Keeping workers safe despite the high cost

Cleaning the air: A PPE-attired worker releasing mist containing disinfectant to be absorbed and circulated by the air conditioning system in Pentamaster Technology, Bayan Lepas. — ZHAFARAN NASIB/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) Penang says its members are doing everything possible to ensure a safe working environment for their employees during the pandemic.

Its chairman Datuk Jimmy Ong said the cost to implement this depends on each company, and the disinfecting method must be approved by the authorities to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“Some bigger companies can afford different measures but the smaller ones can’t and will look at more affordable ways to keep their employees safe,” he said.

Pentamaster Corporation Bhd executive chairman Chuah Choon Bin said the centralised air-conditioning system at its factory office in Bayan Lepas will be flushed with disinfecting mist every two weeks.

“The cost runs to about RM20,000 for each session but the safety of our staff is of utmost priority.”

Chuah said the 7,432sq m (80,000sq ft) building will improve its air quality management by installing an Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) system, which costs about RM300,000 and provides air-conditioning and circulates air throughout the building without the use of harsh methods like chemical cleaning or steam injections.

“It will enhance safety against the virus lingering in the air in various departments, including office and production areas as well as the canteen, lounge and nursery,” he added.

Chuah said that such measures are taken because of the increasing Covid-19 cases and the need for long-term solutions.

“We subscribed to the misting service about four months ago as an addition to the existing standard operating procedure.

“About 40 doors in the building are now constantly kept open to allow better air ventilation and reduce contact when going through them,” he added.

ATS Engineering Sdn Bhd director Khoo Wai Hong, who provides services for building air-conditioners and cleanrooms, said companies are largely hindered by high costs to ensure clean the air in their premises.

“Covid-19 particles are around 0.1 micron in size.

“High Efficiency Particulate Air (Hepa) filters can capture particulates down to 0.3 micron and are efficient enough for the coronavirus while Ultra-Low Penetration Air filters can capture particulates down to 0.1 micron.

“Both filters are commonly used in cleanrooms but not in large areas such as offices,” he added.

A cleanroom, used in electronics manufacturing, is a space free of dust and other minute contaminants.

Khoo said meters measuring particle size of 0.1 micron may cost up to RM80,000 each and it is costly for large areas to ensure sufficient filtering of fine particulates.

“Air purifier units which have Hepa and UV filters are commonly used in offices and cost about RM4,000 with an efficient coverage area of 100sq ft.

“Many companies do not install these due to high costs for large areas,” he said.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Covid-19 viral particles spread between people more easily indoors than outdoors, and the concentration of viral particles indoors is often higher than outdoors.

When indoors, the CDC said that ventilation mitigation strategies could help reduce viral particle concentration, and protective ventilation practices and interventions could also reduce airborne concentrations and reduce the overall viral dose to occupants.

It also recommends increasing the introduction of outdoor air by opening windows and doors whenever the weather permits.

It suggests improving central air filtration, ensuring restroom exhaust fans are functional and operating at full capacity, as well as to consider portable Hepa fans or filtration systems to enhance air cleaning, especially in higher risk areas.

The Health Ministry and Human Resources Ministry have released guidelines on how to improve ventilation in homes, offices and businesses such as factories to lower the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

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