Authors note: I’m not a lawyer. If you need legal advice, seek professional advice from a legal professional. This column should not be considered legal advice.
Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of talk about legal protections for companies in regard to COVID-19 workplace lawsuits. Up to this point, the lawsuits have mainly focused on the manufacturing and consumer services sectors. In my opinion, it’s just a matter of time until those lawsuits effect the built environment. If history proves to be true, then one of the factors that will affect settlements in these cases will be how much “reasonable effort” did the facility operator and/or owner take to protect the occupant. Design engineers and consultants find themselves in the perfect position to help customers evaluate and mitigate their risk. Here are three approaches you can take right now to assist your customers.
Approach One: Log Environmental Data
Engineers should focus on logging environmental data. Environmental data will prove the current state of the environment and can show that the building operator kept the space within the recommended thresholds for viral mitigation. To assist your customers with this, perform a site survey to identify what data you can collect. Next, create a gap analysis report and close that gap by putting the appropriate data devices (sensors, etc.) in place. Finally, begin to log that data and store it in an external location with redundancy.
Approach Two: Modify Control Sequences
There are several recommended control sequences for viral load mitigation, but the majority of them focus on increased ventilation, filtration and sterilization, and specific environmental set points. You, once again, can assist your customers in achieving these recommendations through the following process. First, perform a site survey to identify how systems are currently sequenced. Next, create a gap analysis report and close that gap by implementing the appropriate sequences. I would first focus on modes that increase ventilation and sterilization. Finally, assist your customer in designing and executing (where appropriate) any mechanical changes that need to take place.
Approach Three: Use Analytics to Avoid Failure Scenarios
The last thing you want is to have a ventilation mode fail while tenants are occupying buildings. To avoid this, you can build upon your previous efforts by implementing analytics to predict and avoid failures. To do this, utilize the following process. First, perform a site survey to identify what data is available. Next, create a gap analysis report and close that gap by implementing appropriate fault detection at major systems. I would first focus on major air handlers and hydronic systems. Finally, assist your customer in utilizing this system and adopting it to their processes. These three strategies should help your customers position themselves if they do find themselves in the unfortunate situation of facing litigation.