Two years ago, workplace cleaning was a back-end job. It was important, but never a matter of deep concern. Today, things have completely changed. People are now more concerned about the health and wellness quotient of a building than ever before. The past year has especially changed the priorities of clients and facility management companies with a keener focus on health.
“Facility management services have long focused on efficiency to reduce service times and product costs. But, for a few years now we have observed a shift in leading property and facility management companies. Probably at the urging of the clients, they have started orienting their services around building wellness. They prioritize occupants, balancing efficiency with wellness. Efficiency is still valued, of course, but not at the expense of wellness,” says Aïda Berrada, Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Green Me.
This holds true for workplaces as well. After the COVID-19 breakout, hygiene and wellness have become an important element in every workplace and public gathering spot. Employers are now more concerned about the employee’s health and wellness and consider it their responsibility. To improve hygiene and wellness in the workplace, the number of staff within office premises at any given time of the day is limited. Employees are not allowed to enter the office buildings without wearing facemasks and temperature checks. We’ve also witnessed offices and other workplaces being sanitized frequently, in addition to hygiene products becoming available in every workplace.
Managers have developed and implemented business continuity plans immediately and established crisis management teams to provide support to their employees. All these measures go hand in hand with frequent disinfection of high-touch areas to minimize transmission and contamination by viruses.
Infection control measures for workplaces
“Controlling pathogens, personal hygiene practices, workplace cleanliness, disinfection of work tools, properly disposing of infectious waste, proper handling of sharp tools, proper management of occupational exposure to body fluids can prevent workplace infection for all employees. Infection control in the workplace aims to prevent pathogens, bacteria, and viruses from coming into contact with a person in the first place. Therefore, every organization should implement infection control under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 to provide a safe workplace to their employees, including the provision of adequate infection control procedures and the right equipment and training,” says Kumar Karki, Soft Services Manager (Facilities Management) at CAMCO - Capital Metro Company, Saudi Arabia.
Kumar asserts that the assumption of risk is important for good infection control in the workplace. The workplace must undertake that everyone is potentially infectious. Only then, proper procedures can be developed and adhered to. Additionally, each workplace should have an appropriate first aid kit, with at least one staff member trained in first aid. The workplace should be equipped with a minimum requirement such as sanitizer, mask, gloves, gowns, eye goggles, and face shields as necessary.
Personal hygiene practices such as hand washing, drying, properly disposing of paper towels, minimizing touching objects, wearing PPE, not sharing personal tools, equipment and consumables shall prevent transmission of infection.
After the outbreak of COVID-19, Assiyana, a Qatar based FM company also witnessed a panic period, which has spread across all sectors of the economy. Being a Facilities Management company, Assiyana had the obligation of assuring clients that they are taking the utmost measures in tackling the challenges in their premises, by taking immediate steps to mitigate such risks. They therefore implemented and established certain protocols that adhered to the WHO guidelines.
“We had our staff undergo Health and Safety training and made sure that the service staff have daily medical checks to assess their wellbeing before accessing clients’ premises. In addition, PPEs like medical masks and gloves have become mandatory and are being provided daily to ensure that no cross infection or contamination happens. And in order to assure our clients even more, we have introduced the latest chemicals in cleaning and disinfecting their surfaces and furniture, which can provide them with a protective and safe working space for longer time periods,” says Habib Haddad, Managing Partner at Assiyana.
Hygiene practices for workplaces
Reducing unhygienic activities at the workplace is the best practice to improve workplace hygiene. Maintaining proper cleanliness of the workplace includes maintaining clean workstations, regularly sanitizing and cleaning floors, bathrooms, high touch surfaces (countertop, benches, switch, phones, printers, etc.), and disinfecting equipment and tools before and after use is highly recommended practices to maintain workplace hygiene.
“To improve workplace hygiene, a few dos and don'ts can be implemented. For example, employees can regularly wipe down their own workstation, wash their own cup, use the sanitizer provided by the company, adhere to the company’s hygiene policy and don't sneeze or cough without covering their nose and mouth, don’t eat at the workstation, don’t leave wipe papers on the floor, avoid handshaking, to name a few,” says Kumar.
Challenges that arise as a direct consequence of COVID-19
COVID-19 has possessed multiple challenges in the workplace, and in an effort to reduce the spread of the disease, Assiyana has had to modify working patterns, including encouraging staff to work from home if they develop any of the symptoms.
During a worldwide emergency like this, many employees can feel anxious and concerned about their health, safety and wellbeing. That’s why the popular FM company has established a health line, where they set a communication protocol with their staff to give insights about the disease and provide mental and physical support in the workplace.
“To further overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic, we had to take further measures, which include:
1. Being clear to staff members who feel unwell that they should not be coming into the workplace.
2. Developing plans for different working shifts so that staff overlap is kept at a minimum.
3. Implementing split site or location operations where feasible.
We have also stressed on personal hygiene. It is an important preventative measure to curtail the spread of the disease. Along with that, we have ensured that all our workers have access to appropriate hygiene facilities such as hot water, soap, hand sanitiser and bins to dispose of used tissues and established onsite training protocols,” says Habib.
Measuring and monitoring a building's health
Can the health of a building or workplace be measured? The answer is a resounding Yes!
Aïda believes that one thing the pandemic has taught the industry is that buildings can make us sick, with most of the virus transmissions occurring indoors. However, buildings can protect us as well, if they are well maintained. Monitoring the building helps you to make sure the safety processes that are in place are effective.
Factors that determine a building's health
After understanding the importance of measuring and monitoring a building's health, the next big step is to identify factors that determine it.
“The first factor that determines a building’s health is its occupants’ health and wellness. An unhealthy building facilitates the emergence of the Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), i.e. various symptoms (like headache, nausea, allergies,..) that disappear when one leaves the place,” says Aïda. Some illnesses are also induced due to a poor indoor environment that occurs after a long time of exposure, sometimes after many years. Poor air quality, for example, can lead to various cancers. That is why it is crucial to pay attention to people’s health and collect their feedback regularly.
The second major factor is building energy consumption. Because energy is the primary cause of climate change and the deterioration of air quality, buildings need to reduce their energy consumption. It is all the more important as buildings represent on average half of global energy consumption and carbon emissions.
Technologies that ascertain if a building is clean and safe to be used
Aïda suggests that building owners need to continuously monitor different environmental factors, the ones that have a known impact on people’s health and cognitive abilities: temperature, humidity, air quality, lighting quality, noise.
The IoT (Internet of Things) enables that, thanks to the numerous sensors available in the market. But you have to measure where it is the more relevant, as close as possible to the occupants. There is no point measuring the temperature on the ceiling or on the wall, for instance.
You also have to be wise when using all the care environment quality. For instance, if your building is close to a highway or a high traffic road, the data can help you to decide when you should increase the air ventilation and when you should not. There is also one pitfall, which one should not be prey to: relying too much on technology. A great part of indoor environment safety is played by the occupant’s behavior. For example, during this pandemic, if people don’t wear masks, even the top-of-the-art air filtration and ventilation becomes useless.
“We have designed a GreenMe Cube to be a ‘comfort meter’. It measures 10 environmental factors enabling the assessment of visual comfort, hygrothermal comfort, acoustic comfort, need for air renewal, all at the close vicinity of the occupants. But what matters as well, is to know how people feel about their environment, that’s why our cube collects the users’ feedback so that we take into account human perception when applying changes,” says Aïda.
Maintaining indoor air quality
You definitely need to define an air quality strategy, because it is not just a question of how polluted your air is, but what are the main pollutant’s sources, when they are at their highest levels, and how you can reduce them without degrading the occupant’s comfort and increasing too much the building energy consumption.
“One issue we are facing right now is the massive use of sanitizing products. To reduce the transmission of virus particles through surfaces, many companies spray a lot of chemicals - containing chlorine or ozone - which are irritating to the eyes and mucous membranes and toxic to the respiratory system. What happens when these products are used in poorly ventilated areas?”, questions Aïda.
The cleaning team must first learn what is the indoor environment quality: what are the factors, what is the impact on people’s health, wellness, and performance. They also have to know what products can be used to clean safely, without hazarding their health, degrading the air quality or the biodiversity.
Recommended cleaning regime for workplaces
Kumar highly recommends reducing people's contact with surfaces and objects. It is better than relying on cleaning once contact has taken place. People must think about how they can change the way they work with limited movement around their workplace.
In public venues, it might not be possible to reduce or limit people due to business needs. In such a scenario, routine cleaning and frequent disinfection of high-touch areas of the facility become even more important to prevent the transferring of viruses and bacteria.
“Apart from the above, I suggest that people take responsibility by adhering to the hygiene protocols set by their workplace,” concludes Kumar.
But really, we should stop using the word comfort or wellness, because it is all about health. Maintaining and measuring the quality of hygiene is not a luxury, it is a necessity.