HVAC systems have been treated like an under-appreciated spouse—always there, and always dependable and reliable. In the face of the global pandemic and growing concern about microbial contamination, hospital systems and labs are under intense scrutiny to give them more attention and respect.
During this season's HVAC tuneups, facilities managers will be demanding more than the routine HVAC filter replacement and maintenance. They are now accountable for performing more detailed risk assessments.
In health facilities and labs, for example, the World Health Organization (WHO) has released detailed guidance on biosafety practices and risk control measures. Since HVAC systems are a key entryway for airborne microbes, these safety measures apply to heating and cooling systems, especially those that have been retrofitted.
Risk control areas that require extra-vigilant monitoring include:
Airflow — Maintenance should go beyond cleaning clogged HVAC vents and air filters. For a few safety measures, microbial growth and transfer can be prevented by an HVAC filter replacement, more frequent changing of HVAC filters, and the use of UVC light air cleaning in both air and surface applications.
HVAC UV Light — Hospitals, laboratories, and many other buildings are using ultraviolet light systems to disinfect operating and patient rooms and labs. HVAC UV lights also are becoming essential in hospital HVAC systems to destroy microbes and prevent the transfer of infections. With the spread of novel pathogens, HVAC UV light system installations and upgrades are in higher demand.
Instrument Sensitivity — More sensitive monitoring and assessment instruments are a key weapon in the battle against infectious diseases. Upgrades to both handheld and installed HVAC sensors and meters should be considered. The most sensitive humidity and temperature sensors can help prevent environmental conditions that support microbial growth.
Obstruction of HVAC Systems — Many institutions and businesses have experienced substantial changes in their daily operations. This is especially true of hospital environments experiencing a sharp increase in patients and laboratories dealing with a very high volume of specimens. Extra vigilance in the surveillance of vents and ducts for blockages and leakages is called for.
HVAC systems are becoming the new frontier in biodefense. With growing concern over the effects of indoor environmental conditions on the health and productivity of building occupants, more buildings are inquiring about retrofits, upgrades, new designs, and replacements of HVAC systems. These upgrades may also require changes to HVAC services and contracts to meet the demand for more frequent and thorough preventative maintenance.