a legal requirement – to ensure it’s set correctly)
- For stored water tanks, the temperature should be kept at a minimum of 60°C – this should not be lowered to save energy.
- Check for dead legs in the system (such as redundant washing machine outlets – most machines are cold-fed now, so removing any feeds that are still connected means no stagnation of water).
TIP: It’s recommended that any contractor you hire should be City and Guilds qualified to carry out legionella risk assessments, so if required you can prove their competency. However this really isn’t necessary and you can do this yourself if you feel confident enough.
How to routinely flush your holiday let’s system
Hopefully you’ll have plenty of bookings for your holiday let (so the water system is kept moving), but it’s still vitally important for me to quote HSG 274 Part 2, in terms of flushing your holiday let’s system once per week:
“As a general principle, outlets on hot and cold water systems should be used at least once a week to maintain a degree of water flow and minimise the chances of stagnation. To manage the risks during non-occupancy, consider implementing a suitable flushing regime or other measures, such as draining the system if the dwelling is to remain vacant for long periods.”
This activity is something that should always be recorded on your legionella risk management sheet.
All you have to do is ensure the water circulates round the hot and cold water systems by turning on all of your taps and outlets in your property (at the same time) for around 2 minutes.
Just be wary because water that has been left sitting unused in the system may contain legionella bacteria, so in order to spot aerosol being produced (and infecting the person doing the flushing), taps and outlets should be cracked open rather than turned on fully. Tip: Place a tea towel over the taps before turning them on to limit the aerosol production.
The person responsible for flushing should then leave the room to avoid breathing in water droplets from the shower.
TIP: If someone else (like a cleaner) is flushing your system for you, make sure they’re fully aware of these instructions.
Advice from an experienced holiday letting agent
It’s vital you’re aware of your responsibilities for preventing Legionnaires’ Disease as a holiday let owner – yet it’s scary how many people simply aren’t aware of the duties I’ve mentioned above.
There are some tests you can buy online to test for legionella in your shower, water or water heaters, for example – however, these aren’t normally required in a normal household.
If you don’t feel confident doing this yourself, we’d recommend getting a professional assessment by a qualified risk assessor, as they’ve had the correct training to do this competently.
Once you receive your risk assessment, it’s important to carry out any recommendations, along with all the best practices I’ve listed above – including thorough, regular cleaning of taps and showerheads (don’t forget any spray taps in your kitchen, as these are often forgotten about!).
It might also be a good idea to have protection against Legionnaires’ Disease in your holiday let’s insurance policy – especially if you have a pool or hot tub (although there are separate checks for these). Please note, you’ll only be able to claim if you’ve followed the regulations and carried out an assessment.
I hope you’ve found this blog helpful when learning more about your responsibilities for preventing Legionnaires’ Disease. It’s scary how many people aren’t already aware of this!
Remember; don’t panic. As long as you’ve had a risk assessment carried out and follow all of the practices I’ve outlined in this blog, you can feel rest assured that you’re doing everything you can to prevent an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease.
If you have any questions, or need some advice on this issue, please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment below – or alternatively, get in touch with me directly. I’m happy to help!