About John Herbert

Director at Kelcroft, focused on energy efficient M&E services, energy including energy auditing and sustainability consulting for Asia. He is an EMSD Registered Energy Assessor (EA00496G) Fellow of the Charted Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineers, and a BEAM Professional.

E-Stop

The Pok Oi Hospital isolation room ventilation system was found with a “red” light on 27 May 2020, that ventilation system maintains negative pressure inside the isolation room to reduce the risk of airborne transmission within the hospital.

An investigation found that the ventilation stopped operating because a contractor, working on the hospital roof, accidentally triggered the Emergency Stop (e-stop) button at sometime during the afternoon, but obviously failed to notice that the ventilation system was shut down.

The report says the fault was discovered by the red light in the isolation room, which implies the HVAC system did not have any audible fault alarm in the occupied area, or at the roof level.

If you have ever wondered about how far ITC has infiltrated our lives, in the report, it states the HVAC system was rebooted!

https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202005/28/P2020052800688.htm

Other design considerations, typically code requires HVAC systems >1000 l/sec to be interlocked with the automatic fire alarm system, triggering the fire alarm automatically closes ALL the HVAC systems, for hospital isolation room that risks covid19 contamination of the whole ward.

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Urban Mining

If you live in an urban environment, the storage bank for constructing tomorrow’s buildings is all around you. Yes, those buildings will be deconstructed, becoming the raw material for tomorrow’s buildings. And if you are lucky you might find a building constructed from steel, which can be infinitely recycled.

Therefore, designers must consider how the building will be demolished and reused before its open.

Don’t Do Stupid Things

The above drawing is from a new air conditioning building (designed 2020), an interior vapour barrier is stupid!

Why? The external vapour pressure is significantly higher (approx. 1kpa higher) than the interior vapour pressure in the air conditioning space, causing moisture flows toward and into the room.

However, the internal vapour barrier stops the flow, and traps moisture saturating the thermal insulation with water and destroying its thermal properties, and increasing the building energy consumption.

HKGBC recent asked for ideas to promote nett zero and lower energy consumption, the first step I suggest must be stopping architects doing stupid things!

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No lockdown for Legionella Getting Back to Work

During the lockdown thousands of workplaces, restaurants, offices, factories, and buildings are empty but remember that means the drainage systems may have dried out “U” traps, plumbing systems may have hot water heaters and potable water piping with stagnating water, whirlpool spas may have stagnant water, and building air conditioning cooling towers may contain stagnant condenser water.

Legionella risk assessment

Every risk and possibility cannot be listed here, therefore it is essential that the employer arrange for risk assessment to plan your start up.

Your plan needs to review and prepare an action plan to mitigate risks to ensure that all the systems are cleansed and checked BEFORE restarting, that means managers need advance notice, before for the opening date, to facilitate a safe start up procedure.

Bad Design

To understand valuable design we also have to identify and flag cases of bad design. We find from the recent heath checks conducted at the Hong Kong International Airport that health professionals working on the frontline have inadequate facilities, was this foreseeable certainly, every border has provision for handling health checking.

The RTHK report [link] states

She said there were other problems concerning protective clothing, for example, no designated locations for workers to take off their gear.

In this context, their gear means their PPE. So the frontline nurses and doctors facing thousands of passengers, potentially carrying the infectious diseases including COVID19, don’t have adequate changing facilities risking themselves, and other employees at the airport.

After the shift, the PPE including mask, gown, apron, glove, face shield, etc. are considered contaminated, therefore, an appropriate space clearly identified, should be provided for healthcare workers to doff (remove) and don their PPE, but it seems the border control design did not provide such space, even a temporary space, and a frontline doctor tested positive for COVID19.

Design means considering reasonably foreseeable usage and planning according, health checks at borders are routine and commonplace for many years. If you are old enough to remember some countries made visitors present health records, but in this case, the designers ignored or overlookedthe healthcare workers.

In engineering terms, located transformers and switchgear underground is a risk, in the event of a blocked sewer pipe, flooding, or water leakage the building power supply or back up generator could be compromised. Of course, architects say oh that will never happen, until it does. In a recent Hong Kong incident, water leaking on the upper floor of the building flooded the corridor and the electrical meter room, water travelled down the building using the 2500 amp TPN busbar as the conduit shorting each floor, and continued to the LV switchroom in the basement, causing a disastrous short circuit, shutting off power to the entire building.

The takeaway, engaging and listening to people outside your field, outside your silo, gather views and ideas, consider future events and scenarios, while the building plans are still on the drawing board.

Building Drainage Systems and COVID19

In the good old days the topic was called Public Health, nowadays its called Plumbing and Drainage. It is essential for all buildings to have properly designed, installed and maintained sewerage systems to prevent infecting occupants, whether it is 2003 SARS, 2020 COVID19, or Influenza.

youtube is unreliable here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uv38qdl4Z1M

Recently, when COVID19 infection was discovered spreading within Hong Mei House, Tsing Yi on 10 and 11 February 2020, the RTHK report stated that the HK Government instantly reported it was not a “U trap” problem [RTHK link] a reference to the SARS outbreak in 2003 where the disease spread through the drainage system in block E Amoy Gardens infecting occupants, and requiring evacuation of the block.

youtube is unreliable at the moment, here is the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTNvTuV_CM4

I predicted the cause would be the sewer vent pipe, vent pipes are part of the high rise drainage system designed to prevent loss of the water seal in U traps. Subsequently, my suspicion was confirmed, the SMCP newspaper confirmed that the vent piping inside the bathroom was damaged (see SCMP photo below). Therefore, droplets could contaminate the bathroom area.

CREDIT: SCMP Government Press Conference Handout — BROKEN VENT pipe

Still problems in 2020

The photo below taken 15 March 2020 shows damaged drainage system vent piping.

ABOVE: faulty drainage system spreads disease taken 15 March 2020

That drainage system is damaged, it is no longer an enclosed system, allowing odour, bacteria, virus to escape into the air.

We have always known that sewerage and drainage systems are important, providing a conduit for bacteria and viruses, yet the severe lessons from SARS in 2003 and now from COVID19, demonstrate lessons still have not been learned!

COVID19 and Buildings – Tai Po

UPDATE: 15-3-2020

Apple Daily front page news – 15 March 2020

A resident on the top floor (34th floor) of Heng Tai House, Fu Heng Estate, Tai Po has been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus COVID19 today (14-3-2020) RTHK reports [link] and he lives two floors above a couple already diagnosed on 11 March 2020 (same flat number ending with 13).

This is eerily similar to the incident in Tsing Yi in Feb. 2020, where I predicted drainage vent pipes issues, the pipe was subsequently discovered to be damaged, and additionally, repairs were carried out in nine (9) flats while those residents were evacuated.

Read our early blog post

This time, residents in Heng Tai House living in flat numbers ending with 13 and 14 , and living six floors below the “latest case” on 34th floor (top floor) will be evacuated RTHK reports [link].

Why this evacuation is limited to only six floors seems strange, citing droplets from the roof vent (which one?) reentering the building as the reason. While it is not impossible, the airflow pressure and patterns created around buildings are very complex, it seems highly unlikely, that only flats 13 and 14 would be impacted in this style of public housing.

Poor drainage installation risks infection
Poor drainage installation risks infection
Poor drainage installation risks infection

Workplace

It is worthwhile remembering that in the workplace, employers are responsible, by law, for the Health and Safety of their employees! Therefore workers in high traffic areas, for example, healthcare, building management, sewerage plants, transportation, etc. are responsible for their employees Health and Safety (H&S).

#coronavirus #hongkong #2019nCOV #airbourne #kelcroft #novelcoronavirus #SARS #drainage

Contingency Planning

Management and managers should have contingency plans ready, just in case. However, the on-going public health emergency, recently labelled by WHO as a COVID19 pandemic, has exposed that organisations and employers are not prepared for change or business interruption. Even when organisations had some broad ideas, it was never formalised in a plan and never tested, only after the idea was tested was it revealed the idea did not work in practice.

In addition to the general confusion, caused by poor communications, random individuals post opinions and “advice” on social media, would you believe that an electrician is sending COVID19 pandemic advice!

In the context of the built environment, I am raising this issue because building operators, organisations and employers fail to plan for events that can be reasonably foreseen, such as fire. Organizing periodic fire drills to safely escape from a building in the event of a fire should be routine, but sadly its not.

Yet, there are countless tragedies every year when we discover that fatalities were caused by locked fire escape doors, trapping people inside buildings. Also, I have witnessed standby generator testing, when a fire condition is simulated the necessary essential power should be provided by generators, to power the fire sprinkler pumps, will not start!

COVID19 and Legionnaires Disease

It’s generally accepted that the number of Legionnaires Disease infections is under-reported, I predicted that the heightened public health surveillance for COVID19 would reveal an increasing number of Legionnaires Disease infections because both COVID19 and Legionella cause pneumonia.

Here in Hong Kong, there is an example that might illustrate the point, case details provided by CHP are very limited [link] nevertheless it is interesting to consider the case of a male who was admitted to a hospital on 4 Feb. 2020 [NOTE: that is the same date when five Legionnaires Disease outbreak cases residing in the nearby housing estates were reported ] he was diagnosed as pneumonia, treated and released on 19th February 2020. He didn’t recover and was admitted again on 24th February 2020, but this time Legionnaires Disease was the diagnosis.

ABOVE: Ironic that fire sand bucket was used to hold open the fire/smoke stop door

When to plan?

To be perfectly blunt, its too late to try planning your escape from fire while trying to exit from a burning building, a decent manager will have a plan and considered difficult questions, or force a plan to be created, before a disaster strikes.

Legionnaires Disease Outbreak Hong Kong update 5 March 2020

A Legionnaires Disease outbreak occurred in Hong Kong between 1st – 29th February 2020 with seventeen (17) patients diagnosed with no fatality reported by CHP.

The total number of cases reported by CHP is lower than 17 reported here because additional cases residing physically close (<1000m) to the Choi Hung MTR station and the Ngau Chi Wan market were excluded without any evidence of the distinction. Ngau Chi Wan market is a very popular wet market in the area, located on Clearwater Bay road, directly above the Choi Hung MTR station, it is high traffic area, used by people from the local estates, and the surrounding districts.

Popular Ngau Chi Wan Wet Market located above Choi Hung MTR station

In total 15 cases were declared by CHP, twelve (12) male, and three (3) female, most were elderly residing near Choi Hung / Ping Shek Estate in Hong Kong, most with underlying disease.

At least two Legionnaires disease cases (refer to the table below, cases 12 and 13) were not counted as part of this cluster, yet both people reside nearby, approx. 1000m from buildings with confirmed cases, and well within the typical range of infection caused by cooling towers.

Cases

click for larger image

CHP also reported on 4 March 2020, specimens from two (2) more patients, that is eight (8) in total, match the samples from two Choi Hung MTR station cooling towers taken before the towers were disinfected (by implication sampled before 4 Feb. 2020). What is unclear, the initial 6 patients were reported on 14-2-2020, and three weeks later the additional pair were reported.

The CHP report on 4 March 2020 [link] that the Choi Hung MTR cooling towers have been disinfected and the water sampling test result (not provided) was stated to be lower than the action level. However, the tower installation date is not reported therefore it is unclear which COP would be relevant. Assuming CHP refers to the latest 2016 COP, it can be deduced that the Legionella sampling result was <10 cfu/mL and the Heterotrophic Colony count (also known as the plate count) sampling was <100 000 cfu/mL.

The CHP report concludes with a total of 27 cases for 2020, compared with 105 cases in 2019, which equates to 25% of cases in 2019 cases.

UPDATE 6 March 2020

EMSD.gov.hkissued a press release for its regular Legionella testing [link] on 6 March 2020 with routine and epidemiological investigation information, for the latter, in the attachment annex 2 [link] titled Building locations of fresh water cooling towers detected with total legionella count at/above upper threshold (1,000 cfu/ml) with nuisance notices issued under PHMSO, the annex states that the MTR Choi Hung Station had a nuisance notice issued showing total 1700 cfu/ml Legionella count (above the action level).

EMSD press release dated 6-3-2020

Appliances Planned Obsolesce

Appliance manufacturers stop supporting their equipment early, forcing customers to buy new appliances. In the CBC report, one example, a replacement fridge compressor is no longer available for a three-year-old fridge!

Repairing an appliance is commonsense, you wouldn’t give up and throw your car into the landfill if the compressor fails after three years, would you?

Here is the CBC website article: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/marketplace-appliances-right-to-repair-1.5475649

Their strategy has certainly changed, failing to provide support and parts is planned obsolesce. Manufacturers are failing to provide support, schematics, servicing, or parts voluntarily, therefore legislation is needed to keep new appliances out of the landfill.

In response, the new European Union (EU) right to repair rules will require manufacturers to provide spare parts for at least seven years after the date of purchase, for some types of appliances, like washing machines the requirement it will be 10 years. And manufacturers are mandated to deliver the parts within 15 working days!

Preventing Planned Obsolesce is the response to manufacturers’ increasing failure and its good for sustaining local technicians supporting your economy.