Facility Safety Protocols For Outside Contractors Amid COVID-19
It’s important to consider updating the safety precautions required by external teams as they enter and exit your property.
By Richard Lamondin
In a matter of weeks, the landscape has drastically shifted for facility executives when it comes to health and safety considerations. For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently shared sweeping changes to American offices such as requiring temperature checks, desk shields, and no public transit. Not to mention the upgrades in cleaning and disinfection processes that must happen in all types of buildings before businesses return to normal.
Facility managers are often not alone in making these changes. HVAC partners, technology specialists, cleaning teams, and conservation professionals are just a few of the outside teams that will continue to enter properties on an ongoing basis, and it’s important to consider updating the safety precautions required by external teams as they enter and exit the property.
What new guiding principles can facility professionals follow? What will the next expectations of 2020 and beyond be in a post-coronavirus environment? How are technicians — from maintenance teams to installation experts — proactively evolving their approach to safety and creating innovative ways to go above and beyond standard protocol?
From my perspective as the leader of a water and energy conservation firm overseeing installations in commercial and multifamily housing buildings throughout the U.S., there are a number of immediate safety and process improvements that will be the new normal moving forward.
Protocols Of The Past
Until 2020, very little existed in terms of processes around human transmission safety in buildings. There was no need for protocols about illness or cleaning surfaces that technicians came in contact with as they assessed a property and conducted maintenance or installation — in our case, changing out toilets, fixtures and lighting. The strongest focus on safety was around working with electrical wires and preventing leaks from occurring.
New Safety Upgrades For External Technicians
First, keep in mind there is no “one size fits all” approach. Flexibility is important when it comes to adapting to what each property needs, which can shift depending on location, type of tenants/use, and the age of the property, among many other factors.
Second, safety is not just about keeping safe, it’s also about making people feel safe. When coming up with solutions, don’t settle for the bare minimum — teams simply wearing gloves and masks will not suffice. Consider what other measures can be put into place that are easy and cost-effective to implement, while adding more layers of protection. For example, some on-site and off-site measures to require can include:
- Ensure technicians are educated about how to safely wear and dispose of gloves and masks, which should be worn at all times on the property
- Secure a socially-distant space from tenants (at least six feet)
- Cleanse all surfaces with CDC/EPA approved cleaner, including all door handles upon entering and exiting unit
- Have readily available hand sanitizer to use after completing a unit and before entering a new unit
- Leverage technology to support contact tracing of teams who have access to the building — assess interactions and have plans for when teams must be separated for monitoring
- The partner must conduct temperature checks each morning of all technicians. If they have a temperature or are feeling ill, they must remain home. In the future, many buildings will have sensors installed to automatically take people’s temperature.
- All high-touch internal and external features on technician vehicles should be cleaned daily with CDC/EPA approved cleaner.
- Technicians must practice social distancing both on and off the job site with other people, avoid face-to-face meetings, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people
- Must practice frequent hand washing, cleaning all high-touch surfaces in their homes daily; all work clothing washed with hot water and detergent and dried on the hottest setting daily.
Lastly, communicate the new requirements and processes to tenants. Poor communication is proven to be a key contributing factor in workplace accidents. Mapping out clear safety communications is often the first and most cost-effective step that companies can prioritize. In the case of facility management, building ownership should alert tenants prior to any outside technician coming into their space and clearly communicate the protocols that will be followed. Give them peace of mind after technicians leave by detailing all of the precautions that were made by the install team and address any concerns they may have.
The impact of COVID-19 varies across the country, and facility management safety preferences will differ by region. However, safety should remain a key focus for install teams no matter the location. Now is the time to have an open dialogue with building partners about what training methods they are implementing and how their teams are disciplined in instituting these new standards.
Looking ahead, note that simply having protective gear is stage one of where the world is today — it’s a stop-gap to a long term challenge. Together, facility and install teams must continue to research and implement safety protocols like touchless technologies (from entry points and elevators to high-touch areas like restrooms), installing anti-viral UV lighting, and hand sanitizer stations for high-traffic areas to prevent future spread of disease.