The corona conundrum
FM operators and suppliers weigh in on tackling the COVID-19 pandemic
We are all in the midst of a global pandemic. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a pandemic is declared when a new disease for which people do not have immunity spreads around the world beyond expectations.
Such an event is unprecedented. At the outset of the coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak, the UAE began the process of disinfection, starting with schools.
Dr Naseem Mohammed Rafee, head of Dubai Municipality’s Public Health and Safety Department stated that a comprehensive sterilisation programme is being implemented in private schools across Dubai to ensure the health and safety of over 300,000 students as well as staff.
In addition, authorities set up a dedicated team to disinfect and sanitise Dubai’s public areas as a precautionary measure to contain the spread of COVID-19.
In the aviation sector too cleaning regimens were in place; for instance, Emirates airline confirmed that it was stepping up its aircraft cleaning. “The safety and health of our customers and employees is taken very seriously and we are continuously liaising with international and local health organizations to ensure we are following the most up-to-date medical guidelines and directives,” said Adel Al Redha, chief operating officer, Emirates Airline.
During times of the COVID-19 crises where hygiene is of paramount importance, the FM sector is quite naturally on the frontlines and should bear as custodians of tackling this predicament so as to curb the ongoing menace.
During such times, there certainly has been an increase in demand for soft FM services, says Darko Macura, CEO at Al-Futtaim Engineering and Technologies. He says: “There has been an increase in demand not just for normal cleaning but for sanitation of premises. We all learned that this new type of virus is able to survive on material surfaces for a day or two and maybe even for a week, and therefore, it’s very important that we minimise the spread of the virus. Companies want to know about new cleaning solutions in the market. So there is definitely an impact for the cleaning sector.”
Darko Macura, CEO at Al-Futtaim Engineering and Technologies
FM firm Emrill too has observed an increase in demand. Sarah Rodgers, head of soft services at Emrill, explains that there are two main factors driving the demand. She says: “Firstly, our clients are becoming far more aware of the importance of top-quality cleaning services and are more actively seeking out information on how they can prevent the spread of infection within their facilities. Secondly, as a soft FM services provider, Emrill is working with clients to educate them on what further precautions and services can be provided to prevent outbreaks.”
Sarah Rodgers, head of soft services at Emrill
Some of Emrill’s clients have requested additional human resources at their sites so they can dedicate extra cleaning personnel to high-traffic areas. However, the firm states that the majority of its clients will remain at the same level of resources, and so its challenge is to ensure it is smarter with workload management, enabling it to deliver expanded frequent services using the same number of staff.
She adds: “Onsite, we have seen a significant increase in how much soap is being used. Therefore, we are working to ensure there is always an adequate supply of soap and hand sanitiser within facilities.
“We share all of our recommendations and guidelines with our clients and the communities we serve. We have had a very positive experience with our customers; they want to work with us to ensure their facilities offer the safest environment possible, and they are willing to implement our recommendations. For example, we have replaced some of our traditional cleaning products with disinfectants capable of killing the coronavirus. We have done this at no cost to the client, but we are appreciative that our clients have supported our decisions and are taking steps to become as aware as they can.”
Julie Lee, head of Soft Services at Khansaheb FM, says that as a result of the current situation, there will be a need for specialised training for operatives, supervisors and managers. In addition, the rates of hospital grade cleaning agents, hazmat suits (in the event of an outbreak) and basic personal protective equipment may also skyrocket due to limited supply and high demand.
Ahmad Abublan, MENA general manager Middle East at Kimberly-Clark Professional (KCP), adds that there has been a surge in demand for sanitisers. He says: “All suppliers are facing this unprecedented increase in the demand [for hand sanitizers]. KCP recommends that everyone follow the guidelines recommended by the WHO and the US CDC on the best practices of hand hygiene.”
Julie Lee, head of soft services at Khansaheb FM
Rogers says that the industry has already started to adapt to the demand. She says: “At Emrill, for example, we have updated a number of our cleaning methodologies, not because they weren’t up to scratch before but instead because we feel it is the responsibility of soft services and cleaning providers to be extra vigilant in preventing the risk of spreading infection in the facilities they manage.”
As a precaution against the further spreading of coronavirus and other seasonal viruses, Emrill has reviewed cleaning methodologies and frequencies. This means that in all of the facilities it manages, including, airports, malls, beaches, leisure & entertainment facilities, residential buildings and communities, it has increased the frequency of deep cleaning. Rogers says: “We are placing a significant emphasis on cleaning high-traffic touch areas, such as door handles, hand rails and taps, and we are increasingly using disinfectants approved for the use of eliminating the coronavirus.
“A clean environment is absolutely crucial to infection control. We hope soft services providers step up to the challenge and accept the responsibility we all have. Appropriate hygiene and cleaning regimes are the most effective tool we have at our disposal to curb the spread of infectious diseases. Therefore, we may see a shift in future soft services contracts, placing a far greater focus on cleaning and hygiene rather than aesthetics and appearance.”
Elaborating on some of the effective hygiene practices, Abublan says: “Key factors in effective hand hygiene and maintaining skin integrity include ensuring that hands are completely dry. A recommended technique is using soap, rinsing hands thoroughly under running water then patting dry with a single use towel. Maintaining hygiene compliance should be on the top priority of all building owners regardless of any crisis situation. This can be achieved by continued effort to positively influencing behavior of staff on hygiene compliance and the benefits of good hand hygiene.”
Hand sanitisers are running out of stock as many companies and individuals are buying them in bulk.
On the issue of disinfecting buildings, Rogers adds: “Specialist decontamination service providers have been approved by the authorities, and we would recommend that any building owner who believes decontamination is required to get in touch with the relevant government body. Where Emrill and other FM companies provide the most value is in the prevention of illness spreading infection in the first instance.”
She says that by staying up to date with government and international advisories, soft services providers can ensure they are ahead of the curve, using the most up-to-date and recommended cleaning products, processes and methodologies. “We work closely with health authorities, major airports, hotels and public attractions, so we are constantly updating, adapting and improving our methodologies to face any challenges head-on and give our clients the support they require in times of uncertainty.
“While none of us can control sick people visiting our facilities, especially when they may not know they have contracted a disease, we can absolutely ensure cleaning standards are as high as possible to minimise the risk of illnesses spreading.”
Lee believes that soft FM firms should fully familiarise themselves with the basic steps and work methods, in line with legislative and healthcare infection control requirements. “Different types of volatile organic compounds (VoC), germs, gram positive and negative bacteria and types of viruses and spores present on the environment should be taken into consideration and stringent measures should be adopted in line with EPA, NSF and municipality guidelines to combat and deactivate these microbes. Soft FM must also conduct strict internal audits, coordinate with infection control and develop proofs to justify the need and how this best works for them and their clients. In this crucial time, consistently educating stakeholders and following health and prevention procedures makes a big difference,” Lee says.
Macura adds that it is important to leave decontamination and disinfecting to the specialists. “Specialist FM companies will only use the right products that are able to kill germs and viruses. In addition, these products must not be detrimental to the environment or health. The products need to be environmentally friendly and approved by Dubai Municipality and other authorities,” he says.
He also says that the application of such chemical should be properly done in a trained manner. Macura says: “A lot of training is involved in understanding the chemicals, and only using the ones that are approved.”
Talking more about training for new practices, Macura says that his firm Al-Futtaim Engineering and Technologies already provides deep cleaning and sanitising as part of its service. However, on the backdrop of COVID-19 scenario, the firm has introduced further training, which includes protection to workers carrying out cleaning. He says: “We’re training them to execute cleaning services without being possibly infected by the virus.”
Lee adds that BICSc’s (British Institute of Cleaning Science) specialised skill suites for bodily fluid and spill handling, and biohazard decontamination help organisations prepare for outbreaks such as this. She says: “[Khansaheb] being certified in these specialised skills in 2019 helped us familiarise ourselves with healthcare cleaning requirements, which are especially critical in recent times. We are now equipped with the skills and knowledge in observing high-standard sanitary best practices which proves our unmatched expertise in the region, especially for high-risk environments. Ultimately, the safety of the public, our clients and our staff is our utmost concern and this has helped us be equipped and ready in many ways.”
Emrill too has been a BICSc member since 2012, making it one of the first FM providers in the region to be awarded the membership. As a result, Emrill was already practising cleaning methodologies designed to prevent cross-contamination and the spread of infection, Rodgers says. BICSc standards encompass protecting the operator, providing a clean and safe environment and producing best practice, and all of Emrill’s cleaning and housekeeping staff are BICSc trained before being deployed.
Rodgers says: “Emrill hasn’t needed any additional certifications or accreditations to face the coronavirus challenges. Our focus is on continuing to do what we have always done – keeping our customers and employees safe by following BICSc guidelines and providing our people with continuous training.”
To maintain the high standards required by BICSc, Emrill ensures colour coding guidelines and chemical usage instructions are followed at all times, and all cleaning methodologies follow BICSc guidelines. This includes the personal hygiene and self-care of the Emrill team. Onsite, its cleaning teams are taking the extra precaution of wearing their masks at all times, rather than just during specific cleaning activities. This is to ensure, especially in areas with high footfall, that it is not contributing to the potential spread of any illness when it comes into contact with so many people on a daily basis. Its teams are also using an updated procedure when handling garbage to minimise contact.
Sick building syndrome
Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a common worldwide health concern, where people in a building suffer from symptoms of illness or become infected with chronic disease from the building they work in or reside in.
One way to prevent SBS is by following the WHO guidelines, says Abublan. According to the WHO or World Health Organisation: “Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.”
Ahmad Abublan, MENA general manager Middle East at Kimberly-Clark Professional (KCP)
Besides following the guidelines on an individual level, Macura says that there are things that can be done at a building level. He says: “Apart from regular cleaning and sanitation of premises, using approved chemicals will be able to prevent the spread of diseases, even after a month of application. In addition, it is important that AC ducts and fan coil units are properly cleaned and disinfected within buildings.”
Rodgers too agrees that soft services and cleaning offer the first line of defence against sick building syndrome and the spread of viral infections. She says: “The best advice we can give is that building owners should ensure they are using providers who are qualified and approved by the relevant authorities.”
According to Rodgers, some of the main culprits of sick building syndrome are poor ventilation, high levels of dust, the presence of mould or fungus, chemicals in the air from cleaning products, pesticides and heat or low humidity. When selecting a provider to oversee the cleanliness of their facilities and wellbeing of tenants and visitors, building owners need to be confident they can trust the provider can carry out the work to the required standards.
She says: “Our advice for everyone else, including business owners, building owners and other FM providers is to be aware of seasonal and unique outbreaks and act appropriately. While it’s essential we take care of our clients, it is just as vital that we look after our own people. At Emrill, we have advised all of our employees to take advantage of our flexible working policy if they need to, enabling them to make their own decisions regarding the health of themselves and their families.”
Lee adds: “As experts, we would advise our clients and ourselves to consider robust hand touched surface and air quality inspection and audits. Checking VoC with the help of partner laboratory and approved QC test kits available in the market will give you condition reports. Analysing and conducting risk assessments and studying root cause will provide you the base and evidence of your report. You can minimise risk factors by implementing cleaning best practices in areas of poor ventilation. There are specifications on legislative standards that a building must follow. Overall, following planned preventive maintenance and cleaning regimes will help to avoid sick building syndrome.”
FM firms are now at a very critical juncture. They should be mascots of cleanliness, especially during such times of crisis. Following crucial advice and guidelines from authorities and FM experts should help keep pandemics