As a result of this close cooperation, in 2020 the Back to Work Safely website had more than 168,000 unique views and the guidance documents were downloaded more than 1.5 million times, featured in over 60 stories in national and international media outlets, and even referenced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and governors’ offices throughout the country.
Members also helped spread the word about our resources by volunteering to speak at conferences, author articles, and reach out to allied associations. For example, AIHA Treasurer-Elect Nancy M. McClellan, MPH, CIH, CHMM, submitted an article on ventilation and COVID-19 to the American Chemical Society, which alerted ACS to AIHA’s Back to Work Safely resources. ACS subsequently included a reference to the Back to Work Safely website in the ACS Chemical Health and Safety journal. A version of the article Nancy submitted to ACS is reproduced below for those interested.
As AIHA continues its public awareness outreach, we encourage members interested in volunteering to contact Sue Marchese. Members can be as involved as their time allows.
(August 3, 2021 / Sue Marchese and Nancy M. McClellan / The Synergist Blog)
Operational and Enhanced Ventilation Is Covid-19 Prevention Critical
By Nancy M. McClellan, MPH, CIH, CHMM
As our nation rolls out the COVID-19 vaccination program, businesses reopen, and people return to work, it is critical that we do not lose the progress made thus far. Health and safety measures remain necessary to not only reduce the spread of COVID-19 but also to address health concerns stemming from buildings that have been shut down for extended periods of time. These concerns include, for example, the waterborne pathogens Legionella and Pseudomonas in stagnant water systems. When normalcy returns, buildings that were shut down with forethought and maintained during the closure period will be functional, safe, and ready to reopen. Buildings that were not closed properly, not maintained during the closure, and not effectively cleaned could pose a health hazard. These buildings will need to be addressed with guidance for recovering from COVID-19 building closures (PDF) and reducing the risk of COVID-19 using engineering controls (PDF).
The current state of indoor air quality (IAQ) represents an uphill climb over the past several decades. In addition to cleaning chemicals and environmental particulates, other hazards that pose health risks include mold, pollen, dust, smog, smoke, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other viruses and bacteria released through building materials (such as treated wood, furniture upholstery, and carpeting).
These pollutants and more can impact and jeopardize human health and performance depending on their toxicity, amount of exposure, and the sensitivity of facility occupants. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, the potential annual savings and productivity gains from improved IAQ are estimated to be as high as $14 billion from reduced respiratory disease, $4 billion from reduced allergies and asthma, $30 billion from reduced sick building syndrome, and $160 billion from direct improvements in worker performance that are unrelated to health.
CDC, ASHRAE, OSHA, AIHA, and other supporting agencies and organizations have agreed that since the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants transmit readily by airborne routes, facility ventilation operation and enhancements are a critical component to facility pandemic resilience. This awareness of ventilation importance is especially critical to higher-risk settings such as chemical manufacturing, healthcare, and education. Within the occupational and environmental health and safety, industrial hygiene, and ventilation engineering professions, great strides have been made to determine guidelines for optimum ventilation control systems, effective air mixing, increased fresh air introduction, improved filtration media, and implementation of air disinfection technology.
Many building owners are addressing their facility’s ventilation controls to ensure they are connected and operational. Once ventilation system controls are assessed and addressed, it becomes more feasible to adjust for improved mixing, maximized fresh air intake, and upgraded filtration media. After optimizing ventilation systems, facility managers can consider adding capabilities to ventilation ductwork. These additions include promising air disinfection technologies that have been used for decades such as ultraviolet light in the C spectrum, and emerging technologies such as needlepoint bipolar ionization.
Facility managers also have increasing options for continuous evaluation of IAQ indoor air quality so that potential adjustments and improvements can be assessed on the basis of indicators such as carbon dioxide, temperature, relative humidity, volatile organic compounds, and others relevant to specific environments.
No individual transmission-reducing measure is a silver bullet, but taken together, these measures add up to improved IAQ. These measures not only provide opportunities for collaboration among the facility maintenance, health and safety, technology, and ventilation engineering communities, they also reassure occupants that the buildings they are returning to are safe.
ASHRAE: “ASHRAE Position Document on Infectious Aerosols” (PDF, April 2020).
CDC: “Scientific Brief: SARS-CoV-2 and Potential Airborne Transmission.”
Environmental Health Perspective: “Associations of Cognitive Function Scores with Carbon Dioxide, Ventilation, and Volatile Organic Compound Exposures in Office Workers: A Controlled Exposure Study of Green and Conventional Office Environments” (June 2016).
Facility Executive: “Occupant Health Hinges on Indoor Air Quality” (December 2020).
OSHA: “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.”
U.S. Green Building Council: “LEED Reference Guide for Green Building Design and Construction” (2009).