Working safely with ultraviolet lights in an HVAC work setting

3Feb2015
BY Burns Mechanical IN Construction, Energy, Service

UV light safety

UV light used for air purification

Occasionally building system products find widespread use before testing and maintenance standards work their way into the mainstream. Such is the case with the use of Ultraviolet (UV) lights as a means of destroying airborne viral, bacterial, and fungal organisms. The healthcare industry has been quick to adopt UV lights in air handling systems as a means of infection control, even as initial industry standards are still being drafted.

Despite a tendency to think of these devices as similar in intensity to a tanning bed or the summer sun, direct short-term exposure has been the cause of significant eye and skin injuries. HVAC maintenance staff should be properly trained prior to working in close proximity to UV lights. Here is Burns Mechanical’s internal protocol for working near UV lights:

What are the most basic precautions?

  1. Needless exposure should be avoided.
  2. You should not work in the vicinity of a UV light unless you are property trained.
  3. Do not look directly at any UV source regardless of your distance from it.
  4. Observe and pay close attention to the level of control measures already in place in a work setting containing the UV light hazard. These measures may include safety procedures / manuals, enclosures, screens or filters used to contain the UV radiation, devices such as interlocks to allow safe temporary access to a hazardous area, and warning signs or warning lights that are meant to ensure awareness and limit exposure time.

What types of personal protection should I use?

When even short-term potential exposure to UV exists, you need to wear the following personal protective shielding to reduce the risk of severe burns to the eyes or skin:

  • UV-filtering face shields
  • Hard hat
  • Safety glasses with side shields
  • Long sleeved shirts
  • Long pants
  • Gloves
  • Leather boots

As our hospitals rapidly deploy HVAC UV lights as a means of protecting building occupants from airborne infection, maintenance staff and HVAC service providers must exercise extreme caution when working near them. As we’re fond of saying at Burns Mechanical, “Safety is a Tool for Life.”