There’s new federal guidance for employers on how to improve indoor air quality to combat COVID-19 exposure.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new guidance March 24 called the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, which advises employers to “engage experts, facilities managers, and others who are skilled, trained, and/or certified in HVAC work to develop and implement plans to improve indoor air quality and manage air flows.”
The guidance includes four steps employers or building owners should take to improve their HVAC systems:
Get a plan in place
The first step is to create an action plan for clean indoor air in buildings.
This plan should assess indoor air quality, allow for upgrades and improvements and include HVAC inspections and maintenance.
Let clean, outdoor air in
Next, is to optimize fresh air ventilation by bringing in clean outdoor air and circulating it indoors.
This includes opening windows as weather, outdoor air quality, occupant safety and HVAC systems permit. Enable cross ventilation by opening windows and doors at opposite sides of the room or building.
EPA points out that this could increase energy costs, however.
Filter it out
The next step is to enhance air filtration and cleaning by using the central HVAC system and in-room cleaning devices.
This requires installation of properly sized MERV-13 air filters or the highest rated MERV filters the HVAC system can accommodate.
Gaps around the filters must be closed off to minimize air moving around them instead of through them.
Portable air cleaners can be used in areas of insufficient air flow and filtration.
Increase ventilation in areas with higher emission of airborne particles by increasing the volume of clean outdoor air delivery and consider using an upper-room Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) system to clean the air.
Get employees on board
Finally, get your employees or building community engaged in the action plan by communicating with them to increase awareness, commitment and participation in improving indoor air quality.
Do this by communicating to the affected people about how the plan will improve indoor air quality and reduce disease transmission in the building.
Also, be sure to provide a method for them to give feedback such as maintenance requests to identify repair issues and surveys to get perspectives on the effectiveness of the plan.
What does OSHA say?
While OSHA included use of HVAC systems for mitigating COVID-19 exposure in some of its earlier guidance, the agency hasn’t weighed in on the new EPA guidance yet.
But, according to law firm Jackson Lewis, OSHA is planning on updating its guidance soon.
The law firm suggests watching closely for this, and for OSHA’s information to align with the new EPA and other federal agency guidance.