Keeping cool in a crisis

Many critical healthcare applications rely on precise temperature control, so having a contingency plan in place for chillers and boilers is essential in case disaster strikes. Russ Baker, UK director of hire at ICS Cool Energy, explains

Having a contingency plan in place is vital in case of problems with chillers and boilers

As with any commercial building, an effective and ongoing maintenance strategy should help minimise the occurrence of unplanned periods of downtime.

If a chiller or boiler were to fail in an office or factory, while it would be of great inconvenience to workers or production output; it would not have a critical effect on lives.

The same cannot be said for healthcare applications.

When disaster strikes, trying to resolve a critical application failure without a pre-agreed plan is likely to add significant time and cost to the incident

When disaster strikes, trying to resolve a critical application failure without a pre-agreed plan is likely to add significant time and cost to the incident, as all parties will effectively begin from a standing start. As such, having a plan in place is absolutely essential in the healthcare sector.

Fail to plan, plan to fail

The most-effective contingency plans cover all critical scenarios, and should detail exactly what equipment and peripheral support is needed for each application.

As well as equipment, due care and attention must be paid to the supporting infrastructure.

Commercial temperature control equipment is often fairly sizeable and if hospitals are renowned for one thing, itís not space.

Identifying where a chiller or boiler can be safely and legally sited should be an essential part of any contingency planning.

Site access must also be taken into account and any potential locations much be easily accessible for the delivery vehicle, without it causing a potential blockage to ambulances or other emergency response vehicles.

Boiler best practice

When it comes to installing a temporary boiler, there are several straightforward considerations that can promote contingency planning that is both effective and safe.

Temporary boilers are usually housed in weatherproof containers which are lifted off the delivery vehicle by a crane mounted on the vehicle itself. The stabiliser legs must be deployed during the operation of the crane. However, this makes the vehicle several metres wider than in its travelling configuration.

When identifying potential unloading sites, facilities managers must ensure there is enough room to not only fit the vehicle, but also to fully extend the legs. Whatís more, while the cranes mounted to the vehicle are very powerful, there is a limit to the distance they can reach from the side of the vehicle.

While effective pre-planned maintenance goes a long way, having a thorough back-up plan for a host of different scenarios can help minimise the effects of unplanned downtime and ultimately keep the risk to patient health at bay

Fuel is another factor to consider. If the boiler is oil fired, then the siting of the fuel tank must be taken into account at the planning stage. The tank needs to be reasonably close to the boiler and within easy reach for delivery of fuel from a fuel tanker.

And the fuel lines should be as short as possible to ensure the fuel pump is able to draw the fuel without creating a vacuum. The fuel lines also need to be positioned so they are not vulnerable to accidental damage that could result in a fuel leak.

Whether the boiler is oil or gas fired, it must be also be correctly positioned to ensure that the products of combustion (fumes) will not cause harm to anyone nearby. The Clean Air Act 1993 requires that any chimney terminates in clear air at a safe distance away from buildings.

Any temporary boiler must be positioned at a safe distance from doors, windows and ventilation inlets to the building. The bigger the boiler, the larger the minimum safe distance.

If the safe minimum distance is too large to allow positioning near to buildings, then the chimney may need to be increased in height to ensure the products of combustion are safely discharged.

In some settings, such as inner-city hospitals, it may be impractical to extend upwards. Here, it may be more effective consider a fan flue dilution system to ensure compliance.

Finally, any temporary hot water hoses need to be routed safely in order to avoid footpaths, fire exits and generally impacting on site operations.

Once installed, the temporary boiler should be surrounded with a suitable barrier and clearly signposted to ensure that only authorised persons enter the area and operate the plant. The same goes for supporting hose and cabling.

Healthcare services and equipment hinge on reliant temperature control

Cool in a crisis

An equally important area for contingency planning is application-critical cooling i.e. when air temperature is a necessity to patient welfare, rather than for ambient comfort.

If a chiller supplying an MRI scanner failed, it could cause a significant patient backlog that could take weeks, if not months, to clear.

And failing to use the right equipment could inadvertently cause significant damage to the scanner. For example, the heat transfer fluid for an MRI scanner is likely to comprise of demineralised or deionised water i.e. water that has been treated to be completely free from contaminants. Any supporting temperature control equipment should therefore only use a non-ferrous, stainless steel heat exchanger as this will prevent the heat transfer fluid becoming contaminated by any corrosion.

Storage solutions

It is a sad fact of life that some patients pass away while in hospital and, in the winter, there can be a requirement for temporary mortuaries which will require specific temperatures to be maintained.

Preparing for these periods in advance by establishing contingency plans for cold storage units can go a long way to helping to ease the pressure and provide a solution if additional room is required quickly.

Final thoughts

I would urge those facilities and estate managers who do not currently have a contingency plan in place to approach their temperature control supplier and arrange a site survey as a matter of urgency. Doing so will undoubtedly save time when disaster strikes, but also lives

Ultimately, facilities and estate managers in the healthcare sector are under pressure to keep their sites and processes working around the clock. While effective pre-planned maintenance goes a long way to achieving this, having a thorough back-up plan for a host of different scenarios can help minimise the effects of unplanned downtime and ultimately keep the risk to patient health at bay.

I would urge those facilities and estate managers who do not currently have a contingency plan in place to approach their temperature control supplier and arrange a site survey as a matter of urgency.

For those that do have one in place, it should be reviewed once a year, or any time a major change to site or equipment is made. Doing so will undoubtedly save time when disaster strikes, but also lives.