UV disinfection is not a quick fix for commercial spaces

Light Link founder and director, Jaspal Bal, outlines how UV disinfection can tackle COVID-19

Light Link founder and director Jaspal Bal (pictured)
Light Link founder and director Jaspal Bal (pictured)

There have been many recent changes to the modern workplace, with designers adapting offices to comply with social distancing protocols and improve safety.

It’s no surprise that companies are doing everything they can to mitigate the kind of widespread shutdowns we saw earlier this year, and they’re keen to embrace new technologies that can play a role in tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

One of these potential weapons is UV disinfection. The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) confirmed that UVC could kill COVID-19 when implemented at the right dose and the sudden interest has resulted in a surge of UVC products entering the market, often from suppliers without any UV experience.

Used correctly, UVC can be a highly effective preventative measure, but the right training and knowledge are vital. In the current market, there are some major considerations to take into account when it comes to integrating UVC into commercial fit-outs and relying on it for widespread sanitation.

Ultraviolet radiation inactivates viruses by breaking down their DNA and killing the cells, stopping them from growing and multiplying.

This technology has been used for decades to disinfect water, air, and contaminated surfaces in specific settings, such as hospital operating rooms and water treatment plants.

As awareness of its potential has grown, multiple products have been adapted for indoor virus prevention in commercial spaces, including mounted air sanitisers, germicidal UV light bulbs, UV sanitiser wands, portable UV sterilisers, and even UV disinfection robots.

The science behind them is essentially the same as the medical-grade technology, but rather than being handled by trained professionals, giving them to mainstream consumers increases the risks, as well as the margin for error.

On the safety side, although the FDA hasn’t received any problem reports associated with using UV light products, excessive exposure to UV light during cleaning may put users at risk of eye injury, skin burns, or even skin cancer. Because of its potency, UVC can also damage conventional office furnishings and cause surfaces to yellow through photodegradation, as they aren’t resilient enough for high-power UV irradiation.

Functionality is another issue, especially when products are sold without adequate regulations and instructions.

Detailed analysis is needed to determine the correct UV exposure for the required level of disinfection, and if the dose isn’t high enough, then it will not work.

Many sellers are promising the world and people are paying high prices for unachievable assurances.

For example, a single lamp or robotic tower cannot disinfect a large space alone. If an area is shielded from the light, it will not be disinfected, and any residual bacteria will rapidly recolonise irradiated areas as there is no lasting residual effect once the light is removed.

Even when used with the proper precautions, UVC has to be part of a holistic approach combined with regular deep cleaning.

While acknowledging the overall benefits of UVC for disinfection, the IES has urged caution when it comes to treating surfaces, calling it a supplemental control measure.

Speaking to Lux Review their spokesperson said: “The inability of the UV radiant energy to reach shadowed recesses of surfaces or to penetrate coverings like dust and other matter may negatively affect disinfection.”

For this reason, it suggests that the lighting industry should focus on developing safe air technologies, such as upper-room germicidal ultraviolet. This involves specially designed and installed UVC fixtures that only irradiate the air above 2.1 metres for constant disinfection of the upper air volume, and it is most effective when the air is being constantly mixed by fans and HVAC ventilation.

As no one could predict the dramatic rise in demand for UVC disinfection products, standardised guidelines are not yet in place, making it difficult to compare and assess their overall quality and safety.

Until standardisation bodies catch up, various professional bodies, such as IES, CIE, and GLA have issued guidance and recommendations to help customers make informed purchasing decisions, but clients need to understand that UVC is not a panacea.

There is so much at stake for businesses and we know that UVC is a powerful tool that can help to promote a safe working environment.

However, these are highly specialised products that should only be sourced through the proper channels, with an in-depth understanding of their appropriate application and consumption.

We need to accept their limitations and ensure all other necessary measures are being taken so that we don’t fall victim to a false sense of security that could compromise people’s health and cost companies far more in the long run.

As with all changes made in response to the global health crisis, bespoke plans have to be put in place and regularly reviewed based on the specific space; simply purchasing something that claims to cure the problem will never be enough.

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