Globally, every sector and business has been impacted by COVID- 19. We hear a lot of industry commentators discuss the new normal; however, we do not know how that looks and what effect it will have on us.
Based on the last three months, we have seen businesses implement more advanced cleaning and disinfection regimens, such as sanitisation tunnels and stricter access controls, and have witnessed lower occupancies being enforced to ensure social distancing.
One thing is for sure – given the determination of businesses to resume operations, people would need to work together at least until a vaccine has been found and, then, even beyond that. In terms of cleaning and sanitisation that would mean higher frequency of such drives, particularly in public areas. At where I work, we have already implemented changes for clients, which means adjusting the frequency of cleaning of air conditioning and ventilation systems, and cleaning and disinfecting air ducts more often.
At the height of COVID-19 in Dubai, we had seen many buildings, particularly in the commercial space, left unoccupied, as employees moved from office-based working to their homes. As such, many of the offices had their HVAC systems running minimally or, in some instances, not at all. It is, therefore, essential to carry out a wide range of procedures to ensure all components are working effectively and efficiently.
Initially, all equipment should be checked and assessed to ensure there are no issues. The water and air distribution systems should be checked for leaks, while the systems should all be thoroughly cleaned of any dirt and dust that may have accumulated during the down period. In a similar vein, it is essential to check for mould and other fungal growth on air conditioning coils, inside casings, as well as the ceilings within the office, as the presence of micro-flora could indicate a more serious problem.
The upkeep of all air systems is also incredibly important, and these should be clear of any debris that may have built up. All control valves and actuators should be working at full capacity, and all seals should be checked to ensure they are intact. Drive belts and fans should also be checked to ensure they are working correctly. In short, all moving parts should be checked to make sure they are working as they should, and the period of inactivity has not inadvertently resulted in any potential malfunctions.
High touchpoints should be disinfected and sanitised using world-class, technologically advanced cleaning products that provide long-lasting protection. This should include all air conditioning distribution devices.
It is also worth noting that chillers should not be turned off, as sitting water quickly becomes stagnant, and over a relatively short period this can cause irreparable damage to the components and, ultimately, require major work to fix or replace.
Another important factor to take into consideration is when should maintenance begin again, following the closure of a facility. The straightforward answer to this is it should never stop. There are several intricate parts of an HVAC system, so shutting the system down and incorrect maintenance can have a devastating impact on the lifespan of the system.
In addition to providing regular maintenance during periods of downtime or reduced use, activity should be bolstered when the facility returns to full capacity well in advance to iron out any of the potential issues previously highlighted.
In order to build confidence again amongst occupants of commercial buildings, it is important to have a physical presence and for FM companies to position themselves as not just an expense but as true and trusted business partners, as a single point of contact and a full solution provider.
It is vital for progressive FM companies to understand how the value chain of their customers work, where they can support their clients to comply with the evermore complex government regulations and guidelines and how they can operate in the most efficient manner possible. This is not only to stay competitive in the market but also to reassure all of their stakeholders that they are competent, professional and socially responsible organisations.
FM companies should fully acknowledge that specialised technologies will play an integral role in providing a safe working environment. Such technologies will also provide an answer for improving indoor environments and making them even more efficient. High-efficiency air filters and automated disinfectant feeds into ventilation systems will become standard in most buildings, and many will find their way into building regulations at some point. There will also be increased use of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation technology to disinfect and improve indoor air quality in buildings.
A significant implication of COVID-19 is that there will be a 180-degree change in attitude towards soft FM operations– cleaning, in particular. Cleaners will no longer have to be invisible; in fact, having cleaners in full view of employees, visitors and guests will promote confidence that the building is being regularly cleaned and sanitised thoroughly and professionally.
Kelvin Pradheephen Vargheese, Director, Hitches & Glitches.
CPI Industry accepts no liability for the views or opinions expressed in this column, or for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided here.