Key steps for infection-free, energy-efficient buildings

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Josiah Padget, Lead consultant and Healthcare manager of CETEC Pty in Australia, highlights some of the key ventilation, building fabric, and airflow requirements to minimise the risk of infection in hospitals and other healthcare environments, while maximising energy efficiency and thus reducing energy costs.

Since the advent of COVID-19, and the established link with respiratory virus airborne transmission, indoor air quality has become especially topical. Earlier this year, the Australian Government held a Clean Air Forum at Parliament House. Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, announced that he would be setting up a committee to improve the nation’s indoor air quality over the next 12 months. The absence of clear indoor air quality legislation and Government guidelines have come at a cost. For example, data from the UK shows that more than 11,600 people died after catching COVID in NHS hospitals. In Australia one jurisdiction reported that 1 in 9 COVID infections were hospital acquired in 2020. It’s terrible to think that thousands of patients who went into hospital for unrelated illnesses contracted the disease, with fatal consequences. The risk of compromising the health of patients and staff due to transmission of other airborne disease, ingress of contaminants, and the impact on efficiency – both in financial and productivity terms, is significant. 

Review of HVAC systems

During the pandemic healthcare Estates and Facilities managers from around the country reviewed their HVAC systems to determine if air exchange rates met basic hospital engineering requirements. However, of course, air exchange rates for fresh air are only part of the picture. Airtightness of the building’s external envelope may influence airflow leakage just as much as the intra-building barriers separating CSSD, operating theatres, and isolation rooms/wards. Air barriers are the starting aspect to consider, and vital to achieve the goal of reducing the prevalence of hospital-acquired infections. The built environment is an essential component of a hospital’s infection control strategy, as this influences airflow, and ingress of contaminants and moisture, and impacts energy consumption.

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