Renovation projects in or near hospitals require contractors to work by a specific set of protocols in order to protect the health of patients, many of whom are extremely vulnerable to infection. According to recent research, though, some construction companies that take on these types of projects are not providing adequate training to their workers and subcontractors on how to avoid creating the jobsite conditions that could have a negative impact on patients.
The dust and debris created by both renovation activities and by nearby construction can carry contaminants into patient areas, promoting the growth of pathogenic fungi. Spurred by previous studies that indicated patients were becoming ill and even dying as the end result of dust generated by construction activity, researchers from Washington State University and Clemson University surveyed what they say are the top healthcare contractors in the United States to find out the details on their training programs.
The survey's 129 participants — managers and field supervisors — were gleaned from eight firms from Building Design+Construction's 2017 list of the top healthcare contractors in the United States. That year, those companies completed 25% of all U.S. healthcare projects.
Only 52% of those surveyed said that owners of healthcare projects always or often required construction teams to receive training about how to perform work safely in or near occupied healthcare facilities, but 77% said that such training was typically required at the start of projects.
However, those programs targeted upper management and not construction workers or subcontractors, leaving those most likely to be in a position to control patients' exposure to contaminants with the least training. In fact, subcontractor workers and supervisors, along with contractors' employees, usually received only one to two hours of training.
The obvious takeaway from the study is that more construction companies need to make sure their superintendents, workers and subcontractors working in or near hospitals and other healthcare projects are aware of the dangers they can pose to patients. Although researchers did not mention the COVID-19 pandemic, one can reasonably assume that airborne contaminants could create a great risk for those with the severe respiratory symptoms that are commonly associated with the disease.
The University of Virginia Health System, as one of several healthcare providers, has outlined infection control policies and procedures for contractors in an effort to minimize the impact of construction projects on the health of its patients. The system requires training and also sets some guidelines for contractors and their workers to follow during construction, which vary depending on the risk level of patients. The guidelines are as follows.
- Use negative pressure systems monitored with a continuous-read negative air pressure monitor, smoke test with daily log or handheld manometer with daily log.
- Wait for patients to be removed before work begins in certain areas.
- Replace displaced ceiling tiles.
- Cleanup after work is complete by either wiping down the area or by using a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) vacuum.
- Use approved ICRA (Infection Control Risk Assessment) containment barriers.
- Control dust while cutting using water mist, a HEPA vacuum or other effective measures.
- Seal unused doors with painters' tape.
- Use dust control mats and all points of access.
- Transport construction waste out of the work area using clean containers with hard covers.
- Isolate the HVAC system in areas where work is going on to prevent contamination of the ducts system.