Preventing COVID-19 spread in the commercial office is the responsibility of everyone involved: owners, facility managers, employees, and customers. The first steps are widely known: wash hands thoroughly and practice social distancing. Building operators look a little deeper at HVAC technologies like ultraviolet filters, but often overlooked are plumbing systems.
In a previous blog, TDIndustries (TD) Mechanical Engineer Esmeralda Morales reviewed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for commercial re-entry. Today, she explains new guidelines from the American Institute of Architects, which includes a short section on plumbing and plumbing fixtures.
Here is Morales’ advice on guides from the organization’s re-occupancy assessment tool (version 2.0), published on May 28, 2020.
3.5.1: Consider implementation of water management program for building operations per CDC guidance.
Legionella is caused by bacteria that thrive on stagnant water, and it can make people sick when they inhale contaminated water droplets. A water management program is becoming a must-do to prevent Legionella in large buildings. CDC and ASHRAE have guidelines on how to develop the program. Water management is key for identifying areas of low flow, leakage, and possible contamination locations.
While these should be part of any preventative maintenance program, they become increasingly important during COVID-19 due to the low occupancy businesses experienced during the shelter in place. Facility maintenance groups can offer building analysis and suggest solutions to implement water management programs in adherence to CDC guidelines.
3.5.2: For buildings experiencing extended closures, flush and test potable water systems
Most plumbing systems are designed with a minimum daily flow in mind. When in-house demand drops below this assumed constant, unintended consequences begin to show up. Reduced occupancy leads to stagnant water in domestic water piping systems and it creates a favorable environment for Legionella. Around the nation, we are seeing a rise in cases in minimally occupied commercial structures. To make up for this daily flow reduction, building owners should flush water systems at all points of use. A service technician can help owners perform the flush.
3.5.3: Replace flush valves and faucets with hands-free devices.
Coronaviruses most effectively spread from direct contact, but also through indirect contact. Think of the difference between a push-to-open door and one with a handle. Ask anyone who cleans the glass entry doors where the smudges are, and they will say they are all over the surface. A door with a handle will have all contact concentrated on that handle.
The same can be seen in the restroom. Almost every employee will touch the door, the stall door and lock, the flush valve, and faucets. Installing hands-free flush sensors and faucet sensors immediately lowers that chance for contact.
3.5.4/5 Add touchless handwashing/hygiene stations and replace drinking fountains with touchless glass/drinking bottle refill stations.
Most industry vendors have touchless drinking fountain models, and many newer buildings have them already installed. Changing out this equipment can be done quickly and effectively, especially as many businesses are slowly returning to the workplace. Like 3.5.3, these stations are in high use during the pandemic. We find that multiple stations are better than one or two. This helps reduce congestion and potential spread.
Additionally, communal stations (water coolers, fridges/freezers, ice/coffee machines) should be inspected. While not always possible, consider other options such as individually packaged water bottles, segregating fridge space, or having a single employee in charge of handling convenience machines.
These standards provide owners with a great start on preventing COVID-19 spread. For more in-depth planning and suggestions, consider engaging a full-service plumbing firm to advise you on the best life-cycle options for your business.
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