Hospital growth is a fundamental constant. And with growth comes construction dust — and lots of it.
To busy healthcare facility managers and healthcare construction managers, hospital growth is a fundamental constant. If it's Tuesday, there's probably an office being converted to an exam room, or an addition being grafted to the side of the building — or the roof.
One result of all this construction is dust that shakes loose as a result of drilling, sanding, sawing, and general vibration, carrying pathogens that can be lethal to immunosuppressed patients.
Of course, not every job calls for stringent ICRA Class 4 precautions. Sometimes it's just a few ceiling tiles that must be removed to run wires overhead, a job easily managed with a dust containment cart, good procedures, and proper protective clothing.
But if your facility is typical, and today's a normal day for you, there's probably more going on than a dude in a ponytail stringing CAT5 cable above the hallway ceiling. So let's take a look at what can help you deal more efficiently with the problem of construction dust health hazards.
Wall Off The Dust
When it comes to minimizing construction dust, barrier walls are a fundamental part of the solution. Unfortunately, awareness of recent advances in dust containment wall technology lags behind reality, resulting in missed opportunities. For reasons ranging from budget pressures to plain old institutional inertia, tried-and-true sometimes win out over potentially higher-performing solutions that could yield lower overall cost.
In this post, we'll contrast the "older ways" with modern alternatives for dust control, focusing specifically on reusable customizable wall barriers that have only been available for a few years. Skip down to Solid wall barriers with sound insulation if you only have a minute to see where we're going with this.
Start with the PCRA
If you have a cross-disciplinary team performing a pre-construction risk assessment (done far ahead of the bidding process in order to avoid change-order pyrotechnics down the line), you're well aware that a major construction project entails far more than containing the dust that can transport airborne pathogens.
At this early stage, you're considering the project's impact on fire safety, utilities, noise, and vibration in addition to infection control. Aesthetic considerations, which have been shown to have a strong influence over patient perceptions of the overall care experience, are likewise to be considered here.
Right at the outset, a strong case can be made for something more substantial than 3- to 6-mil plastic sheeting, which is flammable, has limited durability, is not particularly attractive, and does virtually nothing to mitigate noise. (Fire-retardant plastic sheeting exists but is more expensive, reducing plastic sheeting's main advantage over other options.)
In the age of CAHPS, the aesthetic value of a solid wall surrounding construction takes on its own importance. Patients are reassured as they are safely guided along the right path by a real wall, and when consumer assessments skew toward the positive in surveys, the healthcare facility benefits.
If Not Plastic, then What?
In cases where the ICRA matrix indicates the need for Class III or Class IV precautions, plastic is not recommended and solid sheetrock or gypsum board walls are accepted practice, according to The Joint Commission's standards FAQ on temporary construction barriers.
But building temporary walls from conventional materials like drywall and fiberglass insulation creates dust that must be contained. Plastic sheeting or reusable fabric supported by spring-loaded poles are favored by many construction managers for this purpose.
An assessment of labor costs (erect temporary barrier, erect semi-permanent barrier, remove temporary barrier; when construction is done, reverse the process and get rid of construction waste) might reasonably motivate the facilities manager or project manager to search for a simpler, cleaner solution.
Use Solid Wall Barriers
Enter the next rung up the wall barrier food chain — polycarbonate partitions. They combine improved durability over plastic sheeting, reusability, stability, and clean appearance with fire and smoke resistance. They're available with accessories such as doors with hydraulic closers and air discharge ports to connect to a HEPA-filtered negative air machine. They assemble quickly without tools, creating no dust, so no temporary barrier is needed while erecting or removing them.
What's missing from polycarbonate partitions is noise reduction, which can be a big issue in a healthcare facility. However, if no sound attenuation is needed, they can be an acceptable alternative to heavier, insulated walls. A new competitor to polycarbonate partitions was recently introduced by STARC Systems: STARC® LiteBarrier™, an aluminum-framed fiberglass-reinforced polymer panel.
This system is engineered to interconnect with competitors' polycarbonate panels, and also with STARC's RealWall barrier system. In tests, the LiteBarrier panels proved more resistant to blows from a heavyweight than polycarbonate panels.
Try Solid Wall Barriers with Sound Insulation
Moving up another level, the STARC® RealWall™ combines reusability and portability with sound attenuation. Surrounded by an aluminum frame, each panel consists of a urethane foam core between a glossy white aluminum front and galvanized steel back. Top and bottom gaskets form an air-tight seal, and the system reduces construction noise by 25 decibels.
Exceeding ICRA Class IV requirements, these premium walls provide years of service without maintenance, and can easily be disinfected with standard cleaners. They telescope to the ceiling from 6' 10" to 10' 3", connecting with grid clips. Panels come in widths from 12" to 42", with options for tempered glass on top or bottom. Optional panels contain standard 12" duct collars for connection with a negative air machine.
Balance Costs with Benefits
Given the inevitability of ongoing construction projects in the typical healthcare environment, facility managers and construction managers should carefully calculate their return on investment for a sturdy, reusable temporary wall system. Offsetting initial costs are a significant reduction in labor hours and non-reusable materials compared to traditional drywall construction.
Employing an article like this as a general guide, you will, of course, select dust barriers appropriate to the requirements of your infrastructure, frequency of use, the job's proximity to sensitive areas, budget constraints, and project sizes. But when ICRA Class IV compliance, aesthetically-pleasing appearance, sound attenuation, and years of reusability are top considerations, facility and construction managers will find little to compare with STARC RealWall barriers.