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Critical Controls for Critical Spaces: Health Sciences Commissioning

It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that commissioning is commissioning no matter where you do it.

The fundamental idea of commissioning is to ensure a structure was built as designed and its systems operate together as intended. Inspect and test the subsystems, measure the environment to confirm it is regulated properly and verify that the installation is fault-tolerant. For some projects, the third of those is a relative afterthought, merely ensuring that subsystem failure won’t result in further damage. But on other projects, verifying robust fault-tolerance is the overriding challenge.

For a project like a hospital or research lab, the environment must be regulated even through the failure of some subsystems. In many cases, it must be actively monitored through those subsystem failures, and required control is more exacting than merely maintaining temperature or pressure. What would otherwise be a relatively simple commissioning process cascades into a huge project. The design space multiplies from a few test parameters at a single operating condition to many parameters across many operating conditions. Frequently this is further complicated by the fact that the work is being done on an operational facility.

There are many aspects to working on buildings serving the healthcare and research industries that are uncontrollable – when an operating room is needed or when you suddenly need that additional lab space. There isn’t a “work out the bugs” period for these buildings, they just need to work. After all, would you want to be on the operating table while they are pretty sure the pressure control is working? I certainly wouldn’t. It’s the people factor that makes these buildings so critical. The key to successfully working on these buildings is having a true understanding of what the buildings serve and how to manipulate the space without impacting any occupants or processes.

One of the things that makes these spaces so complex is that they frequently have a complex cascading pressure control strategy to ensure that air never enters an area that is cleaner than the area its leaving. Commissioning ensures that whatever situation may arise, the systems know how to respond appropriately to maintain that pressure control ensuring that lab results are accurate, production delays are minimal, and most importantly – infections don’t spread.