DENVER — Oct. 13, 2020 — As businesses make ventilation improvements to reduce transmission of COVID-19, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) work has become essential to the community response. Colorado’s largest workers’ compensation insurer, Pinnacol Assurance, urges HVAC employers to take precautions to reduce employee exposure to aerosols and droplets that can spread the virus.
While HVAC employees are critical to fighting COVID-19 and helping Coloradans remain safe, they’re often overlooked as essential to the COVID-19 response. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines encouraging businesses to consult HVAC professionals to improve ventilation in their buildings in an effort to reduce community transmission.
“Nearly every home or business has some sort of heating or air conditioning unit, and these systems require maintenance and repair. Many are going to need work done during the COVID-19 climate, and HVAC employees will respond,” says Corey Rupp, senior safety consultant at Pinnacol.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are just over 7,600 HVAC and refrigeration maintenance workers in Colorado. These workers skew older, putting them at greater risk for developing serious complications from COVID-19. The median age for HVAC technicians in the state is above 50.
Adopting proven best practices for HVAC maintenance and repair can help protect this employee population, which may be exposed to aerosols and droplets in areas of low ventilation.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers advises workers making home or business visits to request in advance details about the location they will service. Rupp counsels HVAC employers to take other preventive measures, which include:
· Ask whether anyone at the location being serviced is quarantining or has tested positive for COVID-19 within the past two weeks. If anyone has, reschedule the visit.
· Stay at least six feet from customers during the appointment.
· Build or assemble materials off-site. Do as much as possible in advance before entering the home or business.
· Use personal protective equipment at all times, including an N-95 particulate respirator or higher level of respiratory protection, eye protection and gloves. Rupp notes that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires a respiratory protection program when respirators are used.
· Carefully dispose of used filters. ASHRAE suggests workers spray filters with a 10% bleach solution or another appropriate disinfectant approved for use against coronavirus. Filters should only be treated with disinfectants if they are to be removed from service and discarded. Filters with suspected coronavirus contamination can be place into a regular trash bag and disposed of as normal trash. Do not bend, tear or crush the filters.
Instructing HVAC workers to take precautions can help lower their risk of exposure. Pinnacol provides a library of resources employers can use to protect employees, including a free virtual safety consultation for all businesses in Colorado, regardless of their insurer.