WHEN CONTRACTORS CREATE A LIABILITY
Indoor air quality is everyone’s responsibility. I say this all the time, and I probably sound like a broken record, but I’m constantly stunned at how often people fail to understand that what they do inside a building can impact everyone else sharing that space. From “noxious” fumes emanating from a woman’s daily breakfast of mapleflavored oatmeal to bacteria residing inside a taxidermy trophy, sometimes the indoor air quality culprit is totally unexpected and caused by someone who should really know better.
Not long ago, we were called out to a medical building where tenants had been complaining about the indoor air quality. Fortunately, no one had gotten sick from it yet, but the building manager, being very wise, wanted to act fast. I knew there was definitely something up when I met a woman with irritated skin around her nose and eyes, and her elbows and wrists were rubbed raw from scratching. At the time, a quarter of the building was under construction, and the tenants who were complaining just happened to be located in offices closest to the construction. You can see where this is going.
I set up some equipment to test for airborne particles and found that the count was 40 times higher than it should have been. I certainly had my suspicions about the cause when I looked down the hallway and saw some of the construction crew dragging a piece of fiberglass insulation over the carpet. Plus, the construction area was not closed off, and the crew was unknowingly carrying fibers and contaminants to other parts of the building on their clothes and in their hair. After testing some suites that were farther from the construction zones, it was confirmed these spaces weren’t experiencing a problem, so I went to the client with my findings.
The long and short of it is that the construction lead wasn’t managing the site well enough. They needed to contain the area, put it under negative pressure, set up some air scrubbers with a HEPA filter to clean the air coming out of the area, clean the hallway carpets, and instruct the construction crew to stop dragging equipment across the carpet. My client forwarded the report to the contractor and told him, in no uncertain terms, that he was creating a huge liability and was going to cause a lawsuit!
Problems happen around construction areas a lot, especially when the contractor doesn’t know how they are impacting the IAQ. Ideally, after hearing about the risks, a contractor will do everything in his power to remedy the situation. Considering we had to go back to that medical building four times for follow-up inspections, where we found the filters not running and more particles in the carpet each time, it’s safe to say that the contractor did not take my advice seriously.
This contractor’s carelessness could potentially pose a big problem to this building in the future. The area with the construction has two A/C units mounted to the roof, and you won’t be surprised to hear that the contractor didn’t cover the supply vents and was letting them run the whole time. Considering how he treated the construction process, I can’t imagine he’ll think to clear out the A/C before the building moves tenants into those spaces.
Consider this a cautionary tale. Before you let people do any work in your building, you need to make sure the contractors you hire are experienced enough to follow proper protocol in order to maintain good indoor air quality.