Your Role as an Administrator & Why Indoor Air Quality Matters
Part of your role as an administrator is to promote the safety and compliance of your facility, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The quality of air inside hospitals, long-term care facilities, offices, schools, and more, has never been more important. Providing a healthy atmosphere for your workers allows them to conduct daily work activities efficiently while also reducing their likelihood of symptoms related to poor indoor air quality. When your workers feel healthier and more comfortable in the work setting, then they’re likely to be more productive and report higher job satisfaction. Air quality poses serious risks for patients, students, or anyone entering your facility as well, so by ensuring you’re taking necessary precautions you can reduce liability concerns and improve your public image.
Indoor environmental exposure to allergens, exposure to VOCs from certain products required for cleaning tasks, and exposure to airborne pathogens all become more likely with poor indoor air quality. This can lead to coughing, allergic reactions, increased transmission of viruses like the flu and COVID-19, respiratory issues, and other health complications and risks. This reduces staff performance which can lead to less than adequate cleaning and disinfecting and patient or student care. Schools and office buildings are at an increased risk for closings with poor air quality, and healthcare facilities are at an increased risk for healthcare acquired infections. Patients, students, or staff members with suppressed immune systems (like those with heart disease, asthma, respiratory infections, or other groups of people) are even more susceptible to the effects of indoor air contaminants. This has become increasingly concerning with the anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, since someone who is COVID positive can release virus droplets into your indoor air. Taking precautions like temperature checks, enforcing proper mask usage, posting social distancing signage, and doing air quality assessments are ways to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in your air environment. State audits have also become increasingly intensive to ensure safety precautions are in place for controlling COVID-19, so having proper technology and procedures in place helps your facility to have confidence in their infection control measures.
Factors that Affect Air Quality & Ways to Improve It
As an administrator it’s important to know which factors affect indoor air quality so you can align your team and facility with best practices and safety measures. This also gives you the opportunity to communicate with the public you care about their safety and wellbeing and helps to make everyone feel more comfortable. Some other factors that affect your air quality include poor ventilation, problems controlling temperature, high or low humidity, and lack of training which can lead to improper cleaning and higher levels of VOCs.
Ensuring proper cleaning procedures are in place helps to reduce dust, dirt, and other contaminants that could be recirculated into your air. Knowing where your filters are, when each one needs to be changed, and opting for HEPA or higher MERV rating filter replacements which trap contaminants more effectively. It’s also important to maintain a good working relationship with your building & grounds team and custodial team to stay on top of indoor environmental issues. This helps to ensure your HVAC system is receiving optimal service, filters are being changed frequently, and other measures are put into place. All air cleaners require periodic cleaning and filter replacement to function properly. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations on maintenance and replacement.
UV Technology for Extra Safety
Although proper cleaning and maintenance procedures are important, they aren’t totally effective at removing contaminants. Closed environments, like hospitals and schools, still recirculate contaminants into the air even with proper procedures in place. Many facilities are now utilizing UV technology to help reduce this spread. When used in conjunction with other air quality measures, UV-C light technology will reduce and prevent microorganisms from recirculating within closed air environments. This technology works by breaking down DNA and RNA, which inactivates viruses and bacteria. This leaves viruses like COVID-19 and influenza unable to reproduce or perform vital functions, which virtually eliminates the likelihood of transmission.
When considering the HVAC design of a building, it’s important to take into consideration life cycle costs and its impact on the health of occupants. By taking measures to improve building health and reduce the level of airborne pathogens, you can be more confident in your infection control measures.
Superintendents work hard every day to promote a healthy and high-quality building for students and staff. Even with restricted budgets, you’re still expected to provide an atmosphere that’s safe for anyone who enters your building. Indoor air quality is one of the biggest indicators of the health of your building, and it’s a key part of reducing the spread of infection. The reason indoor air quality is important is because buildings have a closed air system, meaning whatever contaminants are brought inside are recirculated into the air unless proper procedures and technology are utilized.
Why does indoor air quality matter? Schools, office buildings, and other common facilities are closed environments that recirculate air and contaminants that are introduced to the environment. Poor air quality can lead to many concerns and adverse health complications, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only can your air quality reduce the performance and effectiveness of your cleaning and administrative staff, teachers, and students, but it can also lead to increased absenteeism. The EPA even ranks indoor air pollution among the top 5 environmental risks to public health. This is due in part to the increased risk for short- and long-term health complications with increased exposure to air contaminants. This includes asthma triggers, headaches, coughing, fatigue, respiratory tract infections and diseases, and more.
As schools look to reopen and stay open, many superintendents and building managers are looking for ways to strengthen their safety procedures and technology. Almost everything you do in your facility contributes to the indoor air environment of your facility. Certain chemicals for daily cleaning can release VOCs into their air, and improper cleaning procedures can leave behind dirt and contaminants which then recirculate into the air. It’s unfair to put all the pressure on your custodians since no matter how clean your facility is people will inevitably cough, sneeze, and release other particulates into the air which can re-contaminate it.
By exploring ways to reduce human error and ensure your air is safer you can be confident in your measures to protect your staff and building. There are measures you can take as a top-level official to communicate to the public and your staff that their safety is a top priority. Working with your administrators and building & grounds professionals to develop an air quality checklist is a good start. This includes keeping ventilation units in classrooms free of clutter, implementing chemical training for cleaning and disinfecting, developing a schedule for changing filters and replacing older filters with HEPA antimicrobial filters when applicable, etc.
Looking for ways to implement technology that works to reduce the level of airborne pathogens contributes to your air quality even during off hours to give you an extra layer of protection. Facilities are utilizing UV technology to help reduce human error and improve air quality. UV-C technology can be used with your filter systems to inactivate bacteria, mold, and viruses, including SARS-COV-2 and influenza. UV-C is a specific form of ultraviolet light with germicidal properties. It disrupts molecular bonds of the DNA and RNA present in viruses, which prevents their ability to infect students or staff. Being proactive and finding more ways to control and improve your air quality helps to reduce your absenteeism, control the spread of COVID-19, and provide a safe learning atmosphere.
As a building and grounds specialist part of your duty is maintaining a presentable and safe building. Indoor air quality can have significant and harmful effects on everyone in your building when air quality isn’t maintained properly, and it can raise concerns for maintenance effectiveness. EPA studies of indoor air conditions have consistently proven indoor levels of pollutants may be 2-5x higher than outdoor levels. The reason indoor air quality is particularly alarming is because in closed buildings contaminants recirculate into the air again and again unless you have procedures and technology in place to remove them. When you add COVID-19 to the mix, which is easily spread by airborne pathogens, then you have an even higher need for good air quality.
Poor air quality can lead to adverse health complications, including increased risk for respiratory illness, allergic reactions, or transmission of viruses like COVID-19 or influenza. Children breathe in more air than adults in proportion to their body weight, which can be of extra concern for hospitals and schools.
There are things you can do to maintain the air quality of your building and maintain compliance with state and federal guidelines. Measuring your air quality performance is a good way to have a baseline for where areas for improvement lie. This gives you insight to the concentrations of matter in your air like carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and other VOCs and pollutants. Having a high level of contaminants can even lead to life-threatening conditions, especially in those with suppressed immune systems or health conditions.
Indoor air quality is a broad subject that has many moving parts to keep in mind. Implementing small changes can have lasting positive impacts. To reduce the likelihood of your staff or the public being exposed to COVID-19 in your building, you may want to consider utilizing UV-C technology. This technology works in conjunction with your air filters and inactivates the DNA and RNA of the virus so that it can’t replicate or perform viral functions. This technology inactivates the virus and takes pressure off you to be a miracle worker in terms of air quality. Even if you do everything right, external factors like building occupants not wearing masks or human error can still lead to poor air quality. Having a UV lamp built into your air purifier adds an extra layer of protection against contaminants in the air, reduces them, and provides a safer indoor environment.
Other things to keep in mind when maintaining your building is to keep an eye out for water spots in your ceiling or floors which can lead to mold. Mold is also more likely to grow in conditions with higher temperatures, higher moisture levels, and higher humidity levels, so inspecting building conditions will help you to gauge where problem areas may lie. Reviewing construction and operating records is another way to reveal potential indoor air problems, and it’s important to communicate with your administrators and building managers effectively to find solutions that work best for your building.
Improving air quality is crucial to improve your building perception and make a healthier atmosphere. It can be overwhelming trying to provide a safe breathing atmosphere, but relying on technology like UV-C light and advanced filtration systems helps to reduce the chance for human error and improves your air quality in closed settings. Get ready to breathe easier.
Why Air Quality Matters
Most Americans spend a majority of their time indoors, especially those who work in or attend office buildings, schools, and hospitals. Custodians can spend even more of their time indoors depending on the season. Most people are aware of outdoor air pollution, but the EPA indicates indoor air environments consistently have 2-5x the level of pollutants and contaminants as outdoor air environments. Custodians using certain cleaning chemicals can emit high levels of VOCs in the air, which also contributes to poor air quality. This can lead to many adverse health complications when you’re exposed this environment day in and day out. Indoor air quality is crucial since many buildings have a closed air system, meaning whatever contaminants are brought inside are recirculated into the air unless proper procedures and technology are in place. Depending on the chemicals you’re using, your air system, and other factors like mask usage, you could be subjecting yourself to harmful pathogens.
In the short term, poor air quality can lead to coughing, eye irritation, headaches, and triggering of allergic reactions which can become serious. An increase in coughing contributes to more contaminants released in the air which will then be recirculated without proper ventilation. Potentially long-term complications include aggravation of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, and in some cases poor air quality can lead to life-threatening conditions. Some cleaning tasks make it obvious that VOCs are being released, like stripping your floors in the summertime, but other daily tasks put you at risk too. Even the process of cleaning and disinfecting can lead to high levels of VOCs being released into the air, especially if you’re not using green cleaners and are dealing directly with concentrated chemicals. As a custodian this can lead to significant health complications when you’re repeatedly exposed to harmful chemicals. Knowing how to read a SDS will help you to keep your health a priority when handling chemicals, and in turn create a healthier indoor air environment. Being mindful of cleaning tasks that can spread dust and dirt is also important, such as dust mopping with a cotton mop or using a traditional mop and bucket.
Technology to Reduce Air Contaminants
As we continue to learn more about the importance of indoor air quality, we learn more about best practices and technology to accomplish a healthier indoor environment. One innovative solution Pike Systems has seen results from in the field is UV-Air Purifiers. These are designed to use short-wave ultraviolet light to inactivate airborne pathogens and microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and mold spores. UV-light is divided into three categories – UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C. UV-C has the shortest range of wavelengths and can inactivate viruses and bacteria effectively. Having a UV lamp built into your air purifier adds an extra layer of protection against contaminants in the air, reduces them, and provides a safer indoor environment. When used in conjunction with other technology, like antimicrobial filters, you can help to reduce the likelihood of breathing in harmful contaminants.
As concerns for air quality continue to increase, you can make sure you’re taking extra steps to decrease the likelihood of human error by relying on useful technology when able to. With increased demands for other cleaning tasks, fatigue can make it a challenge to be 100% effective in your cleaning every day. Relying on technology that’s tested to reduce contaminants gives you a cushion if you forget to change your air filters on time or have added risks to pathogens you may not be aware of. Cleaner air means less fatigue and less long-term health effects, which means you can be confident about your health and the health of others.
Organizing Your Custodial Closet
A key part of keeping a clean and safe building is making sure your custodial closet is stocked and organized. There’s an increased demand for disinfectants, gloves and other PPE, and other COVID-19 related stock items. Research shows that the state of your custodial closet correlates with the professionalism and functionality of your facility. It’s easy for facility closets to become disorganized since a lot of the time they are shared spaces that have tight boundaries. We have a list of tips we have compiled from our years of experience and researching what other experts have to say. This will help ensure you’re prepared for the return of traffic and in-person learning.
Tracking and Organizing Inventory
Messy and unorganized closets become a safety issue and can take workers longer to organize materials necessary for cleaning tasks. Watching for multiples of the same product and looking for varying brands of the same product helps eliminate unnecessary cost and prevents headaches. Consider using multi-purpose cleaners that are effective on multiple surfaces. Conducting a waste management audit can help to consolidate the number of liners you’re using for your facility, and ask your sales professional for more ways to reduce your stock inventory on other common consumable products.
Organizing by color helps custodial professionals find what they need faster and maintains safety for custodians who have a language barrier. You should have a detailed list of your chemicals, supplies, and equipment to allow cleaning staff to let cleaning staff know exactly what’s available and what needs to be restocked. Consider a check in/check out sheet for products that are commonly misplaced, like microfiber rags, to monitor inventory and prevent theft. Keep in mind shelf life for RTU products and chemicals you’re storing, and follow recommendations for product storage to reduce fire and VOC hazards.
Maximizing Closet Space
Install racks and wall-mount shelving to help organize your closet and improve air circulation. Your goal when reorganizing your custodial closet is to maximize space while also improving and/or maintaining OSHA compliance. Store chemicals and paper products on shelves, not in boxes stacked on top of each other, and organize based on type and usage. Your most used products should be stored in easy to reach locations. Consistency for your staff is important to improve efficiency, and having a designated place for everything helps discourage employees from using outside products.
Hazard Communication and SDS binders
We recently highlighted how to train your employees to read a SDS, but making sure it’s accessible is just as important. Include a written hazard communication policy that names the person solely responsible for maintaining SDS records. Include how you intend your employees to use SDS and what you expect them to do to make sure you are compliant with OSHA protocols. Have a detailed inventory list and include all SDS information in a binder for easy reference when you need it most. Ensure that every product on your site has a corresponding SDS in the binder.
Ensuring Proper Ventilation
OSHA officials consistently check your custodial closet for proper ventilation. This could cost you if you’re not checking your vents are clean and operating correctly. If your building is LEED Certified your closets are required to have separate exhaust systems outside with no air recirculation in the closet. This means closet air does not mix with the facility’s exhaust system to eliminate potentially hazardous/flammable situations and be LEED certified. Proper ventilation is important to reduce VOCs and help reduce the risk of air transmission for COVID-19 and other airborne viruses.
Training & Certifying
Training and certifying your staff is important for the overall health of your buildings and its occupants. If space is tight in your custodial closet, consider organizing cleaning products in a cart and require members to disinfect their carts at the end of each shift. Routinely check for a working sink and drain for proper hand washing and water disposal, which also includes having a floor drain with an overflow catch pan for easier elimination of waste materials. Access resources to assist managing buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure your staff is knowledgeable of Green Clean initiatives which can help your building be more sustainable.
Increased Disinfection Frequency Leading to Health Problems
The coronavirus pandemic has led to adaptive and rushed cleaning practices that have some health experts concerned. Most facility directors are abiding by CDC guidelines to protect employees while also protecting the general public and avoiding liabilities. There are new cleaning standards that put an emphasis on increased frequency and increased focus on sanitization and disinfection. Disinfectants that have a kill claim for the novel coronavirus are now used more frequently, and a lot of the chemicals on List N that are used have not been thoroughly tested to conclude their effectiveness for controlling infections and are not safe for human health when used incorrectly.
Many disinfectants contain EPA registered pesticides that can lead to asthma with long-term exposure, and children are at even greater risk. Considering coronavirus is a respiratory virus this is an alarming issue that needs to be addressed when looking at new cleaning protocols. Custodians with pre-existing conditions, such as immune disorders or migraine sufferers, can experience memory loss, headaches, seizures, and other negative health problems. Repeated and extended exposures, from an increased frequency in cleaning and the use of stronger chemicals, can make these negative health effects even worse. As we continue to test new technologies to combat the coronavirus, it is important that we put an emphasis on the health of custodians that are hard at work every day.
Have a plan
The first step is developing your plan. Determine what needs to be cleaned, determine how areas will be disinfected, and consider what resources and equipment will be needed. Areas that haven’t been used for 7+ days only need routine cleaning, and outdoor areas just need maintained cleaning practices. Prioritize disinfecting high touch surfaces and keep in mind what cleaners and disinfectants are needed as well as PPE for your cleaning staff. Remember only certain List N disinfectants are approved for electrostatic technology, always read the label and refer to the corresponding SDS.
Your second step is implementing the plan. This involves cleaning dirty surfaces prior to disinfecting (remember disinfecting is a two-step process). Use EPA approved disinfectants against COVID-19, and make sure your product meets your needs. Follow label directions to ensure safety for your custodians and keep disinfectants out of reach of children.
The third step, maintaining & revising your plan, will help keep your building safe. Adjust your plan based on available disinfectants and PPE, and routinely disinfect high touch surfaces daily at least. Maintaining other safety measures, (like frequent handwashing, social distancing, wearing face masks, etc.) will help reduce the spread of germs. Reducing sharing of common spaces and frequently touched objects will also reduce the potential for exposure.
Click HERE for the full EPA & CDC Guidance for Cleaning & Disinfecting
Knowing how to read a SDS, ensuring you have proper PPE, and improving air quality after doing a quality assessment are all important steps to take to prevent exposure that we have highlighted in our blog. Refer to http://epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-coronavirus-covid-19 for more information regarding safety with List N disinfectants.