As a ‘landlord’, holiday home owners have a number of responsibilities to ensure guest health and safety. Most are well known by cottage owners such as the annual gas check, yearly sweeping of the chimney, checking and testing of electrical Portable Appliances (PAT tests) and Risk Assessments (including fire). However, there are also some less well known ones that a cottage owner should be aware of when managing their own property.
Legionnaire’s Disease is not something that is commonly talked about in the holiday rental market, so we have put together some information that we hope will help to raise awareness. The information provided is by no means a definitive guide; our aim is to make you aware of potential risks and responsibilities, which will then allow you to do further research and seek expert help and guidance where needed.
Do you have responsibilities as a holiday home owner?
It is often hard to find specific information and guidance that directly relates to holiday home owners. However, there is plenty available on the internet for landlords and by pure definition (i.e. “someone who rents out a building or accommodation”), much of this information is applicable and provides guidance to cottage owners. Landlords have many health and safety responsibilities including the prevention and risk control of exposure to Legionella.
What is Legionnaire’s Disease?
Legionnaire’s disease is a severe lung infection caused by Legionella bacteria. It’s the most serious illness this particular strain of bacteria can cause but unfortunately not the only one, as Legionella can also lead to Lochgoilhead Fever and Pontiac Fever.
What are the symptoms of Legionnaire’s Disease?
Legionnaire’s Disease first presents itself in the form of flu-like symptoms such as aches and pains, headaches, chills, lethargy and tiredness, and high temperature. In some cases sufferers can appear confused or disorientated. These symptoms usually show around a week after being infected and can be followed by a persistent cough and shortness of breath. As the illness progresses, it can be fatal.
What causes Legionnaire’s Disease?
Bacteria called Legionella causes Legionnaire’s Disease. The most common cause of infection is when someone breathes in tiny water droplets which contain the bacteria. The bacteria is fairly common but normally only exists in amounts too small to cause infection. However when the conditions are right it rapidly multiplies to dangerous levels. It isn’t contagious, but there is no vaccine.
Like most holiday makers Legionella likes warmth and food. It thrives in warm (20C to 45C) water, especially where there is a food source such as algae, sludge, lime scale or rust. These conditions exist in all domestic hot and cold water supply systems, along with air-conditioning systems, hot tubs, etc. It can also be found in natural water areas outside the home such as ponds and streams (but in lower levels than those normally posing a risk) and in very rare cases it has been found in shower heads and fountains.
How common is Legionnaire’s Disease?
Thankfully Legionnaire’s Disease is not that common in the UK. NHS figures reported 284 cases in 2013, with a third of these cases being contracted abroad. Around 90% of people make a full recovery after being treated with antibiotics, however some sadly go on to develop pneumonia or sepsis which cause their death.
The biggest risk is to those who:
- Are over 50 years old
- Are or were heavy smokers or drinkers
- Have a pre-existing condition, including lung disease or diabetes
- Already have a weakened immune system
How can you prevent Legionnaire’s disease?
Most cases of Legionnaire’s Disease start in large buildings with comprehensive recycled air and air-conditioning systems, such as hotels and hospitals, rather than individual holiday cottages.
However, as a responsible holiday property owner it is your duty to ensure you maintain your water systems correctly. This includes keeping pool and hot tub water clean and moving. The pH balance should be correct (as per the manufacturers guidelines), it should not be allowed to stagnate, and filtration and cleaning systems should be working effectively. Whether you check your pool yourself or employ a professional it is your job to eliminate the risk by keeping it properly maintained, and keep records showing you have done so.
Hot and cold water systems and sprinkler systems are another area for potential danger. Hot water should be heated to at least 60C, even if it is delivered at a lower temperature to avoid scalding, while cold water should be stored at no more than 20C.
Start by carrying out a risk assessment (you can join the Residential Landlords Associations as a guest member and download a risk assessment template for free) to find any potential danger areas where Legionella can breed. Water can accumulate in shower heads and shower hoses so these need to be cleaned and descaled regularly, and it’s good practice to run water through showers, taps, dishwashers, and washing machines every week if the property is not in use.
Take a look at the free copy of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Approved Code of Practice here. While it’s not the most exciting document you will ever read, it’s an invaluable guide to help you comply with the law.
Should you have Legionellosis Cover on your holiday home insurance policy?
If you have a pool or hot tub then you should definitely have protection against an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease on your holiday home insurance policy. Some firms are starting to include it as part of their standard policy and hopefully others will follow suit.
The reality is that while the risk of Legionnaire’s Disease occurring in your property may be slim, you do have responsibilities as a landlord to protect your property and guests against the risks.