05th Jul 2017

£1m fine for Legionnaire’s deaths – safety advice for homeowners

Legionnaire’s disease is usually associated with the water distribution systems of large buildings, including hotels and hospitals.  However, it can still creep into the home.    So what can you do as a homeowner to protect yourself?

Because legionella bacteria are natural inhabitants of water, this means that any part of a water system can be prone to legionella contamination.  This can happen if the water system in your home is poorly treated or left to stagnate.  People usually get it by breathing in mist from water that contains the bacteria, from taps and showers, or the spray from spas or whirlpools.

Legionella thrives in water temperatures of 20-43⁰C.  Consequently general good practice for homeowners is to keep your hot water at a high enough temperature and to regularly use your water systems to prevent stagnation.  Hot water should be stored at a minimum of 60⁰C and distributed so it does not drop below 50⁰C.  If you go on holiday for a few weeks and your home water system has been out of use in that time, on your return it’s a good idea to run a hot tap for a few minutes to flush any stagnant water from the pipes.

However, running hot water between 50⁰C and 60⁰C presents another problem in the home.  It increases the risk of scalds.   To eliminate the risks of scalding, the use of a thermostatic mixing valve (TMV) is recommended.  This is an inexpensive way to ensure the hot water delivered to a bath or washbasin does not exceed a pre-set temperature of 43⁰C.  A simple and effective TMV costs less than £30 and can be retro-fitted to the pipework of your existing bathroom. 

If you live in a rented property your landlord is obliged by law to ensure any water system is properly maintained and conforms to health and safety standards.  The Health &

Safety Executive provides guidelines for landlords about managing and monitoring the precautions they have in place to minimise the risk to tenants from exposure to legionella. 

Your landlord must maintain the water systems within their properties by inspecting all pipework and parts of the water system (hot and cold) annually.  These annual inspections will ensure water systems are properly treated, ie they are not corroded, contaminated with dirt, or covered in biofilm (a kind of slime coating). 

If you are in any doubt about whether your water system is safe, ask a competent installer to come and check it out. 

 

 

 

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