Importance of HVAC maintenance in healthcare facilities
As the healthcare sector continues to expand in the UAE, George Thomas, CEO, Epsco uncovers the importance of maintaining a squeaky clean HVAC system
How important is duct cleaning, particularly in healthcare facilities?
Over a period of time dust, dirt, fungi, bacteria, and other contaminants accumulate in air ducts affecting the indoor air quality of a building. Indoor air quality has a significant impact on the health of people considering they spend most of their time indoors. Children and aged people are more vulnerable to the ill effects not to mention people with respiratory issues and allergies who tend to be prone to the health risks due to poor indoor air quality. In healthcare facilities patients constitute the majority of occupants and some of them may have a weakened immune system making them susceptible to infections. While there are strict procedures for floor and other surface hygiene and ceiling, invisible air ducts are not considered in the overall hygiene programme of many health care facilities. Inspection of air conditioning systems and their subsequent maintenance is an important factor to be considered to control secondary infections.
Are there any standards that govern duct cleaning in healthcare facilities?
The most widely used international general standard for air duct cleaning is the NADCA standard for assessment, cleaning and restoration of HVAC systems (NADCA ACR 2013). There are also other specifications in collaboration with NADCA for certain specific uses, such as the NAIMA guideline for fiberglass or lined sheet metal ducts (NAIMA AH122) and SMACNA’s “Duct Cleanliness for New Construction Guidelines” for new buildings. The local requirement for duct cleaning is covered in the Green Building Regulations specifications of Dubai Municipality. According to NADCA standard, air ducts in healthcare facilities have to be inspected every year.
How is duct cleaning in healthcare facilities different from other sub-sectors?
HVAC system cleaning in healthcare facilities requires precise planning, detailed risk assessment, greater care, flexibility and higher skills. Unlike other properties, healthcare facilities, particularly hospitals, are continuously occupied and most parts of the facility are critical spaces. Planning and executing the job in critical areas means getting the work done without disturbing patients, systems, equipment and the activities in the adjacent spaces. Additionally, some spaces are positively pressurised and others negatively. Extra care is required for airborne infection isolation rooms to prevent any kind of cross contamination. A high level of expertise is required to understand the various functional spaces and the design of the HVAC system. An experienced and qualified technician is required to test the system after the cleaning to make sure that it is operating at the expected efficiency and that none of the functional parameters have been changed.
What is the practice of healthcare facilities in Dubai and other emirates in UAE?
Healthcare facilities are generally carrying out HVAC system cleaning as and when they feel it is necessary. There doesn’t seem to be a fixed plan for most of the facilities, mainly due to lack of awareness, lack of clarity in the local guidelines in terms of the frequency of cleaning, the high occupancy of hospitals, and sometimes financial considerations.
What should healthcare facility managers consider when selecting a duct cleaning company?
Duct cleaning is different from other typical cleaning. Although HVAC systems are designed to primarily provide conditioned air, there are various other considerations that go into the design of the system to make it work efficiently, e.g., different air volumes for different spaces, noise and energy control, prevention of condensation, etc. Similarly healthcare functional spaces are designed differently depending on the intended purpose of their use. In selecting the contractor, due consideration has to be given to their technical skills in both understanding the system design of a functional space and experience in carrying out the job. The contractor should have the expertise and experience to work within the constraints of high occupancy, critical space, isolation requirements, and shorter work time. NADCA ASCS qualification for the technician is the best criteria to shortlist duct cleaning companies. The selected company should also be capable of carrying out remedial works which may not have been identified during the pre-clean inspection, e.g., insulation replacement, mold remediation, etc.