Tips for Mitigating Influenza in Commercial Buildings

Oct. 9, 2009

According to a press release from Trane (www.trane.com), spending time reviewing your HVAC system and its major components, as well as air and water distribution, can aid in significantly mitigating the spread of H1N1 and other types of influenza this cold and flu season. Adopting simple, common-sense measures and using proper maintenance protocols, in addition to performing a few system upgrades are just some of the precautions that can be taken in commercial buildings to mitigate the spread of influenza.

Trane recommends considering the following tips during cold and flu season:

  • Monitor facilities to ensure that no warm, stagnant water is present, as it can provide an  environment conducive to the growth of problematic microbes, such as Legionella, the bacteria responsible for causing Legionnaire’s Disease.
  • Monitor areas, including cooling towers, pooled water on roofs, or clogged drains that can harbor unhealthy contaminants that can be introduced into the building and circulated by the air distribution systems into the occupied space.
  • Consider upgrading the efficiency of the air filters. As filter efficiency increases, typically their resistance to air flow also increases. Always check to be sure the fan system can handle the resistance being imposed by the filters and other components in the system. Also, select replacement filters based on the specific particles you intend to collect. Viral droplets or droplet nuclei of influenza, for instance, are very small but are typically surrounded by a mucus shell, making them larger and easier to remove.
  • Re-evaluate how and when filters should be changed. Rather than via a simple schedule, it may be more prudent to measure the pressure drop through filter banks and set up basic performance metrics to determine the best model for filter changes.
  • 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.
  • Verify correct outside air intake damper settings and operation. Most commercial spaces should operate at a slightly positive pressure relative to the outdoors to reduce the likelihood of contaminants infiltrating the occupied areas.
  • Check and validate exhaust fans in restrooms and other critical areas to ensure that they are removing contaminants from the building before they become mixed with the indoor air. Perform preventive maintenance on small exhaust fans to ensure they have not accumulated dirt, reducing their effectiveness.
  • Provide staff with basic training, and increase overall awareness about the risks of influenza exposure and the likely ways to contract the virus. Also, conduct formal training of staff technicians and subcontract workers in how to work with your building systems to reduce risk, increase health and safety, and reduce exposure to other harmful airborne particles.
  • 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 general public.
  • Encourage hand washing among all staff. If possible, add hand cleaner and hand sanitizer supplies at air handler locations, equipment controls, railings, and access doors.

For additional resources on mitigating the spread of influenza, visit IFMA Foundation’s Pandemic Preparedness Manual (www.ifmafoundation.org/pandemic.pdf), The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov), and The Federal Emergency Management Agency (www.fema.org).

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