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Facilities Managers: How You Can Help Prevent Illness From Spreading Within Your Facility

As a facilities manager, you are devoted to the care of one or more residential, commercial, or institutional buildings. You are responsible for maintaining a clean, functioning building that seeks to ensure the safety of all those who live in it, work in it, and use it. 

During the current COVID-19 outbreak, you will be at the forefront of a response to the virus. Within your organization, your colleagues are looking to you more than ever to provide a robust, effective facilities management service that keeps the building functioning and a safe space to be in.

By now, millions of people across the globe have been infected with the novel coronavirus. We don’t yet know how this situation will play out or how it will end. 

However, there are already lessons to be learned from it that we can apply from this day on. There are things that we can do, as facilities managers, that will help protect the occupiers of our buildings from this pandemic and further infectious diseases that may affect us at another time.

The role of facilities managers in illness prevention

Facilities managers have the responsibility to implement the right policies or strategies regarding the prevention or control of infectious diseases within their buildings. During a pandemic, a flu outbreak or threat of any other infectious disease, these might be:

  • Reducing the concentration of people within the building
  • Reducing the proximity of personnel and occupants
  • Cleaning and disinfecting
  • Keeping occupants informed on the latest health news and promoting good hygiene practices

Promoting preventative healthcare

There are several steps facilities managers can take to lower the chances of infectious illnesses and the pathogens that cause them from entering their buildings. Many of these involve encouraging the practice of preventative healthcare. 

You should encourage your personnel to:

  • Stay at home when sick

A sick employee will be unlikely to perform their duties to their normal capacity. However, if they are suffering from an infectious illness, they are also fairly likely to infect other occupants of the building. 

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Infectious illnesses are spread either through droplets called ‘aerosols,’ being released into the air through coughing, sneezing and breathing out, and through the contamination of surfaces. A person can become infected by breathing in these aerosols, through close contact with an infected person, or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching their own face. 

Therefore, a key preventative health measure is to encourage anyone in your team who may be infectious to stay home and not enter the environment you are responsible for.

  • Practice good hand hygiene

One of the lessons everyone has learned from COVID-19 is that good hand hygiene is vital in lowering the spread of infectious disease. You should encourage your team and the occupants of your building to follow the basic principle of good hand hygiene. These are to:

  1. Wash hands often for at least 20 seconds and always after using the bathroom or before touching food.
  2. Contain sneezes or coughs with a tissue. Dispose of the tissue, then wash the hands thoroughly. 
  3. Use soap and water. This is the most effective way of sanitizing hands, but where this is not possible, use a hand sanitizer with a high concentration of alcohol.

Having stringent cleaning and disinfecting procedures

Of course, even with the very best preventative measures, it is still possible for the pathogens that cause illness to enter your facility. We have seen from COVID-19 that disease can be spread through symptomless carriers or before symptoms appear. 

Therefore, an excellent environmental hygiene routine is essential. This can help remove the pathogens from the environment before they have a chance to infect people. Here’s what a good hygiene routine may look like:

  1. High-frequency cleaning of surfaces that are regularly touched. These include light switches, buzzers, door handles, telephones, keyboards, photocopiers, water coolers, bathrooms, and food preparation areas. 
  2. Scheduled deep cleans of all areas at suitable intervals.
  3. Using appropriate cleaning substances and following the instructions on the label for their use.
  4. Provision of the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for personnel.

What is crucial for facilities management is finding an effective way of implementing these hygiene routines and ensuring these are not being overlooked. In large facilities and those that use subcontractors for cleaning, it will be particularly appropriate to invest in software to ensure high standards of service are universally upheld.

Maintaining Indoor air quality 

Another crucial aspect of good building maintenance is ensuring the indoor air quality is safe, well-circulated, and free from mold spores. All heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and water systems should be routinely inspected to ensure optimal running conditions all year long.

HVAC units and installations also need to be up-to-date according to the latest legal requirements for preventing Legionellosis diseases. Establish a Planned Preventive Maintenance (PPM) schedule to make sure all healthy building maintenance protocols are being followed at all times.

Through the use of computerized maintenance management software (CMMS), you can help your teams work more efficiently and with greater accountability. These are some of the tasks that can be managed using the software by any of your team:

  • Routine maintenance and task scheduling
  • Recording of inspections
  • Checking and maintaining cleaning product and equipment inventories
  • Creation and assignment of work orders

Cloud-based and mobile assets management software allows everyone on the team to update the system as they go, meaning excellent transparency and accountability, real-time communications, and fully informed decision-making and problem-solving at any time. The system also removes the possibility of human error and the overlooking of tasks.

Managing personnel

It is also the role of facilities management to consider how managing the workspace of their personnel can promote better health

Firstly, during a pandemic like COVID-19, how can social distancing regulations be met? How can the clustering of personnel be avoided? Do changes need to be made to working hours and routines?

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Some evaluation will be required to discover how you can provide an excellent standard with the minimum number of personnel, who may be missing because of mandatory social distancing or because of staff quarantine or sickness. 

As such, a contingency plan should be in place, so the protocol is clear should this happen again. An outbreak procedure should make everyone’s responsibilities clear, as well as state additional tasks that may be required at these times. 

All facilities managers should prioritize giving thought to how to address the above concerns for their facility, whether it’s a residential property, a commercial organization, or a public institution. 

Written plans and robust procedures which adhere to government regulations and guidelines should be put in place. Once this is done, facilities management should feel confident that they are helping to prevent the disease from spreading within their facility.

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