Health and safety in facilities management: navigating the impact of covid 19 and beyond

06 January 2021

High rise buildings accompanied by construction work
Health and safety in facilities management: navigating the impact of covid 19 and beyond

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The health crisis of 2020 has changed the way that public and commercial buildings are being used and managed. With things constantly changing, health and safety in facilities management is more important than ever, but much trickier to navigate in the current climate.

If the covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that there’s always room for adapting to new ways of doing things in order to keep going during difficult times. This has also been an opportunity for organisations to assess their current processes and find new, more productive and better ways to do things, not just for the duration of covid-19, but for good.

Facility managers have a key role to play in risk management and ensuring the safety of the buildings that they operate. Following covid-19 best practice guidelines and staying informed of any changes to these is crucial in minimising the risk to staff, suppliers, and any external contractors.

What is facilities management?

A facilities manager will oversee the operation of one or more buildings and ensure that the day-to-day use of it delivers a safe, comfortable, and sanitary environment for the individuals who use it. These could be commercial offices, public buildings, or residential housing- to name a few examples.

There are many people involved in the life cycle of a building from the initial design to the various stages of construction. A facilities manager tends to come on board after this stage to manage all day-to-day facilities present in commercial buildings and to ensure safety standards are up to date. This could be everything from bathrooms, heating and air conditioning to electricity and fire alarms.

Building closures and lockdown

During the periods of lockdown that countries across the world have experienced amid the pandemic, many office buildings and non-essential workplaces have been forced to close. With staff working from home and these buildings lying empty for the most part, facilities managers still need to ensure that everything remains compliant with health and safety regulations and that the indoor environment is safe and socially distant for anyone who needs to be there.

The key areas of consideration include:

  • Hygiene and social distancing: provide adequate sanitising equipment for hand washing and surfaces and clear guidance on the use of spaces. Also ensuring that kitchen areas are cleared of food if the building is going to be closed for an extended period of time to prevent attracting vermin and insects.
  • Security: ensure the building is sufficiently locked up and kept secure. Do regular checks for signs of vandalism or attempted forced entry. Put procedures in place for key workers who might need regular access.
  • Safety: appropriate fire safety measures should be taken- such as turning off any equipment which isn’t being used and keep up fire alarm testing. Toilets should be flushed regularly, and water ran in sinks and showers to prevent a build up of legionella.

Facility managers should have clear policies on who should be allowed access to the building- this includes suppliers, maintenance, and repair services. With frequent changes to covid restrictions, staying informed is key to making sure you are doing all the right things and prioritising the safety of everyone using the building- including yourself.

The near future

Having been greeted with another national lockdown as the UK enters 2021, these considerations remain central to facilities management activities for the time being. Sticking to policies on use of the building, social distancing, handwashing and reporting any issues is crucial in preventing further spread of the virus, keeping everyone safe and remaining compliant.

With the vaccine on the horizon, the next step will be preparing for reopening buildings and ensuring that all facilities are in good working order. It may be necessary to revise policies relating to covid-19 in line with changing guidelines. For workplaces which may choose to continue working remotely, facilities managers may have to adapt to meeting these new needs. Being prepared for change and adopting a resilient mindset is crucial.

Having a robust QHSE management system is key to making this work and simplifying the task of revising and implementing new covid-19 policies. It allows you to navigate information relating to all the different areas you manage from one centralised location with access on the go. A QMS system is particularly needed to support remote working and ensuring that everyone has access to important data no matter where they are.

Navigate the continuing covid-19 crisis and manage health and safety in facilities management with Q-Pulse, Ideagen’s leading quality management software.                                                                                                         

Ideagen's Fraser McInnes
Written by

Fraser McInnes

Within his role at Ideagen, Fraser works as part of the construction and manufacturing team – responsible for industry-leading software tools that help to boost safety, quality and proactive risk management within the world's largest organisations.

Fraser career to date has been working within the construction consultancy market for over 5 years and has gained insights into the ways in which technology can assist organisations in meeting their key objectives.

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