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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: What steps to take to BE SAFE

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011
Tail Pipe on a Red Sports Car

BE SAFE: Don't ever leave your car running in the garage, even if the door is open.

Hundreds of lives are lost each year through exposure to an invisible, odorless, colorless toxic gas called Carbon Monoxide (CO). CO also sends thousands of exposed victims to Emergency Rooms to seek treatment. Impossible to see, taste, or smell, CO can kill you before you are even aware of its presence in your home or office.

Although many of us have heard about the dangers of CO poisoning, few realize the many sources the gas can come from—gas-fired appliances to domestic heating systems, charcoal grills and wood-burning furnaces, blocked flues in fireplaces, inadequate ventilation in living areas or places of work and motor vehicles.

One reason CO is so dangerous is that low levels of exposure can mimic symptoms that might easily be mistaken for the flu. Headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue send people to bed to catch up on rest. But if CO poisoning is the real culprit, affected individuals could drift off to sleep, never again to awake.

The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on several factors:

  • Age
  • Overall Health
  • Concentration of Carbon Monoxide Poison
  • Length of Exposure

Health professionals believe that certain groups of people are more at risk if exposed to Carbon Monoxide:

  1. Unborn Babies
  2. Infants
  3. Children
  4. Senior Citizens
  5. People who suffer from heart or lung problems

Here’s how you can protect yourself, your employees and/or coworkers and your family:

  • Install at least one Carbon Monoxide alarm that features an audible warning signal near the areas where people sleep and just outside of every bedroom or office door. Make sure alarms have been approved by a nationally recognized laboratory.
  • Since Carbon Monoxide alarms are designed to measure levels of CO over time and sound only after levels reach a certain concentration, some healthy adults may not think the alarm is accurate since they might not experiencing noticeable symptoms when they hear the alarm. So don’t ignore your CO alarm. If it goes off, heed the warning.
  • Don’t ever use your stove or oven to heat your home.
  • Hire a qualified professional to check all fuel burning appliances, furnaces, vents and chimneys regularly.
  • Don’t use charcoal grills or hibachis in your home, office or garage.
  • Never keep a car running in a garage. Even if the garage doors are open, normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent a dangerous buildup of gas.
  • When purchasing a new or existing home, make sure qualified technicians have evaluated the integrity of heating systems and cooking equipment, as well as sealed spaces between garages and homes. A Carbon Monoxide alarm could save your life.

If Carbon Monoxide Detector Sounds:

(Even if no one is feeling ill):

  1. Silence the alarm.
  2. Turn off appliances and all sources of combustion
  3. Open all doors and windows for ventilation
  4. Call qualified professionals to investigate the possible source of CO buildup

(If people feel the effects of CO poisoning):

  1. Evacuate occupants immediately.
  2. Determine which occupants are ill and assess their symptoms.
  3. Call 911. Relaying information to the dispatcher, include how many people feel ill.
  4. Do not re-enter the home without the approval of a fire department representative.
  5. Call qualified professionals for repairs

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Managing Indoor Air Quality

Monday, June 20th, 2011
Sacramento skyline in smog

Clean air is a safety concern.

For building owners and managers, ensuring tenant and visitor welfare is always of paramount importance. And while there is only so much that can be done to control the quality of the air that enters into a building, it is still important to frequently filter and refresh the air for optimal tenant and visitor health.

Regulations such as the Clean Air Act have saved thousands of lives from diseases such as emphysema, asthma and heart disease. However, there is still much that can be done to control air pollutants to allow everyone to enjoy cleaner air.

What are some of the main contributors to air pollution?

  • Carbon monoxide is odorless and tasteless but very poisonous in large quantities. Facilities that operate furnaces and/or automobiles need to provide adequate ventilation and install carbon monoxide alarms to ensure safety.
  • Particulate matter is basically “stuff” in the air. This can be man-made or naturally caused, resulting from sources as diverse as burning fossil fuels and power plants to dust storms and wildfires. Particulates have wreaked havoc on the human body since ancient times.
  • Nitrogen oxides are the brown plumes of “haze” that can be seen downwind of major cities. The result of high-temperature combustion, such compounds produce smoggy reddish-brown skies.

Before embarking on new policies and procedures for improving a building’s air quality, it’s important to record a baseline. Testing for radon, carbon monoxide and particulate levels can help guide you about unsafe conditions and provide guidance on the priority order for steps to clean the air.

What kind of policies can a company institute to improve air quality?

  • If your company is relocating or expanding, avoid purchasing office space that is in close proximity to industrial areas which might produce toxins. Of course, if your property is already located in this type of area, you can take steps to safeguard the air in the interior of the building.
  • Don’t allow smoking either in or around your building. Cigarette smoke contains an alarming number of toxins which can remain suspended in the air for long periods of time.
  • Review furniture choices in tenant offices. Pieces made of out cheap particle board may contain formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen.

Cleaning and maintenance tips for air quality:

  • Proper cleaning of carpets is essential. Carpets act as a filter or trap for dust mites and other allergens. Without frequent vacuuming with appropriate filters, carpets can outgas airborne toxins.
  • Follow suggested maintenance and cleaning guidelines for HVAC systems. Ductwork should be cleaned to remove mold or other contaminants. Filters should be the highest-quality to effectively remove particles down to the smallest micron.
  • Janitorial staff should be allowed to open windows or other ventilation, whenever feasible. Fumes from high-grade cleaning products are a serious irritant.
  • For residences and businesses in high-humidity areas, consider utilizing dehumidifiers to inhibit the growth of mold.

Unlike other disasters that can be seen or heard, air quality is (by its very nature) a typically invisible problem. As such, it can pose detrimental health effects over long periods of time, making it a silent but deadly killer. Taking steps to clean the air will have a direct effect on tenant happiness and productivity.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Evaluating the Aftermath of the Raid in Pakistan

Sunday, May 8th, 2011
Outline of three soldiers against sunset

Has the threat of terrorism increased since the raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound?

After the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and his subsequent death, some law enforcement officials and property owners are concerned about the threat of new terrorist attacks. But are we any more at risk than we were prior to Bin Laden’s death?

Many residents of the United Kingdom consider a new attack to be likely. In fact, the U.K. Metropolitan Police Commissioner warned that: “Vigilance should be our watchword.”

In the United States, the presence of security personnel has been beefed up in numerous locations. Still, despite the perceived risk of potential terrorist repercussions, the official terror threat level in the United States was not elevated following the announcement of Bin Laden’s death. (The new alert system differs from the former multi-color-coded system in that it only offers two-threat levels— “elevated” and “imminent.”)

Potential risks might result:

  • A branch of al-Qaida in Yemen or some other disconnected country might be the source of the next attack.
  • The next threat might come from a lone individual who sympathizes with al-Qaida, such as occurred with the Fort Hood shooter, who some contend was linked to terrorist groups.
  • Terrorist cells in North Africa have either loose or no affiliation with al-Qaida and have many connections to ethnic groups in the United States.
  • A broader risk is a decreased emphasis on funding for anti-terrorism training due to the perception of the “War on Terror” coming to an end.
  • As the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 approaches, many experts caution of an interest in terror groups to commemorate the sad day with new attacks.
    • U.S. officials have confirmed that documents retrieved from bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan show that al Qaeda was in the early planning stages for an attack on U.S. railroads to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
    • According to Homeland Security, the FBI has advised local officials to be on the lookout for clips or spike missing from train tracks, packages left near the tracks, and/or any other indications that a train could be at risk.

But the truth is that regardless of recent developments, it is always advisable to prepare for the threat of terrorism. Domestic terrorism is possible. This is not a time for complacency. Property owners, tenants/employers and everyone should continue to follow best practices.

How can you remain vigilant to the threat of terrorism?

  • Set protocols for monitoring any incoming delivery packages and personnel.
  • Establish rules for suspicious items that are left at or near your facility.
  • Pay attention to the Department of Homeland Security’s threat monitoring.
  • For high-traffic and value buildings, consider installing metal detectors at each entrance.
  • Develop a check-system to verify visitors with tenants.
  • Double check current evacuation procedures make sense if a terrorist attack occurs.
  • Install security cameras, which can capture individuals who could be “casing” your building.
  • Read information about altering your HVAC systems to protect from possible chemical, biological, or radiological attacks.
  • Terrorists increasing usage of online media for propaganda also increase the risks of cyber terrorism attacks that could strike at key facilities. If you operate a secure facility that handles sensitive materials, be sure to catalog and report any suspicious hacking attempts.
  • Flag individuals who ask for detailed information about your building or the surrounding areas. Scrutinize any requests for blueprints or other schematics.

The best way to manage the risks of terrorism is similar to planning for natural disasters. It demands practicing common sense and planning ahead to make a facility a less desirable target. While the death of al-Qaida’s leader will hopefully destroy the terror network, threats remain that require attention.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

11 Safety Tips for 2011

Monday, December 27th, 2010
Safe Combination at 2011

BE SAFE in 2011

  1. Be prepared…for everything and anything! At home and at work, the most important step you can take to ensure your own safety as well as the safety of coworkers, employees, family and friends, is to prepare. For ideas, look to FEMA’s recently announced “Resolve to be Ready in 2011” campaign, which features several suggestions for disaster preparedness. What’s more, our own blog posts provide food for fodder.
  2. Drill. A timely example of how preparation is critical for saving lives occurred at a San Antonio CPS office building which caught fire on December 20.  According to news’ reports, all 400 of the building’s occupants were forced to evacuate the building before 9 a.m., at which point the company’s emergency evacuation plans were put into effect. No doubt benefiting from the safety plan and associated regular fire drills, preparation paid off as every employee escaped without injury.
  3. Protect yourself from cyber-terrorism. As we rely more and more on all things electronic, we must be diligent to guard ourselves against identity theft. Four out of five victims of Identity Theft encounter serious issues as a result of the crime, such as lowered credit scores, bankruptcy, foreclosure, or even prison time. So protect your Internet passwords by creating them randomly and changing them frequently.
  4. Guard against health risks. Although the flood of sensational news’ stories about Cholera, the Swine Flu and SARS have ebbed, you still run the risk of contracting viruses and bacteria if you fail to take precautions to remain healthy. One of the easiest ways to do this is to regularly and thoroughly wash your hands. Also, take advantage of vaccinations designed to protect you against illnesses such as Influenza or Respiratory Syncytial Virus.
  5. Consider your location. Since different types of disasters occur depending on your location, pay attention to geography and history when you prepare for natural or man-made disasters. If you live on the coast, for example, plan for tsunamis. If you get snow, make winterizing a priority. If you live near a fault line, make sure you are ready for earthquakes.
  6. Heed storm warnings. While some natural disasters, such as earthquakes, come without warning, many others are relatively easy to predict. So, if you live in an area where hurricanes or tornadoes are common, follow forecasts. And when an event is anticipated, take necessary steps to ensure your own safety as well as that of emergency workers, who might be put in harm’s way if they have to brave the elements in order to rescue you. 
  7. Do the right thing. Don’t cut corners. Take a cue from the recent Shanghai Fire, which some believe resulted from contractors who cut corners. Applicable to all areas of life, doing what’s right will help keep everyone safe in 2011 and beyond.
  8. Go green. You don’t have to be a hippie to understand the importance of protecting our planet. Today, millions of electronics are shipped to developing countries where they are dissembled, often in a crude manner, which exposes workers and the environment to contaminants such as mercury, sulfur, and lead. This practice puts us all at risk. So do your part this year to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
  9. Travel safely. Try to be patient if you fly. While it might be inconvenient to take off your belt, shoes and jewelry at the security gate, and possibly undergoing a TSA pat-down, these safety measures are in place to keep us safe.
  10. Fight fire with fire prevention. The surest way to fight fire is to prevent it. The National Fire Protection Association has sponsored Fire Prevention Week each year since the Great Chicago Fire roared through Chicago in 1871. This year’s push is to install smoke alarms. So if you haven’t installed them in your commercial property building or at home, do so today!
  11. Keep learning. Our corporate mission is to save lives through training with the motto “Be Safe!” The Allied Universal Training System 2.0 is a fully integrated system which allows property management companies to manage one site or an entire portfolio, with all users in the same system.

If you own or manage commercial property, by enrolling in the system, please consider our system, which trains occupants, floor wardens, and fire safety directors. What’s more; all user training and testing is recorded. Get quick access to building-specific Emergency Responder information and other resources. We hope you’ll include us in your plans to keep tenants, residents and family and friends safe in 2011 and beyond.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

How to Winterize Your Commercial Property

Monday, December 20th, 2010
Snowy road with snowflake hazard sign

Prepare your commercial or residential property for winter hazards.

For businesses located in northern climes, the chill of winter brings snow, ice and sleet. The winter storm season got off to an early start with an enormous Midwest blizzard. The popular video of the Metrodome collapsing in Minneapolis is a vivid reminder of the potential hazards of winter weather.

You likely know some tips about winterizing your home. Many of those same ideas apply to business. But commercial properties present some unique winterization challenges of their own.

Heating and ventilation winterizing tips

  • Schedule an annual cleaning of your HVAC system. Neglecting regular maintenance can wear out the equipment and lead to high fuel bills.
  • Check the caulking around your windows and doors, to make sure warm air is not escaping.
  • Use a door blower to judge whether or not your building is airtight. A blower door uses a calibrated fan with a pressure-sensitive device to measure air pressure and identify leaks.
  • Hire a HVAC professional to check for duct leakage. This is commonly done with a duct-blaster and blower-door together.

Avoid the winter “slip and slide”

  • Install a programmable thermostat. Keeping the temperature at 64 degrees at night instead of turning it completely off does not save energy. Modern HVAC systems work quickly and can quickly bring room temperature to comfortable levels.
  • Make sure sidewalks and building entryways are free of ice. While salt is the most commonly used method for melting ice, there are new environmentally-friendly alternatives including sugar beet formulas. Remember that traction is the key. So be sure to use traction mats or even sand to cover slippery spots.
  • Is snow blocking the fire lane? Consider safety first. And clear snow to allow emergency access to hydrants and emergency exits.
  • Watch out for falling icicles. Although it might look like a scene from a cartoon or movie, a 20-pound block of ice from 30 stories up can be dangerous. Consider heating the building’s exterior or using glycol-based de-icing agents.

Preventing “popsicle pipes”

  • Frozen pipes are best prevented by proper insulation of pipes and fittings.
  • In cases of extreme cold, consider letting faucets drip slightly since moving water takes longer to freeze than standing water.
  • Pay attention to wet pipe sprinkler systems for freezing. Review codes which often mandate dry pipe sprinkler systems (water is not in the pipes until system operation) for temperatures under 40F.
  • Do not use a blowtorch or other open flame on frozen pipes. This causes rapid expansion which can easily crack your pipes.

Stop the thermostat wars

  • Squabbles among office workers about the temperature can cause tensions and lead to decreased productivity.
  • Consider setting a standard office temperature and name one person whose job it is to adjust the thermostat. Be sure to communicate this standard with your employees. To make your case, relay studies on temperature’s effect on worker efficiency!
  • Set policies on usage of space heaters. If they are allowed, make sure employees follow strict safety rules including proper storage of paper. (Don’t store near space heaters.) Make sure employees and tenants unplug space heaters before they leave their home or office.

In addition to protecting the physical systems in your building, take a look at your emergency supplies. Can your building accommodate every tenant overnight or for multiple days in case of a blizzard? Make sure you have plenty of warm blankets, portable heat sources and extra food in case you get snowed in.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

It’s an Electronic World After All

Monday, April 19th, 2010
Be careful how you dispose of e-waste.

Be careful how you dispose of e-waste.

Part 5 in a 5-part series

We have come to the fifth and final blog topic for our series about green initiatives for office buildings. Previously, we have discussed green roofs and living walls, implementing tenant recycling, enhancing energy efficiency of HVAC systems and the importance of water conservation.

Today we are going to explore environmentally-sound electronics practices in the workplace. We’ll cover the problems associated with discarded electronic waste and ways that you and your tenants can employ smart electronics usage practices to save energy time and money.

The problem with e-waste

  • According to the EPA, more than 2.25 million tons of televisions, computers, monitors, keyboards, and peripherals were tossed into landfills.
  • Electronics use precious materials such as copper, aluminum and even gold.
  • Millions of electronics are shipped to developing countries where they are dissembled, often in a crude manner, which exposes workers and the environment to contaminants such as mercury, sulfur, and lead.

The solution for handling e-waste

  • Team up with a reputable electronics recycling company and educate tenants on the environmental impacts of proper recycling practices.
  • Purchase products that do not have “planned obsolescence.”
  • Simplify. Making due with less is something our ancestors did out of necessity. Try to remember that the more you have, the more you have to take care of, store, clean and repair. Sometimes, less is more.
  • Encourage tenants to turn off computers and printers when leaving for the day.

Electronics should be on a power strip with an on/off switch, otherwise electronics can continue to draw power when turned off as long as they are plugged into an active power supply.

PCs and monitors have a finite life relative to the number of hours they are turned on.

  • Use products that have been labeled with the Energy Star endorsement:
    • Encourage tenants to purchase energy-efficient computers and appliances.
    • Energy Star products use less energy. For even small-sized office buildings, this translates to substantial annual energy savings.
    • Note that no two products are identical. One Energy Star-certified product can use less than another Energy-Star model. Learn how to read labeling carefully so that you can select the most efficient products.
  • Cell phones:
    • Some tenants assign cell phone devices for every employee. Cell phone technology changes very rapidly and companies often end up swapping out old phones for models with the latest functionality.
    • Phones can be recycled with other electronics or they can be donated.
  • Toner cartridges:
    • Distribute information to tenants about the benefits of recycling printer cartridges. Improvements in manufacturing processes enable re-manufactured cartridges to print images equal in quality to those produced by new cartridges.
    • Most toner ink is petroleum-based, and can emit volatile compounds when used. Encourage tenants to use soy-based cartridges to cut down on indoor air pollution.

With office electronics, it’s important to remember the green slogan, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” By observing this practice, it is entirely possible to drastically reduce the amount of items used. Encourage tenants to delay purchasing new equipment when current electronics work properly. Reusing toner cartridges and cell phones puts less of a strain on natural resources. And recycling keeps electronic waste out of our landfills!

Thanks for reading our series about strategies for maintaining green commercial and residential properties. Remember that beyond the environmental and social benefits, green initiatives can result in real cost savings for building owners and tenants.

For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our e-based system offers the best emergency training available, with automated and integrated features. Allied Universal, Inc. is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit trade organization that promotes sustainability in how buildings are designed, built and operated. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Going Green with HVAC

Monday, April 5th, 2010
Go Green with HVAC Solutions

Go Green with HVAC Solutions

Part 3 in a Series

While we are not experts at HVAC, here are some basic tips. For more information, please contact your HVAC professional.

In previous posts in this series, we’ve discussed green roofs and recycling programs. Today we are looking at more “behind the scenes” ways you can reduce your building’s carbon footprint.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy, commercial buildings account for 18 percent of total U.S. energy consumption. In a typical office building, energy use accounts for 30 percent of operating costs, which is the single biggest category of controllable costs. Reducing energy usage can result in significant long-term reduction of building expenses, freeing up capital you could use for other improvements such as landscaping or painting.

Today’s blog covers ways you can improve your building’s HVAC and other systems to improve energy efficiency and save on costs.

Reduce the need for heating and air conditioning:

  • Review building insulation and fill gaps with the most efficient materials.
  • Reduce the building’s “solar gain” by installing reflective roofing materials and tinted windows. These are especially important in buildings located in sunny climates.  Examine office equipment to make sure tenants use the latest technology that produces a minimum of heat. Pay special attention to data centers which require substantial cooling.
  • Simple solutions are best.
    • Encourage tenants to open blinds/curtains where feasible to let in warm sunlight.
    • Ask tenants to close/open windows to warm/cool office spaces before adjusting thermostats.

Selecting and maintaining the heat and AC systems:

  • Review older systems against more efficient, modern units. For many buildings, the initial outlay for a new system could potentially be recouped through annual energy savings. Talk to an HVAC specialist about potential savings.
  • Don’t purchase a system that is too big for your building. Your installer can test to make sure the “load” recommendation is met for your building.
  • Consider dehumidification systems for humid climates and evaporative coolers in dry climates. As the saying goes, “It’s not the heat. It’s the humidity.”
  • Install quality control systems:
    • Programmable thermostats are important for reducing heating/cooling during off hours. Work closely with facility managers to make sure thermostats are set for the correct temperature.
    • Multiple zones are essential for multi-room and multi-floor buildings. Tenants will inevitably have different needs. Some might have 20 employees working in one space, while others might have only a few employees who work in small, individual offices.
    • CO2 sensors dynamically adjust heating/cooling by measuring CO2 amounts.

Proper maintenance:

  • As with all mechanical systems, proper maintenance can extend life and performance.
  • Replace air filters frequently with high quality filters.
  • Inspect all ductwork and piping for any leaks, which can contribute to heat/cooling losses.
  • Check thermostat function to make sure everything is functioning as it should.

Beyond the benefits to the planet and your profits, improving your building’s HVAC systems will lead to comfortable, content tenants. This is great because no one likes to hear disgruntled employees complain about being too hot or cold. And an unhappy employer is a tenant who might not renew his lease in your building! Modern HVAC systems are designed to provide controlled temperatures at maximum comfort.

Visit us next week for part 4 in our series about strategies for maintaining green commercial and residential properties.

For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our e-based system offers the best emergency training available, with automated and integrated features. Allied Universal, Inc. is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit trade organization that promotes sustainability in how buildings are designed, built and operated. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.