Fedweek

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An inspector general report has raised concerns about ventilation and filtration systems at Postal Service facilities, finding problems in on-site inspections and saying that those responsible for air quality in postal facilities are not always aware of the extent of those responsibilities.

Those systems “must be maintained and operating properly to ensure the safety of the building and its occupants. Properly operating ventilation systems can also reduce the concentration of airborne viruses (e.g., novel coronavirus disease or COVID-19), thus reducing the risk of transmission through the air,” it said.

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However, in a survey the IG conducted, most of the 414 postmasters and other top managers who responded “did not believe they had daily responsibility for ventilation and filtration”—even though they did—and nearly half “were not aware of the updated guidance in the last two years.” Those updates included “two special bulletins during the COVID-19 pandemic that provided actions to ensure ventilation systems were fully functional provided actions to ensure ventilation systems were fully functional. These bulletins included suggestions based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to increase the volume of outside air in facilities.”

One issue, the IG said, is that such guidance is not directly communicated to the individuals responsible for taking action; those bulletins were “included with COVID-19 related information and difficult to find.”

Nearly half of respondents did say that that improvements to ventilation were made at their facilities in the past year, including changing filters more frequently and opening doors and windows to improve ventilation. However, while nearly half also said their facilities were keeping up with requirements for maintenance, cleaning and regularly changing filters, the IG found that far fewer facilities had records of that having occurred.

Further, an engineering company the IG engaged to assess a sample of eight retail and delivery facilities found issues at all eight including “lack of maintenance and repairs, extremely clogged filters, drain pans with standing water, coils clogged with dust and debris, and closed outside air dampers.” Further, much of the equipment—while in generally fair to good condition—was near the end of its life expectancy and some of it was not working properly.

In response, the USPS promised to review its communications methods, put in place a process to manage and monitor the maintenance of ventilation and filtration equipment, and explore developing a system to keep a running inventory of such equipment.

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