Home » Indoor air quality in UAE hospitals essential to patient safety, especially with summer approaching, says HVAC expert

Indoor air quality in UAE hospitals essential to patient safety, especially with summer approaching, says HVAC expert

by Mohammad Ghazal

UAE-based smart and green total facilities management (FM) company Farnek, is starting a campaign to remind healthcare facility managers, about the importance of indoor air quality, particularly as the UAE approaches summer and outdoor temperatures and humidity begin to rise.

“A clean air supply is essential to patient safety, particularly those with reduced immunity. Maintaining and cleaning A/C ducts ensures clean air, as well as controlling the spread of germs. With the summer approaching, the UAE is beginning to experience higher temperatures and levels of humidity, which increases the risk of bacterial contamination,” said Zohaib Azhar, Head of Operations at Farnek.

Ventilation systems in hospitals and clinics draw in outside air, which is then circulated within the building. Therefore, the HVAC system including ductwork is liable to become polluted with dust and other contaminants. This may be due to filtration equipment underperforming, or due to leaks within the system.

The presence of excessive dust accumulating within a HVAC system can lead to the development of biological contamination. A HVAC system can act as a source for bioaerosols, which are tiny airborne particles that originate biologically and can contain living organisms. This provides a conducive environment for the growth of fungi and bacteria. If not addressed, this biologically contaminated air is then distributed within the facility.

Poor indoor air quality can be significantly improved. HVAC systems can be cleaned, ventilation rates increased, biological contaminants controlled, and filtration systems upgraded. Other steps can also be taken to ensure that furnishings brought into the indoor environment do not release noxious gases.

“Humidity is often a major factor in selecting cleaning methods because of the types of contaminants generally found in areas with differing levels of moisture in the air. Higher humidity levels often witness greater levels of microbial contamination, including mould, mildew, yeasts and bacteria. Such contaminants, as opposed to common nuisance dust, require more aggressive cleaning techniques, especially when addressing the HVAC unit itself,” said Azhar.

According to the National Air Duct Cleaners Association Standards, HVAC duct cleaning in hospitals should be carried out annually. In addition, HVAC system cleaning must be performed when any of the following conditions are found in the cleanliness inspection.
Significant accumulations of contaminants or debris are visually observed within the HVAC system, and/or evidence of microbial growth is visually observed or confirmed by analytical methods.

The HVAC system discharges visible particulate into the occupied space, or a significant contribution of airborne particles from the HVAC system into the indoor ambient air is confirmed.
Heat exchange coils, cooling coils, air flow control devices, filtration devices, and air-handling equipment are determined to have restrictions, or contaminated deposits that may cause inefficiencies in system performance, or air flow degradation.

In accordance with Al Sa’fat – Dubai Green Building System, only specialised maintenance companies, approved by Dubai Municipality can carry out this inspection and cleaning. It can also be carried out by the building operator, but only if they can provide sufficient evidence about their qualifications and competence.

“One misconception we come across is that onsite maintenance teams consider the supply of air to be clean because HEPA filters are used in a fan coil unit (FCU), ignoring just how important it is to regularly check air duct systems. This misunderstanding can result in mould and microbial formation, that could cause harm to staff and patients.

“It is also well worth pointing out that these issues also apply to general working environments, not just healthcare facilities. The economic benefits of HVAC duct cleaning can be significant, by reducing worker absenteeism and increasing productivity,” added Azhar.

The U.S. Government estimates that absenteeism costs more than $100 billion a year in lost productivity and medical costs, and medical researchers in the U.S. have found that 50% of employee absenteeism is due to upper respiratory problems – common symptoms of working in ‘sick’ buildings.

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