September 12

Risks of Working On Commercial Buildings: HVAC

Here’s a case from California: A few weeks after moving into a brand new building, two accountants of a particular software company suddenly started having trouble breathing. They began coughing, choking, and their eyes burned. Within two weeks, everyone in the office began feeling sick. They had headaches and other problems.

The owner of the company complained to building management. But management did nothing to correct the problem. Ultimately, it was determined that workers who were remodeling another part of the building were using strong, solvent-based adhesives to seal holes in the air ducts. And the ventilation system was spreading the vapors throughout the entire building. Finally, the software company moved to another building. But the owner of the company filed a lawsuit against the previous building’s owner, architects, HVAC contractors, and managers. They settled out of court for several million dollars.

The above story is a great indicator of the risks for contractors that work in commercial buildings that contain occupants in other sections of the building that are not being worked on. This risk is especially true for HVAC contractors because air vents are all interconnected and tend to run through the entire facility.

The incident that resulted in a lawsuit in the above story involved a couple of employees of a software company whose office was adjacent to another section of the building being worked on. The HVAC workers were plugging up holes using a solvent-based adhesive. The problem arose because the air ducts were cycling the fumes from the adhesive into other parts of the office.

The two men who first started not feeling well suffered from headaches, coughing, choking, and a burning sensation in their eyes. After a couple of weeks, the entire office felt sick. With no action taken by the building management, the software company moved their operations elsewhere; but not before filing a lawsuit against the building owner, the managers, the architect, and the HVAC contractors that ended in a payout of several million dollars.

The lesson to be learned from this scenario is that even though the HVAC contractors were never informed by the building management that fumes from their adhesives were circulating through the vents, they ended up being a part of the lawsuit that awarded the plaintiff millions.

In order to mitigate this risk for the HVAC workers, it should become a common practice for them to check the schematic of a building they’ve never worked on in order to inspect the ventilation system. If the offices aren’t connected by independent ducts, but instead all part of one system, the HVAC workers know that fumes will likely end up being circulated to other offices.

Armed with this knowledge, the HVAC business can take the proper steps in ensuring the safety of others in the building. They will be able work out what needs to be done in order to prevent occupants from getting sick by consulting the building management.

For more information, visit HVACPro.

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