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28th February 2021- back to news index

Well-maintained HVAC Systems have a Major Role in Infection Control

We all want to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic as quickly as possible. As work resumes, the emphasis will be on individual hygiene, facemasks, and personal distancing but maintenance of our commercial and industrial HVAC systems must also be prioritised to ensure clean air.

Extensive research has shown that respiratory droplets can remain airborne for up to three hours, and the WHO now agrees that the infection can be transmitted as aerosols; tiny particles in the air. New variants of the coronavirus are especially contagious. Over one third of infections acquired in hospitals are transmitted by airborne contamination. Workplaces need to concentrate on optimising the efficiency of commercial and/or industrial HVAC maintenance.

Constant circulation of fresh air is crucial, even when premises are empty, so HVAC systems must work at maximum efficiency. Clogged filters do not remove contamination, so these must be cleaned and changed frequently. The entire system should be regularly deep cleaned and checked for leaks, especially ducts and evaporator coils, which can become a breeding ground for pathogens.

Planned Preventive Maintenance must also include checking the refrigerant, moving parts, system controls, heat exchangers and fans, making sure all is compliant with current health and safety legislation. Where possible, HVAC systems should be upgraded so fresh air from outside circulates rapidly; up to nine times an hour is recommended during a pandemic.

Airflow and filtration are critical. Vertical airflow with plenty of outlets helps reduce risk of infection from contaminated air. The most advanced systems are those used in hospital isolation rooms and commercial aircraft; these combine vertical airflow patterns with HEPA filters.

Air filters are rated by their efficiency at filtering different-sized particles. Coronavirus particles can be as small as 0.1 microns. Countries vary, but US ratings range from MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) 11-12 which remove 65-80% of particles of 1-3 microns, up to HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, which remove over 99.97% of particles of 0.3 microns. Only HEPA filters and MERV 17 or higher remove bacteria and viruses.

Clean air options also include thermal sterilisation and ionic purifiers. Physical barriers also help, but good HVAC maintenance is key to effectiveness. Whatever your specific requirements, your workers deserve the safest option possible. Both ASHRAE and CDC have published guidelines giving information for healthcare facilities, and government health departments everywhere should have suitable advice for your commercial or industrial needs.

Contact us to find out how we could help you in your efforts to make your workspaces zero infection zones.

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