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.
What are VOCs & Why do they matter?
Volatile organic compounds are emitted as gases from certain liquids or solids. They are consistently higher indoors (up to 10x higher according to the EPA) than outdoors. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, many of which have short-term and long-term adverse health effects. Health effects from VOCs include fatigue, headaches, damage to central nervous system, memory impairment, and can prompt an asthma attack for those with allergy sensitivities. Examples of products that emit VOCs include paints, cleaning supplies, building materials, office equipment like printers, and more. VOC’s have a direct impact on indoor air quality and taking steps to reduce exposure is important to preserve the health and safety of your building and its occupants. Buildings have become more energy efficient and tightly sealed with a push to greater sustainability, which means it’s your job to know what VOC’s are and how to provide renewed air in buildings.
Control What You Can
Keep in mind some VOCs can be measured, like Formaldehyde, which means you can possibly identify and remove the source(s). Many building materials, such as insulation, require Formaldehyde as a catalyst. Formaldehyde-free insulation has become more available, and it will clearly be labeled. Look for other better air quality options like low VOC paints. Cleaning chemicals are a big factor in indoor air quality, always opt for low VOC choices when applicable. Knowing the science behind cleaning chemicals also helps to understand how you can control levels of VOCs. Solvents, the chemical that dissolves dirt, are often VOCs. Keep in mind many green cleaning products are more sustainable and include a lower level of VOC content than traditional cleaners.
Know when VOCs are Common and Practice Caution
Specific tasks, such as industrial cleaning and graffiti removal, require higher use of solvents which means higher levels of VOCs. Take necessary precautions when performing these tasks and know which of your products contain high levels of solvents. Wear PPE when dealing with solvents and make sure your facility has proper ventilation. Use carbon filters or other technologies on the market to remove VOCs properly and install or operate effective ventilation systems and air cleaners. HEPA filters are effective in removing particulate matter but not effective at removing VOCs from indoor air. Carbon filters are porous and have a high surface area, which draws VOCs into their pores and traps them. This keeps them out of the air if carbon filters are replaced as they become full.
Other Steps to Reduce Exposure
- Meet or exceed any label precautions
- Do not store opened containers of unused paints and similar materials within a school, provide for maximum ventilation while painting
- Use integrated pest management techniques to reduce the need for pesticides
- Keep exposure to emissions from products containing methylene chloride to a minimum (paint strippers, adhesive removers, aerosol paint cans).
- Keep exposure to benzene, from environmental tobacco smoke, paints, and stored fuels, to a minimum.
- Buy limited quantities and throw away partially full containers of old or unneeded chemicals carefully
- Retain an air quality company to measure VOCs on a regular basis to determine the impact of the measures you’re taking
- Review certification standards to get ideas for suitable products
- Use certification marks, such as LEED, as a signpost for suitable products and keep in mind those with asthma and allergies