Water-tight partnerships


James Homard of Urban Environments explores how housing professionals can maximise value from their water hygiene consultancy.

Many housing providers and landlords appoint a specialist water hygiene consultancy to manage Legionella control. Particularly for those with extensive portfolios this is a sensible move, but signing up third party expertise doesn’t automatically mean the compliance box is ticked and landlords can sit back and relax. Don’t forget, the property owner still has ultimate legal responsibility for Legionella compliance.

As with any client/supplier relationship, the real value lies in the quality and closeness of the working relationship, so by putting the right systems in place, you’ll save time and money in the long run.

Getting off on the right foot

Whether you are selecting your water hygiene consultancy from a supplier roster or running your own tender process, make sure you get the basics right:

  • Can the consultancy cover all necessary geographical areas?
  • Do they have the relevant expertise? E.g. water sampling and analysis, remedials, monitoring
  • Are they fully accredited and certified? Look for membership of the Legionella Control Association as a minimum

Once you’ve found the perfect partner and signed them up, invest time in preparing for your first ‘kick-off’ meeting and ask them to provide a mobilisation plan. This lays the groundwork for a smooth working relationship and will reduce the likelihood of future problems.

The first things to establish are lines of reporting and the nuts and bolts of the contract. Who are the key people at the client and supplier, responsible for day-to-day matters? Who are the designated ‘responsible person’ and ‘dutyholder’, as defined by the HSE’s L8 Approved Code of Practice? What is the chain of command? What are the processes for dealing with problems?

Share full contact details and ensure that these are kept up-to-date; it’s amazing how often someone moves jobs or an email address changes and the information isn’t passed on.

Accuracy of information is also crucial for the water hygiene engineers out on site. If they have trouble accessing a building or discover a problem with the water system that needs urgent attention, they must be able to contact the caretaker or building manager. Again, be certain that such information is kept up-to-date. There are so-called ‘no entry’ costs associated with engineers not being able to access a property, so this will help to reduce the problem and save you money.

Maintaining and sharing an accurate list of your properties is essential too. If your Legionella control partner doesn’t know that you have bought or sold a building, they can’t uphold compliance. Visiting the wrong building because information hasn’t been passed on is costly and time-consuming (and it happens all the time!). Similarly, supplying a comprehensive asset register of all the components of the water system for each building is also a basic requirement.

Streamlined account management

Regular (ideally monthly) progress meetings, either in-person or via video conference, are a must where all aspects of the Legionella monitoring programme should be reviewed. Using a digital compliance tool (such as CAT-SI) will provide full reports, enabling real-time tracking of site visits, risk assessments, remedials and KPI achievement.

At these meetings, any problems should also be discussed, with all parties able to raise concerns. Collaborative working to find solutions will ensure both client and supplier can continuously improve.

Heading off problems

While carrying out Legionella risk assessments, engineers are likely to come across areas of concern which need to be addressed, such as corrosion, limescale or dirty water tanks. They should create a complete list of remedial work, repairs and cleaning tasks so you can collectively decide how best to handle them. If they are logged via a digital compliance tool it can automatically create a schedule of works.

It’s vital that your Legionella risk assessments are not just put in a desk drawer and forgotten about. One of the benefits of a rolling risk assessment programme is that it gives you detailed information about the water systems across your property portfolio. This data is a valuable resource which – in conjunction with a comprehensive remedials programme and monitoring scheme (where required) – will help you save time and money by dealing with repairs before they become large, expensive or dangerous problems.

Communication counts

Open lines of communication between all parties will minimise complications and save resources. This includes communicating with tenants, so work with your water hygiene consultancy to provide information to tenants about Legionella control and how they can help.

If tenants understand the importance for their health of reducing Legionella risk, they are more likely to cooperate when engineers need to access their homes. They can also help control the risk by simple measures such as descaling, running little-used taps/outlets regularly and reporting problems with water temperature.

James Homard is technical director at Urban Environments Ltd