Reduce Building Owners Risk and Save Lives with Proper O&M

The mysterious death of a healthy 26-year-old guest at the Doubletree Grand Key Resort, the second largest hotel in Key West, FL, caused the hotel to suddenly close on Dec. 27th, 2006.

State and local investigative agencies determined that two boilers housed inside a boiler room adjacent to the victim's guest room were the source of the carbon monoxide fumes which they directly linked to the cause of death. Florida State law requires boilers to be inspected every two years. However, state fire officials said they could find no records of an inspection for this property's equipment (source Miami Herald, Dec. 30, 2006).

The tragedy in the 216-room luxury hotel in Key West could have been prevented if the boilers and associated exhaust duct had been properly maintained. Proper operation and maintenance (O&M) on mechanical equipment and systems is the best defense against possible accidents such as this.

Building owners and managers have sleeping giants hidden in the mechanical equipment rooms of their facilities. The mechanical systems (boilers, chillers and air handlers), which are tucked away inside equipment rooms in basements and throughout the building itself, can be the beginning of tragedies and potential lawsuits if not properly operated and maintained. Mechanical systems are generally orphan children, hidden behind insulated walls of equipment rooms to reduce the noise generated by compressors, motors, fans and pumps. In the Key West case, the boiler room emitting the poisonous fumes was located next to the guest room of the victim on the 4th floor of the hotel.

Another family, David and Jody Smith and their 22-year-old son, Nathan, filed a lawsuit against the hotel and its management, claims negligence after staying in room 416 and falling ill from carbon monoxide poisoning on December 21st. The Smiths were rushed to Mariners Hospital for emergency treatment (source Miami Herald, Jan. 4th, 2007).

Before this high profile tragedy, the hotel ownership and management team probably viewed the cost for new boilers as an unnecessary capital expenditure; an expense that would take away from the bottom line. Now, that cost is insignificant compared to the loss of revenue that world wide negative publicity has generated. All eyes are watching how this national hotel organization will handle the myriad of issues generated from the unfortunate accidental death of this young man, including multi million-dollar lawsuits, bad publicity and over a month's lost revenue at the height of Key West's pricey winter tourist season.

The potential improvement for healthier, safer and more productive work environments through improved Operation &Maintenance practices is significant. Fewer Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) complaints from building occupants and the associated administrative time required to resolve them is an added benefit.

Additional major operational benefits to buildings and facilities that
improve O&M practices include:

? Energy savings in the conservative range of 10% to 15%
? Extended equipment life ? reducing future capital funding requirements
? Improved building occupant comfort — reducing occupant trouble calls/complaints.
? A higher level of protection against lawsuits

Mechanical systems require on-going preventative maintenance and proper operation to verify that each system and subsystem is operating safely and at maximum efficiency. When a licensed contractor performs this work, he assumes a level of responsibility that proper maintenance work is performed for safe operation of the equipment. If a legal situation occurs, the contractor will be asked to provide documentation that proper preventative maintenance procedures were applied.

The building owner has a large degree of protection by utilizing the services of an experienced, licensed contractor. A contractor places himself in a position of risk, if an accident occurs and proper preventative maintenance was not performed. A qualified contractor will document all preventative maintenance work, indicating which procedures were performed and the condition of each piece of equipment.

In addition to a preventative maintenance program, building owners and managers can protect themselves by initiating an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Plan. An IAQ Plan is customized for each building, providing documentation of testing, evaluation and analysis that is performed. Baseline testing of parameters such as air temperatures, relative humidity, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide levels, and air particle measurement and ventilation air volumes should be performed.

Continuous monitoring of dew-point temperatures in the building is an excellent indicator which will alarm if the temperature reaches a level that will allow mold to grow. Situations such as water leaks and moisture intrusion through the building envelope can provide the moisture needed for mold to flourish. Mold is a serious IAQ problem, and keeping moisture out of a building is key towards maintaining a healthy and safe indoor environment.

The IAQ Plan is a strong facility management tool that creates a baseline of the building's level of air quality. The plan should contain a section that explains the procedure to follow if a building occupant has a complaint regarding IAQ. A complaint log would be filled out and steps taken to investigate and resolve the issue.

There is a section in the plan for preventative maintenance and service work that is performed, which relates to IAQ issues. Tasks such as cleaning evaporator coils and drain pans, air filter replacements and trend logs indicating operating points such as temperature, humidity and dew-point would be under this section. The IAQ Plan should be in a three ring binder so that pertinent documentation can be inserted in the proper areas, thus keeping the plan up to date and accurate.

The plan documentation establishes that the building owner and manager are proactive towards the safety and well being of building occupants. If an issue ever arises and an IAQ investigation is required, this document will be of tremendous help to the investigation team. In the event that a building occupant persues a legal claim, the building owner and their attorney will be in a strong position to defend the claim with the IAQ Plan in place.

The combination of a reliable preventative maintenance program and a well-documented IAQ Plan, will provide building owners and mangers with the tools to create and maintain a healthier, safer and more productive environment for building occupants.

- By Scott Gordon, HVAC Inc.

Scott Gordon is general manager of HVAC, Inc Existing Building Services Division. He is a Class A Certified Air Conditioning Contractor in Florida, and is certified by the National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB) in testing and balancing of environmental systems, and commissioning hvac and control systems. Additionally, he is a Certified Indoor Air Quality Professional (CIAQP) and a Certified Energy Manager (CEM) and has over 30 years of experience in the hvac industry. He can be contacted at scottgordon [at] hvac-inc.com.