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Thursday, 06 August 2020 21:22

Keys to Safely Reopening Buildings After a Shutdown

Written by Bill Zoeller, PropertyCasualty360
Before reopening a building that has been closed for an extended period, do a visual assessment of the facade, roofing, ceilings, walls and windows to determine whether any storm damage could have allowed for moisture infiltration, leading to mold or structural degradation. Before reopening a building that has been closed for an extended period, do a visual assessment of the facade, roofing, ceilings, walls and windows to determine whether any storm damage could have allowed for moisture infiltration, leading to mold or structural degradation. Chansom Pantip/Shutterstock

Index

With safety measures such as masks and facial protection, social distancing, limited gatherings and reduced travel, the workplace experience differs significantly today from a few months ago.

Social guidelines and business operations may not be the only changes we encounter as society returns to the physical work environment. Periods of low building occupancy can present health and safety issues, including mold and bacteria growth, as well as structural degradation.

 

Let’s examine some biological considerations to be aware of when reopening buildings, especially factories, commercial office spaces and schools.

 

Have spring or summer storms affected the building’s envelope?

 

A visual assessment of the facade, roofing, ceilings, walls and windows of a building is appropriate to determine whether any storm damage could have allowed for moisture infiltration, leading to mold or structural degradation.

 

It is important to inspect the exterior for damage from fallen trees, heavy wind and hail. Additionally, inspect the interior for signs of damage, including water staining, broken glass and delaminated substrates.

 

Has the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system continued to run its regular schedule or was it turned off or set to “low” prior to the shutdown or reduced occupancy?

 

If a building’s airflow and climate control were limited during the shutdown or reduced occupancy period, it would be unsurprising to discover the presence of mold. These types---often referred to as “cottage syndrome”---are created by dew point condensation and the absorption of water vapor from the air, which is the result of a lack of air movement.

 

These fast-growing species can grow from lower air humidity or surface moisture content, often producing a common and familiar musty odor. These species of mold are commonly found in closets, corners or exterior walls covered by furniture.

 

Due to the possibility of mold and bacterial growth, it is important to determine whether HVAC systems require duct cleaning or filter changes prior to reopening and reestablishing normal occupancy. Some telltale indicators of risk may include condensation within ducts or on the coils, and especially standing water in condensate pans.

 

Persistent condensation can often lead to mold growth, while pooling water can result in bacterial growth. Taking the appropriate measures to inspect and clean HVAC systems may greatly reduce the chance of spreading a hazard through the system and putting returning occupants at risk.


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