Switching from hot to cold not simple for Belvoir offices
April 19, 2013
Temperatures rose into the 90s during the workday April 11-12, creating an uncomfortable working environment for many in the Garrison's 1930s-era buildings.
At home, most people just switch their air conditioning units to cool when the weather gets warm or back to hot when the weather changes to colder temperatures.
Here on Fort Belvoir, it's not that simple.
Most of Belvoir's heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems run on a two-pipe system. This means that either hot water and steam or chilled water flows through the pipes, but never both.
It will take roughly three to four weeks of dedicated work between two contractors to convert the systems from heating to air conditioning, according to Bob Zinkwich, Directorate of Public Works, energy manager. It takes that long because first the heat must be shut down and then there is a 2-4 day cooling down period for the piping system. Then the cooling towers and chillers are brought online and begin pumping cool water to the systems.
If there are any repairs to be made to the system, either Pepco or Aluet Corporation (the new installation services contractor), will do them depending on the portion of the system.
"The main thing is to be patient," Zinkwich said.
Realistically, it is nearly impossible to pick the perfect time to switch from heating to cooling as the weather doesn't always cooperate, according to Stephen Brooks, deputy to the garrison commander.
"Up until late last week, we were experiencing early morning temperatures in the high 20s to mid 30s with afternoon highs in the 40s/50s," said Bill Sanders, Directorate of Public Works, director. "In most of our facilities, we had a need for heating though at least April 6. We started turning off the heat on April 8 and, with some exceptions, we are working to bring the AC on line across post."
Barring any unforeseen emergencies and repairs, DPW expects to have cool air flowing through all buildings by May 1.
Office temperature and humidity conditions are generally a matter of human comfort rather than hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workers exposed to hot indoor environments or hot and humid conditions outdoors are at risk of heat-related illness, especially those doing heavy work tasks or using bulky or non-breathable protective clothing and equipment. Some workers might be at greater risk than others if they have not built up a tolerance to hot conditions, or if they have certain health conditions.
OSHA has no regulations specifically addressing temperature and humidity in an office. However, Section III, Chapter 2, Subsection V of the OSHA Technical Manual, "Recommendations for the Employer," provides engineering and administrative guidance to prevent or alleviate indoor air quality problems. Air treatment is defined under the engineering recommendations as, "the removal of air contaminants and/or the control of room temperature and humidity." OSHA recommends temperature control in the range of 68-76 degrees and humidity control in the range of 20-60 percent.
Workers who are suddenly exposed to working in a hot environment face additional and generally avoidable hazards to their safety and health. OSHA defines dangerous heat as a heat index of greater than 91 degrees.
The standards of action, according to OSHA, are based on a heat index: Less than 91 degrees; 91-103 degrees; 103-115 degrees; and greater than 115 degrees. See the schedule in this article for responses to these indexes.
New workers and those returning from time away are especially vulnerable. That's why it is important to prepare for the heat, educate workers about the dangers of heat, acclimatize workers, gradually increase the workload or allow more frequent breaks to help new workers and those returning to a job after time away build up a tolerance for hot conditions.
Until the air conditioning is once again fully functional, employees should plan to dress comfortably in lightweight clothing. Employees should check with their managers and supervisors on acceptable and professional dress while the garrison works to switch from heat to cool air.
According to the Fort Belvoir Civilian Personnel Advisory Center, all employee actions are at the discretion of managers, supervisors and controlling partner organizations. Employees can request leave, however, management must then make the determination if allowing the employee to take unscheduled leave will have an impact on meeting mission.
If there is a telework/work-from-home policy in place, supervisors can assign and allow these actions at their discretion, according to Sharon Martini, acting CPAC director.
"Most managers should have the flexibility to make these decisions based on conditions in the building. However, if a manager has concerns he or she should check with his or her chain of command," said Martini.
As with any activity in the heat, everyone is encouraged to stay hydrated whether sitting at an uncomfortably warm desk or working out in the sun.
For more detailed heat information on visit OSHA's website at www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/