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UVC: Safe or not?


Even though UVC is hailed for its efficiency, questions are raised regarding its safety and effectiveness to the users or inhabitants in the areas where it is used.


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March 28, 2024
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UVC: Safe or not?

In recent years, Ultraviolet C (UVC) disinfection has gained recognition as a powerful tool in facility management cleaning practices. With its ability to efficiently eliminate bacteria and viruses related to pathogens, UVC technology presents a promising solution for maintaining clean and hygienic environments. However, questions are raised regarding its safety and effectiveness to the users or inhabitants in the areas where it is used. In the coming few lines, it is required to explore UVC disinfection in terms of its benefits, potential risks and dangers, and best practices for safe implementation and usage in facility management cleaning services.

Salim Al Harthy, General Manager, Oman Airports

Understanding UVC Disinfection

UVC light, which is a type of ultraviolet light ( UV) with a wavelength range of 200 to 280 nanometers, has properties that can disrupt the Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and Ribonucleic acid (RNA) of microorganisms, causing them to replicate and causing their release. This ability makes UVC light a noticeable option for disinfection, particularly in environments where traditional cleaning methods may fall short in reaching every surface, which contributes to eliminating persistent pathogens or, in other words, infectious agents, or simply germs.

Benefits of UVC Disinfection in Facility Management

These are listed as follows:

  • Efficiency:
    UVC disinfection gives rapid and effective pathogen elimination, reducing the risk of cross-contamination and infection transmission within facilities. The efficiency of UVC disinfection depends on several factors:
  • The intensity of UVC Light, Exposure Time, Microorganism Type, Distance and Angle, Surface Characteristics, Shadowing Effects, and Environmental Conditions: 

Successful UVC disinfection applications require careful consideration of the above mentioned reasons and factors and adherence to safety guidelines.

  • Adaptability: UVC technology can be combined with various facility management cleaning practices, supplementing existing sanitation procedures without additional chemicals or resources. Unlike many chemical disinfectants, UVC light does not leave behind harmful remains or fumes, making it a safer and more environmentally friendly choice for cleaning.
  • Targeted Application: UVC devices can be usefully placed to target specific areas or surfaces within a facility, ensuring complete disinfection without disrupting daily operations. By carefully considering these factors, targeted UVC applications can be effectively implemented to disinfect specific surfaces or areas, contributing to improved hygiene and infection control in various environments.

Safety Considerations

While UVC disinfection offers many benefits, it is essential to address safety concerns associated with its use:

  • Exposure Risks: Straight contact with UVC light can cause skin and eye irritation and long-term damage with lengthy or intense exposure. Therefore, proper precautions, such as shielding mechanisms and safety protocols, must be implemented to minimize the risk of harm to cleaning staff and occupants.
  • Occupancy Management: To avoid accidental exposure, UVC disinfection should only be used in untenanted areas or during selected cleaning times when users are absent.
  • Equipment Maintenance: Planned maintenance, calibration, and testing of UVC devices are critical to guaranteeing the best performance and safety. Faulty equipment or insufficient maintenance practices can compromise disinfection effectiveness and add additional risks to users.
  • Training and Education: Complete training programs should be given to all personnel using the system to train them with UVC disinfection procedures, safety guidelines, and emergency procedures. Awareness campaigns directing ability residents or users can also encourage adherence to safety protocols and minimize the probability of incidents.

Best Practices for Safe Implementation

To increase the benefits of UVC disinfection while mitigating possible risks, the facility in charge should adhere to the following paramount practices:

  • Risk Assessment: Conduct a detailed and regular risk assessment to identify potential hazards associated with UVC disinfection usage and arrange for appropriate risk mitigation policies.
  • Safety Protocols: Create clear safety procedures and standard operating procedures ( SOP ) for using UVC equipment, including proper personal protective equipment (PPE) usage, equipment handling, and emergency response procedures.
  • Regular Inspections: Conduct repetitive inspections and maintenance schedules to ensure the reliability and functionality of UVC devices and systems. Talk to any subjects properly to reduce stoppage and safety risks and dangers.
  • User Training: Arrange comprehensive training material, skills, and practice for cleaning staff on the safe and effective use of UVC equipment, highlighting the importance of adherence and following safety protocols, guidelines, and best practices.

Dr. Gavin Macgregor-Skinner, senior director of the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), a Division of ISSA, Doug Hoffman, the executive director of the National Organization of Remediators and Microbial Inspectors and Alexandra Goman, Sr. Manager of Education and Certification at ISSA Europe Middle East and Africa

For decades, UV-C radiation has effectively limited bacterial spread, used effectively in cases of tuberculosis or SARS-CoV-2. As a reliable disinfectant for air, water, and nonporous surfaces, it requires careful consideration of health and safety factors. Incomplete inactivation of bacteria and viruses are also to be considered.  

According to Dr. Gavin Macgregor-Skinner, senior director of the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), a Division of ISSA, it is important to follow safety guidelines to protect against harmful UV-C exposure. Additionally, the effectiveness of UV devices can vary based on the intensity of the UV-C light, the duration of exposure, and the type of pathogen being targeted. 

Dr. Macgregor-Skinner emphasizes that warning labels alone are insufficient. UV-C disrupts DNA, so unsafe levels of UV-C radiation can cause injury to the skin (erythema, a burn-like skin reaction) and eyes (photokeratitis) after a few seconds of exposure. Moreover, one must never look directly at the UV-C lamp source, even briefly.  There are no immediate warning symptoms to indicate overexposure to UV-C radiation so it’s crucial to take precautions and limit exposure to protect your skin and eyes. 

Another concern when using this technology is ozone, as stated by Doug Hoffman, the executive director of the National Organization of Remediators and Microbial Inspectors. Depending on design, power, and operation time, UV-C lamps below 240 nm can generate ozone. However, many people harbor misunderstandings about the actual generation and dissipation of ozone molecules by UV-C lamps. Unmonitored ozone itself is hazardous, and it also interacts with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to create particulate matter in the air. IAQ monitors can measure ozone and particulate pollution. A study in Baltimore (United States of America) found that although Far-UVC 222nm light in a standard hotel room increased ozone concentrations, the indoor ozone levels remained lower than those outdoors and well below U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ambient limits and those of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of 0.10 parts per million (ppm) for eight hours. UV-C 254 nm light does not generate ozone.

When taking into consideration the build environment, UV-C technology should be deployed in rooms with insufficient or no mechanical HVAC systems and where adequate ventilation cannot be maintained year-round. Rooms are recommended to have a minimum ceiling height of at least 3 meters and some airflow, such as fans at low speed. UV-C lights are not necessary in outdoor open-air seating areas. In addition, UV-C fixtures should be mounted at around 2 meters to disinfect air above the occupied zone 

All in all, UV-C light systems offer powerful disinfection capabilities, but their safe use and proper precautions are vital. As with any cleaning and disinfection system, training and support on UV-C is critical before implementation.  Proper training and education should be of most importance as well as the manufacturer's advice about the device’s health and safety risks.
("Copyright 2024 ISSA. Reprinted and edited with permission from ISSA Today® magazine.)