Your Facility is Covered in Germs: What Does This Mean for a Facility Manager

Facility managers have a vital job. They responsible for ensuring the safe and effective operation and maintenance of a facility and it’s infrastructure, including the heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems in the wake of any virus outbreak. Key organizations in the world health field like the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization are continually trying to update the global understanding of how exactly the COVID-19 virus is transported from person to person. ASHRAE has released proactive guidance to address the COVID-19 outbreak from a facility management perspective, and it is important for facility managers across the country to be in tune with the messaging.

ASHRAE COVID-19 Preparedness

ASHRAE has recognized that healthy buildings are part of the solution to maintain safe and healthy internal environments for building occupants. ASHRAE published official COVID-19 Preparedness Resources which serve as guidance to building owners, operators, and engineers on best measures and plans for protecting occupants.

As an airborne infectious disease, COVID-19 poses a potential risk to HVAC facility equipment. While little is known for sure about the virus and its ability to travel via HVAC systems,  Facility managers need to vary the approaches they take for each different type of facility that they manage. Additionally, it may become a necessity to clean the entire system to mitigate any risk and to provide comfort to employees, guests, and visitors. Currently, health care facilities have criteria for ventilation design and operation in place to mitigate airborne transmission of infectious diseases. In health care facilities, ASHRAE measures and local airborne transmission prevention policies aim to reduce transmission by both direct and indirect contact between employees and facility infrastructure. However, outside of critical areas like operating rooms, or infectious disease areas, little is known.

Emergency Planning

For other types of facilities that may not be specifically designed for infectious airborne disease control, active measures can still be taken to strengthen HVAC equipment’s ability to maintain the safety of the internal environment and air quality. One of the best measures to prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak is to develop and enact emergency planning procedures that increase the resiliency of facilities.

Engineers and facility managers can significantly support the capacity and efforts of emergency planning by understanding the design, operations, and maintenance adequacy of buildings for which they are responsible. An understanding of the capabilities and shortfalls of the building systems is key in determining which areas to target in an emergency preparedness plan. A building management system may have the means to increase dilution ventilation, increase relative humidity, or quickly clean and sanitize and disinfect components (coils, plenums, condensate systems, ductwork, etc) in order to respond to a crisis or outbreak.[1]

In the case of an infection occurring in an enclosed space or area, it is critical for facility managers to act quickly and apply the emergency plans set in place to deal with the situation. In the case of an airborne respiratory infection such as COVID-19, there are four quick steps that ASHRAE has identified that facility managers can take to quickly address the situation.

Step 1: Supply clean air to other susceptible occupants in the facility. Susceptible occupants may be anyone in the immediate area or the same room as the infected person.

Step 2: Containing the contaminated air as best as possible and exhausting it to the outdoors. It is important that air from a space with a potential infection is not recycled throughout the rest of the facility.

Step 3: Diluting the air in a space with clean air from outdoors and by filtering any recirculated air.

Step 4: Cleaning and sanitizing the equipment, surfaces, and shared spaces within a room that was susceptible to a COVID-19 outbreak. During these times it is also important to clean and disinfect evaporator and air handler coils.

Proper ventilation ultimately is the best method that facility managers can take to protect the workers and personnel inside the buildings that they manage. Ventilation systems should be thoroughly checked to ensure that components are properly cleaned and that the right filtration units are in place to clean the airflow. During emergency maintenance consideration of using Merv Rate Filters 13 and above may be worth looking into.

Cleaning and Maintenance

The COVID-19 virus outbreak is an undeniable reason for facility managers to analyze, practice, and supplement the cleaning and maintenance plans of their facilities. Many industrial and commercial facilities are full of germs naturally, and standard maintenance plans should meet regular thresholds for cleanliness and regularity each time they are exercised.

Global pandemics like the COVID-19 virus outbreak present unique situations when facility managers need to double down on their maintenance and cleaning plans. Though the nature of transmission of the COVID-19 virus is still under study, there has already been a proven occurrence of community spreading of the virus. Community spreading means that people are often infected in the midst of their everyday lives and activities because they were in areas where another person was infected by the virus.

No matter what type of facility that you manage, Goodway has products, advice, and proven maintenance strategies that can ensure your building is in the best position to help prevent the spread of illness.

[1] https://www.ashrae.org/File%20Library/About/Position%20Documents/Airborne-Infectious-Diseases.pdf

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