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UK law is clear about Legionella risk assessment. Every landlord, building owner, or employer must have one. Your risk assessment will recommend how often you should be testing your water for legionella bacteria.

Dangers Posed by Legionella

Persons infected by the bacteria may develop Legionnaires’ disease or Pontiac Fever. These are serious diseases but not common. Legionella bacteria has a devastating effect on the elderly, infants or those with poor immunity, and it thrives in stagnant or low-temperature water.

You get infected through inhalation since this bacterium is airborne. Once you breathe it in, it goes straight to your lungs. These particles are too small to see and virtually invisible in water droplets. Unfortunately, one of the most common sources is through contaminated showerheads.

People infected with Legionella may have most if not all of these symptoms:

  • Pneumonia
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Cough (either dry or with sputum)
  • Muscle aches
  • Poor-coordination
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion / impaired cognition
  • Low heart rates
  • Poor functioning renal glands, liver or both

Where to Find Legionella

These bacteria can live in any body of water like rivers and streams. In addition, it also thrives in man-made water systems. This includes:

  • Hot or cold water storage tanks
  • Hot Tubs
  • Swimming or SPA pools
  • Showerheads
  • Taps and pipework
  • Fountains
  • Windshields wiper storage tanks
  • Other man-made water structures such as cooling towers where conditions are favourable for their growth

Legal Requirement for Legionella Testing

The UK has various laws with regards to these kinds of health risks. These include:

The Health and Safety at work Act 1974 – This is the main law that covers water safety regulations.

The Legionella Control Guidance HSG 274 – This contains the provisions for the dealing with the bacteria in hot and water cold systems.

Other related laws include:

  • Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 (section 2, 3, 4 and 6)
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1999 (regulations 6, 7, 8, 9 and 12)

These laws deal with the responsibility of employers, building owners and even landlord to the people living or working inside their structure.

Responsibility for Legionella Testing

As a landlord or employer, you have a Duty of Care to provide a safe water supply.  Regular testing of your hot water for legionella bacteria is an inexpensive way to prove your water is safe, plus it is so easy to do.

You should conduct this test because it is:

  • Good Business Practice – As a landlord or employer, watching out for the health of your tenants, employees or customers will help your business in the long run. Keep your water supply safe to keep your people or customers healthy and well. If you do, your rental property or business will prosper. People will want to do business with you, rent your property or patronize your product.
  • Protections from Legal Liabilities – Employers or building owners are legally responsible when it comes to health issues in your building. Under the HSWA, it’s your responsibility to make sure that any health and safety risks in the workplace are within acceptable limits. Failing to check your water supply for Legionella can be construed as negligence. That’s why it’s important to conduct preventive maintenance or periodic tests of your water systems.

Water Testing Frequency

There’s no regulation telling you when to do a Legionella test.  HSG 274 recommends it is carried out if you are unable to attain compliant temperatures at all time.  On the other hand, you’re legally required to conduct Legionella risk assessments. This requirement will set the frequency of your water tests. There are also other factors that will affect its regularity such as:

  • Changes in the water pipe systems and its use
  • Changes to the volume of water being used, low usage allows stagnation and encourages growth
  • A history of positive test results
  • An recent outbreak of Legionnaires Disease
  • A change to the building usage which increases or lowers the risk score

Testing will detect the presence of any health risks. Meanwhile, these preventive maintenance tips also check the spread of the disease:

  • Keep the hot water temperature above 60°C to kill bacteria.
  • Ensure hot and cold water tanks are clean, in good condition and have tight-fitting lids and rodent screens.
  • Bacteria tend to thrive in stagnant water and storage tanks are their favourite breeding ground. Consider using combi-boiler or instant water heaters instead.