Electrical contractors have more at stake when working in healthcare than just doing quality electrical and low-voltage work. More than 2 million patients a year in U.S. hospitals acquire infections while they are hospitalized for other health problems, and 88,000 die as a result. About 5,000 of those deaths are related to construction and maintenance practices.

Many construction and maintenance activities generate and disperse contaminants that compromise the quality of an indoor environment. The main cause of construction-related infection is airborne spores, which are the reproductive cells of molds and fungi. On new construction sites, those often originate on materials such as gypsum board and ceiling tile that are wet more than 72 hours.

In existing building systems, they breed in water accumulated in ducts, humidifiers and drain pans of the ventilation system, or water that has collected on ceiling tiles, carpeting or insulation. The spores, along with bacteria and viruses, become airborne during building repairs and/or disturbance. They have low settling velocities, remaining in the air and continuing to be a threat to nearby patients for long periods of time.

ECs bidding on and performing work in healthcare facilities should learn how to prevent mold growth and understand how to respond when they discover it. Training courses and certification are available for these potentially lifesaving procedures, as is information on how to identify infectious hazards, including bloodborne pathogens, airborne infectious agents and waterborne hazards that electricians and technicians may encounter when performing demolition, construction and maintenance.

Those involved in healthcare construction and maintenance are responsible for understanding, executing and enforcing infection control measures to reduce infection rates. The result will be a safer environment for the patients and staff who are treated and work in our healthcare system.

For more information on the healthcare market, see this month's Security + Life Safety Systems.       EC