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Keeping Germs Out: 3 Tips for Easy Infection Prevention

Posted on 12/19/2014 10:25 AM by Peter Teska

All facilities, from office buildings and apartment complexes to restaurants, airports and hospitals, must know how to effectively prevent lapses in environmental hygiene in order to keep employees, occupants, visitors, and patients healthy and safe. It’s easy to see the impact that infections have on public health, considering that each year in the U.S., Norovirus alone causes roughly 19-21 million cases of gastroenteritis, up to 71,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths according to the CDC.

The common cold and influenza also affect millions of people each year. A new study shows that an alarming majority of U.S. workers, up to 60%, admitted to attending work while sick with the flu. Thankfully, there are simple measures that facility managers can take to reduce the risk of disease-causing pathogens.

A Healthier Environment

An infection outbreak can disrupt the day-to-day operations of a facility. However, organizations can prevent infection outbreaks and reduce the impact of those that do occur by following these easy tips.

1) Adhere to hand hygiene best practices

Many infections can be spread either by eating contaminated foods and liquids, touching contaminated surfaces, or having contact with someone who is infected. Thus, effective hand hygiene is important in the fight against many infections. A facility should encourage staff, occupants and visitors to regularly wash or sanitize their hands – though soap and water should be used when hands are visibly soiled. Signs should be posted to serve as reminders, and hand sanitizer, soap and paper towels should be readily available at all times. 

2) Conduct frequent surface cleaning and disinfection

Another key defense against the threat and spread of infection is the efficient cleaning and disinfection of general surfaces and equipment, such as in restrooms, lobbies and other frequently used areas in a building. Although all surfaces can harbor an infection, high-touch surfaces such as door handles, toilet seats, desks and light switches are believed to represent a higher level of risk and should be cleaned more frequently to limit the risk of infection transmission.

3) Consider alternative cleaning products

All disinfectants come with trade-offs. Historically chlorinated disinfectants have been used widely in some sectors, such as healthcare, but less so in non-healthcare facilities due to their limitations, including:

  • Strong odors and lung irritation – chlorinated products can cause odors that some customers will find unpleasant. Chlorine reacts with organic matter on surfaces, so heavier soiled surfaces can have stronger odors which can be a concern, especially in rooms with limited air exchanges. There are also concerns that chlorine can aggravate certain breathing conditions including asthma. Rather than dealing with customer complaints, it may be preferred to use a disinfectant without a strong odor profile.
  • Surface damage – Another disadvantage to using chlorine products is that they can corrode and otherwise damage the surfaces being cleaned. This can affect the appearance of fixtures and fittings, which can lead to additional maintenance and renewal costs as well as negatively impact perceptions among occupants and visitors. There is also a concern that damaged surfaces may be harder to clean and may represent an increased risk of infection. A product that can be used safely on a wider range of surfaces would represent a smart investment.

AHP To The Rescue

There are new disinfectant technologies on the market that avoid these potential issues, including a technology called Accelerated Hydrogen Peroxide (AHP). In AHP, the active ingredient has no odor and is generally safer for surfaces than chlorine, creating a better alternative. As the hydrogen peroxide breaks down to water and oxygen after use, it has a favorable sustainability profile as well.

AHP disinfectants also help ensure disinfection occurs by addressing the issue of contact time. Disinfectants need to keep the surface wet for a specific amount of time to ensure they kill the pathogens claimed on the label. Some disinfectants cannot keep a surface wet for the full contact time with a single application, which would require the user to reapply the product to comply with the label directions. As workers are unlikely to reapply a disinfectant, selecting disinfectants that keep the surface wet for the full contact time is preferred. AHP disinfectants are designed to have realistic contact times, helping to ensure that disinfection is achieved in a single application.

Facilities never want to be a breeding ground for disease-causing pathogens. With a combined focus on hand hygiene, surface cleaning and disinfection using the appropriate products, facility managers can help reduce the risk of infection for employees, staff, and visitors caused by environmental transmission. 

Peter Teska is the global healthcare sector expert at Sealed Air's Diversey Care. He can be reached at: peter.teska@sealedair.com.

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5 Easy Ways to Prepare Your Building for Winter

Posted on 12/16/2014 2:10 PM by H. Jay Enck

Milder temperatures make fall the perfect time of year to conduct a thorough review of your building systems. A few quick steps can help avoid unexpected repair costs that can become bigger emergencies during extreme winter weather. Depending on your budget cycle, it can also be helpful to identify system repair and replacement needs that have significant budget impacts before the end of the year.

Here are five easy steps to take this autumn:

1) Inspect the insulation

Even small breaches can mean big problems and higher operating costs, so review insulated systems to identify areas with damaged or missing insulation and make necessary repairs. Consider the climate where your building is located, system operating temperatures, and exposure to the elements when determining the type and level of insulation to install.

2) Check mechanical and plumbing systems 

Conduct a thorough evaluation to ensure freeze stats are set at correct temperatures, power to freeze protection devices are on, heating systems (hot water, steam, etc.) are properly operating, leaky valves, damaged actuators and linkages as well as faulty control sensors are repaired. Check the operation sequence of your chilled water cooling and hot water heating control valves, verifying that the valves open fully when the freeze stat trips and that the outside air damper closes. An audit like this will help you locate and correct problems before they contribute to an emergency.

3) Don't overlook semi-heated spaces

Ensure the units function and set points for semi-heated spaces are not resulting in wasted energy. Experts recommend that unit heater thermostats be set between 45-50°F. Once set, it is important to verify that the heating unit is working as intended when the weather turns cold. If the temperature falls too low in these spaces, pipes or sprinkler systems can freeze.

4) Check your roof drainage

Snow or ice can interfere with normal drainage paths even as they melt. If the existing gutter is blocked, for example, drainage may be redirected to an area within the building enclosure, possibly resulting in a costly incursion.

5) Don't just set it and forget it

Monitor how your building responds to various weather conditions over time. Through consistent data collection, you can verify whether systems continue to operate as intended. For example, in colder weather, you may find it takes longer to bring the building up to a comfortable temperature, which may require adjusting the unoccupied set-back temperature or identifying over-performing heating elements to minimize energy consumption.

With the current prevalence and sophistication of building automation and data collection systems, the overall energy consumption of your building and building sub-systems are easier to gather and understand than ever. A considerable amount of measurement and verification (M&V) guidelines and toolkits are available to begin the process including ASHRAE RP-1050, and ASHRAE Performance Measurement Protocols for Commercial Buildings and ASHRAE Guideline 14.

With these and other best practices in place, it can be difficult for even the most sophisticated facility management teams to identify all opportunities for building performance improvement as they focus on the most urgent work orders (often dictated by the squeakiest wheel rather than the highest value item long term). Engaging a third-party expert can help provide a framework to analyze and prioritize needs to ensure your buildings continue to perform to your and your occupants’ high expectations.

H. Jay Enck is the co-founder, chief technology officer, and principal of Commissioning and Green Building Solutions, Inc. (CxGBS). He can be reached via info@cxgbs.com

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