When should I test for legionella is one of the key questions which anyone with responsibility for the management and control of health and safety in the workplace, and in particular the delivery of safe water supplies asks.
The simple answer would be to do whatever the UK’s safety laws require you to do… and here we’ll explain more.
The regulator in this area, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) set out in their Approved Code of Practice ACOP L8 and health and safety guidance HSG274 publications many aspects for the control of legionella in the workplace, including when legionella testing is required.
The ACOP and guidance documentation are aimed at keeping people safe from the dangers of the potentially fatal condition known as Legionnaires’ disease.
Understanding your obligations to control legionella is essential
However, most people have never read the HSE’s ACOP L8 or HSG274 documents, probably because of their extensive technical detail. They are not really documents which are designed for the lay person, but should be considered essential reading for those with responsibility for the safety of water systems at work.
This could include business owners, landlords, health and safety managers, property and estates managers, the legionella responsible person and the appointed duty holder.
When should you test for legionella?
We’re going to look at the HSE’s key documents highlighting the main issues relating to the requirements for legionella sampling and water testing.
One important point to note is that the requirement for testing for legionella doesn’t apply across the board. However, there are a number of circumstances when legionella testing is required and these include:
Other situations where testing for legionella is recommended
The HSE also sets out other examples of situations where testing for legionella is recommended and these include:
How and where to take legionella water samples
Each water system is different and you will have to look at its design, inherent risks and how it is performing to work out where to take water samples, and how many samples to take.
The key to any legionella sampling programme is to make sure that you are getting a representative sample of all of the water in the system.
… keep your hot water hot, your cold water cold, and keep it moving.
Samples should be taken from both hot and cold outlets rather than a mix of warm and cold water flowing through a mixer tap.
It’s good practice to label samples clearly with details of the outlet, the date and where they were taken from. This allows for easy identification once the legionella testing results are available.
Another recommendation is to “flush” the water system when taking samples. This means taking the first sample immediately after turning the valve, shower or tap on – called pre-flush. Then leave the water running for at least two minutes before taking another sample for comparison – post-flush.
There are a range of recommendations about where you should aim to take samples of water for legionella testing. These include:
The dangers caused by dead legs and stagnation
Dead legs are sections of pipework which have no outlet. This could be because there was previously a tap or shower which has been removed, but where the old pipe remains connected to the water system.
Many experts also label taps or pipes which are only used very occasionally as dead legs or little used outlets. These dead leg pipes and little used outlets allow water to pool and stagnate. This can increase the legionella risks as the stagnant conditions provide the ideal environment for microbial growth.
Controlling legionella using water temperature
Legionella bacteria thrives in temperatures between 20 °C and 45 °C. This is why the HSE’s guidance recommends keeping hot water above 50 °C, and cold water below 20 °C.
Legionella thrives in temperatures between 20 °C and 45 °C
Put simply, you should keep your hot water hot, your cold water cold, and keep it moving.
More guidance on water sampling
Although every water system is different, there are a few general guidelines to help you work out where to sample water for legionella testing.
Testing cold water for legionella
In cold water systems the sampling points can include:
- The point of entry (or the nearest outlet) where water comes from a private supply. Take samples here also if the temperature of the water coming from the mains supply is over 20 °C, or is drawn above that temperature from a water storage tank.
- Both the furthest and nearest outlets on each branch of the system, these are often referred to as sentinel outlets.
Testing for legionella in hot water systems
In hot water systems, samples should be taken at:
- The outlet at the base of the water heater, as long as the pressure is low enough to allow you to do this.
- From the furthest and nearest outlets on each branch of the system.
- From the furthest and nearest point on any loop which water circulates around.
Residential landlords and rental property
It is usually the responsibility of a residential landlord – not the tenant – to manage the potential risks from Legionella bacteria and Legionnaires’ disease in their property.
It’s a legal requirement for landlords to conduct a legionella risk assessment and to take steps to control any risks identified in that assessment.
If a landlord has an empty property after a tenant leaves, the risk from legionella may increase because the water systems are left unused allowing the water in them to stagnate.
It is essential that landlords should know what to do to stop water stagnating in their water systems. In general terms, this means making sure that the hot and cold water is flushed at least once a week to keep the water flowing and to stop any risk of stagnation.
If a landlord knows that their property is going to be unoccupied for longer periods, they could think about draining the water systems or paying someone to go in and flush through the system regularly.
What about Legionnaires’ disease at home?
When it comes to privately owned domestic or residential properties, there are no legal requirement to manage or test for legionella. However, that doesn’t mean that home owners should ignore the risks from legionella entirely.
There is lots of help and advice available for homeowners who wish to understand more about Legionnaires’ disease and water testing.
Expert legionella testing and risk management solutions
Water Treatment Services offer a range of legionella testing and water safety risk management solutions to support businesses and those responsible for the safety of engineered water systems in the workplace.
Our water safety experts can help you manage your water systems, maintain regulatory compliance and so keep people safe.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained technicians and engineers we can offer specialist legionella risk assessments, training, water testing and other risk management solutions to businesses throughout the UK and Internationally.
Contact us today to learn how our expert legionella safety solutions can help you.
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