As Facilitate went to press, the nation was in the process of shutting down schools, stopping all non-essential travel, practising "social distancing" and self-isolating in response to the outbreak of novel coronavirus, Covid-19.
30 March 2020 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal
A number of developments occurred rapidly that touched upon workplace and facilities management.
One was the government's guidelines for employers and businesses on how to cope with someone who is suspected or confirmed to have Covid-19 has been in the workplace, plus advice on the certification of absence from work resulting from Covid-19.
Only days after employers were advised that there "is no need to close the workplace or send other staff home", the number of UK cases of coronavirus increased and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said workers "should work from home where possible" as part of a range of stringent new measures to suppress the spread of the virus.
Consequently, the IWFM published its Covid-19 guidance resource for FMs, pointing out how some organisations will be trialling remote working for the first time at scale, realising the benefits as well as understanding the challenges of prolonged remote collaboration.
This states: "The preparatory work we at IWFM have carried out in recent years has enabled us, with little notice, to activate home working with great efficiency. Like any business continuity approach, it only works if you plan for any possibility."
Tighter cleaning regimes
Elsewhere, enhanced cleaning practices were unveiled by Transport for London (TfL) to improve "the already-high hygiene levels" on the capital's public transport systems.
Cleaning across the Tube and bus network now includes additional substances that kill viruses and bacteria on contact.
Public Health England said there were no specific concerns about using public transport. However, TfL chose to make a number of improvements to its well- established cleaning programme. TfL began rolling out enhanced antiviral fluid, used in hospitals, at Tube trains and stations to provide added protection.
Key interchanges will be cleaned more regularly than usual, including during the day.
TfL is also using the enhanced disinfectant in depots and drivers' cabs. All buses will now also have regularly touched areas, such as poles and doors, carefully wiped down with a strong disinfectant each day.
Boosts to the rigorous cleaning regime will be rolled out across the rest of the TfL network.
TfL said it was also at the final testing stages of a new, longer- lasting cleaning agent that would provide antiviral protection for up to 30 days and hoped to begin using it across the network soon. It was also finalising plans to use specialist hygiene backpack equipment, which will be deployed to spray the new disinfectant across the network safely and quickly.
Meanwhile, Public Health England continues to urge everyone to wash their hands regularly during the day, before eating and when arriving at work or home. It is believed that the virus can be passed on through contaminated surfaces.
Lilli Matson, director of health, safety and the environment at TfL, said: "Public Health England has made it clear that people should go about their daily lives as normal but should wash their hands more regularly and thoroughly, which particularly includes when they arrive at work or home and before eating. If people are unwell, they are advised not to travel so as not to pass on illness to others.
"We want to give Londoners and our staff peace of mind that their safety is our priority, which is why we have enhanced our already rigorous cleaning regime. A lot of our cleaning goes on when stations are closed or trains are out of service, so to provide additional reassurance teams will be cleaning areas that are frequently touched throughout the day, in addition to the enhanced cleaning regime that all bus garages will be carrying out."
The spread of Covid-19 also threw into focus the rights of outsourced workers on the front line who may have to self-isolate if sick. Tens of thousands of workers across the NHS were guaranteed full pay if this had to happen.
Private outsourcing firms Medirest, Mitie, Sodexo, Interserve, ISS and Serco have confirmed that workers will be given full pay from day one should they have to self-isolate if they catch the Covid-19 virus.
A Sodexo spokeswoman said: "Patient safety is our top priority for our cleaning contracts in hospitals. We have clear infection control policies and procedures in place. We do not expect staff who are unwell to come to work and staff suspected of being unwell are kept from any contact with patients or sent home. All our hospital staff are entitled to sick pay from day one. When we inherit staff on contracts where they were not entitled to sick pay, we transfer them on to our terms and conditions, which are regularly reviewed."
A Serco spokesman said: "All our employees providing support services at NHS hospitals are entitled to sick pay at full rates of pay from day one of any absence, including if they are required to self-isolate.
"We view this as an essential policy to encourage the right behaviours and we follow all NHS and government guidelines. We believe that to not pay employees to support these types of safeguarding approaches would place patients and NHS colleagues at risk."
A Medirest spokesman said: "We recognise the vital role our frontline healthcare colleagues are performing in the unprecedented current situation and want to support them however we can. This includes paying full pay from day one for these colleagues should they need to self-isolate for Covid-19."
In early March a letter from a senior NHS executive instructed NHS trusts to "ensure any member of staff including bank staff and subcontractors who has to be physically present at a NHS facility to carry out their duties, receives full pay for any period in which they are required to self isolate as a result of public health advice".
Separately, cleaners employed by ISS walked out after not being paid at Lewisham Hospital, where cases of coronavirus are being treated.
However, an ISS spokeswoman said this was as a result of technical errors that had since been corrected. She said: "ISS has recently transferred a large number of employees on to their payroll at the University Hospital Lewisham. This has involved moving to a different pay cycle and process for employees transferring to ISS. We are very sorry that some employees have not been paid correctly and we have been taking urgent action to resolve any issues. We have arranged drop-in sessions and 1:1s to meet employees who have had an issue and to ensure that they are paid in full. We are committed to ensuring a smooth mobilisation and encourage any employees with queries to contact us directly so that we can ... rectify any issues as swiftly as possible."
Hospitality offers up buildings to NHS
Best Western Great Britain has offered 15,000 hotel bedrooms and 1,000 meeting rooms to help the NHS and local authorities through the coronavirus crisis.
The rooms are available for NHS staff, care workers, families, lower-risk patients and the over-70s to help take the strain off hospital wards and allow clinicians to treat the most vulnerable patients.
Andrew Denton, head of hotel services at Best Western Great Britain [a not-for-profit membership organisation of independently owned hotels established in 1978], said: "Since our offer to help we have had an overwhelmingly positive response from our hotels. Local hospitals, councils and local authorities have also been in touch directly asking for help and... we are repurposing our technology and call centre to manage the interest and the demand.
"Every day counts now for people on the front line of this crisis, so we want the NHS to know we are here to help. We would urge the wider hospitality industry to join our cause too. We are serious about helping reduce the number of deaths. 20,000 is too many. If our rooms and our support can be part of the solution that brings that figure down, then we'll have done our job."
Implications for profits
Catering companies also reported that they would take a hit in their revenues because of the turbulence and uncertainty caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
French-owned support services firm Sodexo reported that its results for the first half of 2020 are "expected to be in line with internal forecasts".
The company said the Covid-19 pandemic started to be a concern in the second half of January for its business in China, which led to a "rapid deterioration worldwide in February, moving from region to region and generating more and more government precautionary measures to limit the spread of the virus".
It states that it is "coordinating globally, regionally and locally to manage its business continuity and pandemic plans to support and protect its employees and consumers across all of its geographies".
This includes "precise and proactive management" of its workforce to respond to specific and changing conditions and a reinforcement of food safety.
Sodexo said: "The first-half figures include a mild shortfall in revenues in China and Italy due to Covid-19 that we have been able to absorb. As much as we have the systems and granularity of reporting to identify with precision the impact of Codiv-19 ex post, it is too early to assess the different situations and their impact moving forward. This is due to the variety of situations we are facing, decline in traffic, full or partial closure of sites, and variability between sites, countries and regions."
However, it added that based on the past few weeks' observations in China, Italy, France and the US, "we can see that for each 100 million of revenue decline the impact on underlying operating profit is around -30 per cent depending on the country and the segment".
The company is currently running "a full bottom-up forecast exercise based on closures and revised traffic estimates" and will provide an update on 9 April, along with its first-half results.
Currently, it says, "early estimates, given the many moving parts, could be for an impact of around 2 billion [about ££1.8 billion] on annual revenues".
And catering group Compass has said that the impact of the coronavirus would mean that its interim profits will be much lower than expected, owing to closures of sports events, schools and leisure businesses.
It said unexpected closures and containment policies being enforced by governments could mean that its profits are 25 to 30 per cent lower than expected.
Sitemark creates FM risk assessment tool
Sitemark, the independent benchmarking service for the facilities management industry, has released a workplace risk assessment tool in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The tool will help FMs to identify the control measures to consider for minimising the risk of workplace infections and identifies five areas to be assessed:
- Site control: access points, visitor restrictions and visitor hygiene, non- touch dispensers and door mechanisms;
- Cleaning provision: specification frequency, schedule definitions, service provider contingency, chemical use, curtains/blinds, and rugs/mats, swab testing and steam cleaning;
- Signage and education: handwashing signage, handwashing videos and update alerts;
- Building user behaviours: home working, dress code, travel reduction, handshaking, workspace hygiene and self-isolation; and
- Contingency plans: building closure plan, contract clarification, deep-clean provider, deep-clean methodology and sick pay policy.
FMs enter an impact and adoption score for each assessment, and then use a calculation in the tool to generate a score that will suggest the overall site risk level.