With cold and flu season upon us, reviewing a building’s HVAC system and its major components as well as air and water distribution can help reduce the spread of influenza. Simple common-sense measures, proper maintenance protocols, and system upgrades can further mitigate risks. To that end, Trane Commerical Systems has compiled a list of tips to help organizations diminish health risks and curtail the spread of flu and other unhealthy microbes in their facilities:
- Use available tools and services to be proactive. Use a building-automation system, if available, to monitor your building, and consider remote monitoring to report problems before they escalate.
- Monitor facilities to ensure that no warm, stagnant water is present because it can provide an environment conducive to the growth of problematic microbes such as Legionella, the cause of Legionnaire’s Disease.
- Monitor areas, including cooling towers, pooled water on roofs, and clogged drains, that harbor unhealthy contaminants that can be circulated by air-distribution systems into occupied spaces.
- Replace air filters with higher efficiency filters. As filter efficiency increases, so does airflow resistance. Check that the fan system can handle the resistance being imposed by filters and other system components. Also, select replacement filters based on the specific particles that need to be collected. Viral droplets or droplet nuclei of influenza are very small but typically are surrounded by a mucus shell, making them much larger and easier to remove.
- It is necessary to re-evaluate how and when filters should be changed. Rather than via a simple schedule, it might be prudent to measure pressure drop through filter banks and set up basic performance metrics to determine the best model for filter changes.
- Simple measures are the first line of defense. Technicians should wear cut-resistant gloves when performing filter changes or basic maintenance to air dampers and commonly exposed system components. Also, properly fit respirators to ensure that the risk of exposure while working above the ceiling or in poorly ventilated areas is minimized.
- A common service and maintenance procedure is to verify correct outside-air intake dampers settings and operation. Trane recommends that most commercial spaces operate at a slightly positive pressure relative to the outdoors to reduce the likelihood of contaminants infiltrating occupied areas.
- Check and validate restroom and other critical-area exhaust fans to ensure they are removing contaminants from the building before they become mixed with indoor air. Perform preventive maintenance on small exhaust fans to ensure they have not accumulated dirt, reducing their effectiveness.
- Provide basic training for staff and increase overall awareness about the risks of influenza exposure, likely ways to contract the virus, and preventative measures that have been proven to work. Access details on the U.S. Centers For Disease Control (CDC) Website. In addition to reducing exposure to other harmful airborne particles, conduct formal safety training of staff technicians and subcontract workers to reduce risk of injury while conducting maintenance on your building mechanical systems.
- As determined by the CDC, direct contact is the most common pathway for the spread of disease. Communicate influenza safety tips and precautions to all building departments, especially those whose primary function includes occupancy of guests, visitors, and the public.
- Encourage hand washing among staff. If possible, supply hand cleaner/sanitizer at air-handler locations, equipment controls, railings, and access doors.
Many resources provide details and more complete planning recommendations, including: