Untested HEPA Filters Present a Safety Hazard
Healthcare environments cannot be clean if the air in them is not clean, which is why dust containment for maintenance and construction projects in these settings is critical. HEPA filtration is usually the first and last line of defense between patients and the pathogens and spores that could be released by, for example, above ceiling work. The High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance (or Air) filters at work in hospitals are the gold standard for air filtration. However, these filters can only do what they are intended to do if they have the benefit of proper testing.
HEPA Filtration & Dust Containment
HEPA filtration is a central component to dust containment technology. Without highly rated air filtration capabilities, it would be impossible to keep dust, debris, and dangerous pathogens out of areas where they could cause harm. Ultimately, dust containment is about keeping the air clean and safe. Since they were first introduced in the 1940s, HEPA filters have simply been the best way to do that in a wide range of settings, including healthcare environments.
How does HEPA Filter Testing Work?
All filters sold under the HEPA descriptor must be tested. Independent labs test the filtration capabilities of each filter using standards as set forth by organizations like the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technologies (IEST) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL). These tests involve passing regulated chemical aerosols through the filter to ensure that the proper amount, at least 99.97% of all particles that measure .03 microns, are captured. The data from this type of testing is then printed on a label that is affixed to the filter itself.
Risks for Untested Filter Installations
The problem with HEPA filter testing lies not with the filters themselves, all of which must be tested, but with the installation of those filters. There is currently no standard dictating how or when to test HEPA filter installations. Some dust containment options may have HEPA filters that were tested by their manufacturers but have not been tested on site. The construction of the rest of the dust containment tool -- whether that is a portable dust containment cart, anteroom, or another piece of equipment, may not be to specifications that allow the filter to do its job.
Further, while many healthcare facilities and HEPA filter manufacturers recommend in-service testing on a regular basis (e.g. every 6 to 12 months), this does not always happen, leaving filters at risk for degraded efficacy.
The risks posed by untested filters, of course, extends beyond the risks to those filters. HEPA filters that are not properly installed and maintained can present a real risk to patients. If a HEPA filter-enabled system is in use without proper testing, it can be much too easy to feel that patients are safe and the air is clean, when the reality is quite different.
Before investing in dust containment technology that uses HEPA filtration, be sure to investigate the testing process that the product has undergone. Has the HEPA filter been tested in place to ensure that it can meet HEPA standards as used? Is there a plan in place for your facility to continue to test the filter on a regular basis? It is only with dedicated testing and testing transparency that it is possible to keep patients safe using HEPA filtration.