Advice on legionella

Legionellosis – more commonly known as “Legionaire’s Disease”

A potentially fatal infection caused by the Legionella pneumophila bacteria.  This unpleasant little germ thrives in warm, moist environments, and as such loves to set up home in the same places as human beings – our buildings.  The bacteria can thrive in almost any warm, moist environment, including plumbing systems, air conditioning systems, cooling towers, and domestic fittings such as showers and whirlpool baths.  And it can spread through the air for up to several kilometres from its source, carried by infected water droplets.

How can you catch it?

People can catch the disease by inhaling these tiny droplets, which deposit the bacteria inside the respiratory tract and lungs. 

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms often occur after an incubation period of up to 14 days – typically include inflammation of the lungs (pneumonia), fever, and a severe cough.  Some sufferers also get muscle aches, head aches, tiredness, stomach upsets and loss of appetite and lack of co-ordination.  Fatality rates can be as high as 30%, with the elderly, middle-aged, and those already suffering from weakened lungs or immune systems most vulnerable.  

Legionella hits the headlines

Fatal outbreaks struck in Stoke-on-Trent this summer, and in June when around 100 cases were reported in Edinburgh, and sadly three people died.  Several cooling towers around the city were investigated as the potential source of the infection.  The outbreak in Stoke-on-Trent was thought to come from a hot tub.

However it is important to put this problem in perspective. 

The vast majority of people will never encounter this disease, and the most of those who are exposed do not become ill.  The infection is not thought to pass from person to person, and if the infection is caught early, treatment with antibiotics is usually effective. 

Of course, prevention is better than cure.  Current legislation obliges anyone in control of a premises, including employers and landlords, to take responsibility for health & safety and take appropriate steps to reduce the risk of exposure to this bacteria and therefore the risk of the disease itself. 

What can you do?

All landlords are required to carry out a risk assessment themselves, or appoint a consultant to advise them.  This risk assessment should be regularly reviewed.  All parts of the water system in a building need to be fully understood and the risk of Legionella developing in, and spreading from, each part assessed.  When a genuine risk is found, the landlord is required to appoint a “competent person” to manage the risk.  This “competent person” should have the skills, knowledge and experience to be able to effectively manage the risk on their behalf. 

Various steps can be taken to reduce the risk of Legionella developing in the first place.  These can include replacing systems, or parts of systems, that promote the bacteria.  Examples would include replacing a wet-cooled system with a dry, air-cooled system; removing redundant and “dead-leg” pipework which could harbour stagnant water; and replacing fittings and materials known to encourage Legionella growth, with new fittings approved by the Water Regulations Advisory Scheme.   

Where non-preventable risks are identified, control measures must be implemented.  These can include regular cleaning and sterilisation of the system; treatment of the water itself to either kill the bacteria, or limit its growth; altering the temperature of the water away from the bacterium’s preferred temperature range of 20 – 45 degrees C; and reducing the amount of water spray released into the air. 

What can we at Trinity Estates do?

As managing agents of over 500 estates across England and Wales, with regionally based Estate Managers, we are well-versed in working in partnership with freeholders, Resident Directors and specialist contractors to ensure such risks are minimised, or eliminated. Our Estate Managers can call on the advice of our in-house surveying department, as well as specialist contractors, to ensure full compliance with recognised good practice, and legislation such as;

  • The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974,
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 200. 

Water risk assessments are carried out on all estates where potentially vulnerable systems are situated within the common parts, and the necessary preventative cleaning and maintenance works carried out by specialist contractors.  

The risk assessments of our vulnerable estates are regularly reviewed and where appropriate maintenance schedules can be altered to allow for any changes in the use of the common parts water systems.  And where risks cannot be reasonably reduced then systems will be recommended for removal or replacement.  As such our residents can be assured that all reasonable measures are being taken by their estate manager to minimise the risk.

At Trinity we recognise the importance of Health and Safety and our “in-house” surveying team undertake risk assessments on developments we manage. If you would like to discuss this article or any other Health and Safety issue please contact our surveying team.

Let us take care of your development, so you take care of your home.

Contact us

0845 345 1584