Closeup of Tommy Tafazzoli
Tommy Tafazzoli

Washington State University and Clemson University researchers have found that insufficient training for construction workers in hospital settings may be contributing to fungal disease outbreaks that endanger patients.

The researchers, including Tommy Tafazzoli, assistant professor in the School of Design and Construction, found that training done for construction crews working in a healthcare environment, while critically important, is scarce. They reported on their work in the high-impact American Journal of Infection Control.

Several studies have reported that invasive fungal diseases in health care facilities often occur after construction and renovation activities. In the U.S. there have been nearly 50 fungal outbreaks associated with construction between 1980 and 2015, resulting in infections and more than 120 patient deaths. Infections from mold are dangerous, particularly, for people who are already sick and in the hospital.

Meanwhile, a recent industry survey found that 49 percent of all health care expenditures in 2017 went to facility renovation to meet rising demand for inpatient care. The dust generated during construction can lead to the spread of contaminants, including pathogenic fungi spores, into nearby buildings, Tafazzoli said.

“A lot of these renovations are relevant to some type of construction activity,” he said. “Renovation, most of the time, means that the healthcare unit is active and that patients are there.”

As part of the study, Tafazzoli surveyed 129 people working in 15 leading healthcare construction contractors in the U.S. to determine their level of dust contamination training.  The researchers found a lack of standardized training, that the trainings were mostly tailored for upper management, and that contractor and sub-contractor construction crews received the least amount of training.  Because the survey only queried leading construction contractors, the lack of training may be worse than their survey indicates, he added.

The survey also evaluated the quality of training construction crews receive.

“If you’re doing construction in a Cardiac Care Unit it’s a lot more sensitive than, for example, doing construction activity in a courtyard of a hospital,” he said.

Tafazzoli would like to see uniform regulations for construction companies that are contracted in healthcare facilities. Frequent training also need to be provided to everyone, from laborers to upper management. The researchers are now working to develop detailed training guidelines for construction crews.