Daniel Kittow considers whether having a Legionella Risk Assessment is really a necessary addition to the landlord’s burden of responsibilities or if it’s a prudent insurance policy.
Legionella is a bacteria that can grow in man made hot and cold water systems, and is potentially fatal to humans. Inhalation of the bacteria can lead to the contracting of Legionnaires disease, a serious form of pneumonia with hundreds of reported cases every year, with an average of 84 deaths every year (between 2013 and 2015), a rate of 8.4% of the total cases.
Of these 84 deaths, 66 of them are from community cases. The fatality rate increases significantly in these community cases, with 11.6% of all confirmed cases being fatal.
Given the relatively high fatality rate it appears essential that landlords understand and discharge their responsibilities properly when it comes to assessing the risk of legionella contamination in their rented properties. However, there is significant debate as to how they do this; many consultants and letting agents have come under fire for encouraging their landlords to undertake independent assessments at a cost of over £100, with landlords suggesting it is an excuse to push more fees their way.
However, the Health and Safety Executive do state that a landlord has a statutory obligation to “…consider, assess, and control the risks of exposure to Legionella…”. They go on to stress that, “All water systems require an assessment of the risk which they can carry out themselves if they are competent, or employ somebody who is.”
There is clear language here that suggests a landlord is required to actively assess and control the risk of legionella in their let properties – and the inference is that if assessments weren’t carried out and a tenant was to contract Legionnaires disease then this would be grounds for legal redress. The only question that remains is whether the landlord chooses to assess the risks themselves, or to use a third party.
A self-assessment could fall into a couple of different categories – either an assessment is carried out by the landlord themselves with no prior training, or after they have been trained. Given that the HSE state that the person carrying out the assessment should be “competent” – defining this as “someone who has the necessary skills, experience and knowledge to manage health and safety…” – it would make sense to assume that a landlord with no prior experience and/or training of carrying out Legionella Risk Assessments would not be deemed a competent person. Training courses can be found very easily and their costs range greatly, from simple online solutions to multi day classroom environments costing hundreds of pounds.
The alternative to self-assessment is of course to utilise a letting agent or to use a third party risk assessment business. The benefit of this approach is that it is far less hassle and a third party’s professional indemnity removes virtually any risk of the landlord being held liable should a tenant contract Legionnaires disease. The potential downside of this approach is the cost of utilising a third party, with prices ranging from £45 to over £100 depending on how much you shop around.
In summary it is very clear from the HSE guidelines that a landlord needs to undertake some form of risk assessment around legionella. The only debate left is how a landlord undertakes this – doing nothing is simply not a viable option.
 A community-acquired case is defined as a…case where the potential source is in the community or where there is no evidence for a healthcare or travel associated source. A community exposure should be considered for all cases with the exception of those that have been in a healthcare facility or abroad for the entire incubation. (Public Health England, 2016).