By John T. McGrath Jr.
Throughout healthcare facility design and construction, many architects, designers, and specifiers are now including installer certification as a requirement in their contractor specs. As certification increasingly becomes an expectation, facility owners now have a new ally in the fight against healthcare acquired infections (HAIs) and a new way to control costs after construction is complete.
Floor covering contractors and installers who want to distinguish themselves from lesser-skilled competitors are acquiring specialized training and certifications to add to their credentials. For facility owners and their design teams, these certifications mean it is now easier to identify contractors who understand the specific needs of healthcare construction and the impact that proper floor covering installation has on preventing HAIs. Certified labor also provides owners with the reassurance that installation will be performed according to the flooring manufacturer’s guidelines and industry best practices, adding a layer of protection against costly rework that can result from poorly trained installers.
How Poorly Trained Installers Put Occupants At Risk
When people think about the causes of HAIs, they think of poorly designed air handling systems or inadequate sanitation practices; however, a poorly trained floor covering installer can be just as dangerous. If any part of a flooring system is improperly installed, it becomes vulnerable to failure. That failure can come in the form of broken, bubbling, or buckling flooring that creates dangerous trip hazards or, more seriously, form gaps or cracks that allow moisture to enter and create a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants. These agents can then travel throughout a facility, hitching a ride on foot traffic or mobile medical equipment to spread infection to patients, staff, and visitors. Even everyday cleaning activities like mopping can introduce moisture into imperfections that can lead to costly flooring breakdowns and an increase in HAIs.
Hiring a floor covering installer who understands how to mitigate moisture is especially critical in healthcare construction. Moisture mitigation is complex, and it’s impacted by many factors, including environmental conditions like light, humidity, and air circulation, as well as the behavior of the materials used in surface preparation and subflooring. Miscalculation of any one of these factors can end up costing thousands of dollars in repairs and in the worst cases costing lives as the result of infections. Making sure installers are properly trained in moisture mitigation is essential, and it’s just one example of why certified labor is becoming a standard in healthcare construction.
Certified Labor Helps Protect Patients and Control Costs
A floor covering contractor has an immense amount of responsibility in keeping a healthcare facility safe and healthy and in protecting the owner’s investment. Since many flooring designs and material specifications are influenced by the floor covering contractor, it makes sense that healthcare facility owners, designers, and architects are raising the bar by making certified labor a prerequisite for awarding contracts.
Training for floor covering contractors and installers is constantly evolving, so it’s important to look for contractors that maintain basic manufacturer certifications as well as higher-level installation skills and techniques taught by a reputable training organization. For instance, there are longstanding associations guided by industry leaders, manufacturers, and technical experts who collaborate on training curriculum and certification standards. One such association is so confident in its training that it even also includes a warranty on installation labor—above and beyond the flooring manufacturer’s product warranty—that enables the contractor to offer additional and extended financial protection to the project owner.
In addition to product installation certifications, new specialized courses like Infection Control Risk Assessment (ICRA) are also gaining popularity among contractors and installers. Developed by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC), one of North America’s largest building trades unions, the ICRA course teaches installers how to protect patients by controlling airflow and containing pathogens while working in an actively occupied facility. With so many healthcare facilities retrofitting and renovating existing spaces, this type of training has become particularly vital in ensuring proper floor covering installation without disruption to adjacent areas conducting normal operations. The training was developed in cooperation with leading construction-related infection control experts and is routinely updated to reflect evolving industry standards.
Also, as an example of how certification is now more commonly specified, the Department of Veterans Affairs has adopted certification standards in their master specifications for carpeting and resilient flooring. Recently, the specifications for its Veterans Rehabilitation Clinic in Ann Arbor, MI followed these master specifications. Project contractor Addon/Brix awarded the installation to a flooring contractor based on its installers’ status as some of the most highly trained professionals in the industry, with years of projects demonstrating the benefits of this certification. The project comprised 31,000 ft. of flooring that included intricate patterns and colors and a broad array of materials.
Certified Labor Offers Big Incentives
For facility owners, taking an active role in specifying certified labor for floor covering installation comes with big incentives that include better protecting patients from HAIs and better protecting themselves and their facilities from the financial risks associated with shoddy installation that leads to rework and repairs. Repairing failed flooring can cost up to ten times more than the original installation when factoring in materials, labor, and facility disruption, not to mention the risks to occupant health and safety.
It only makes sense that when the stakes are this high, expectations for contractors are even higher. Certification is an ideal way for contractors to meet these expectations and for facility owners to build with confidence.
McGrath is the Executive Director of the International Standards and Training Alliance (INSTALL), an association of installers, contractors, and manufacturers who collaborate to improve industry standards and provide professional, reliable flooring installation teams.