New pandemic-standards for hygiene can keep business moving

Cleaning Colourbox 2
Susanne Balslev Nielsen

Susanne Balslev Nielsen

FM Expertise Director

The Coronavirus pandemic has increased awareness of the importance of effective facility management (FM) – and not only in regard to hygiene and requirements for space. It is also crucial to be in control of the coordination processes, which can lead to safer workspaces with minimised risk of infections. A new international facility management standard is, therefore, being developed by the ISO Technical committee for Facilities Management.

May 6, 2021

During the corona virus pandemic, it has become clear that hygiene is much more important than previously perceived. Whilst, at a basic level, it is about how frequently keyboards ,lifts, and door knobs are cleaned, we now know that it is also now about planning, implementation, communication and control. This is why a new facilities management (FM) standard has been initiated, it aims to guide organisations to a robust approach to the management of hygiene and to ensure business continuity.

The new standard will combine the best practices from FM-organisations around the world with regard to the Coronavirus pandemic, and is aimed at optimising approaches to the management of similar situations in the future, and perhaps, to even avoid further lockdowns. As the FM expertise director at NIRAS I am participating in this work to develop new standards for facility management though my engagement with Danish Standard, CEN and ISO.

The new standard, which has the working title “Guidance on emergency management of epidemic prevention in the workplace”, will become a key tool in the fight to keep society working as normally as possible during future pandemics. As we have seen with COVID-19, pandemics can drastically change the targets for service and operation in all types of businesses.

COVID-19 has shown us how important it is to be able to control our processes, and that the FM functions can be crucial for the functioning of a workplace. Important both in terms of preventing infection on a daily basis in the offices, hospitals, and shopping malls, but also, in the case of an outbreak, ensuring that everyone knows exactly how they should react and how to manage the situation to limit further spread of the disease.

A new challenge

During a health crisis, it is crucial to make decisions that are as well-informed as possible. This requires good teamwork, communication, and effective processes. The crisis situation also means that the quality levels of a service like cleaning need to be set on completely different level.

Who, for instance, is responsible for ensuring that there are enough resources, which particular skills are needed regarding safety and health, and how should tasks best be organised? What is the best and most effective strategy, who is in charge of communication in case of problems or contamination, and how does one find the optimal level for hygiene and cleaning efforts? And once this is done, how to ensure the quality of cleaning procedures to avoid the virus to be spread? All of this will be included in the FM pandemic standard.

We have seen how especially cleaning is much more important than previously recognised. It is partly about how often things such as keyboards, elevators, and door knobs are cleaned, but it is also about organization and management and about control and documentation of the level of hygiene.

The standard will provide a common language, a common understanding and streamlined frameworks to take a lead on what to do and how it should be documented. A common standard will help organisations avoid risks and a reliance on ad-hoc solutions. When the Coronavirus pandemic started in spring 2020, many were faced with these challenges for the first time. Now we are taking some of the experiences and best practices we have learned in the industry and combining them in an international standard that should provide much wider benefits.

How often is it necessary to clean, when, and how?

In terms of cleaning, it can be tempting to cut corners, but in the worst case scenario, this can have life or death consequences. COVID-19 has undoubtedly increased awareness about how important proper hygiene really is. And not just that spaces are clean, but also that the level of hygiene is documented.

The pandemic has also created huge challenges regarding space requirements. There is a new best practice of how to enter a building, how to use offices in a safe way, and how to interact e.g. in terms of social distancing and creating one-way movement flows in hallways and other public spaces.

It is fundamentally about creating a space where people feel safe, regardless of whether it is at work or at the grocery store. Where we have previously mingled amongst each other, been sitting close to each other, and been very social, the pandemic created a need to move in the opposite direction with more space and distance. COVID-19 has, in many ways, tested our workplaces and flipped usual tendencies upside down regarding how a company can function.

Quality label and competition parameters

The pandemic standard will be certifiable for in-house FM-organisations responsible for safeguarding the users of buildings, and service suppliers providing single or multiple services.

The standard can become a significant competitive advantage in the future to make demands about quality of work spaces and services. Those who own or manage our work spaces and services have a responsibility to provide a safe environment. Following international standards and incorporating them into provider contracts would be advantageous.

From a market perspective, it is important that both private and public organisations begin to request alignment with these standards, as they will become an indicator of a high quality approach to FM. This will also be appropriate and beneficial for those working in international markets.

Participate in this exciting work

My message to interested companies is that standardisation is for those who want to be leaders in an industry or market. By participating in this standardisation work, you can have a say and influence the development of the standard. You will get an early insight into the direction in which the industry is moving and what tomorrow’s market requirements will be.

Furthermore, you will get the chance to develop a wide international network within the industry.

Everyone with an interest and knowledge of the area can participate in developing the standard Facility management - Guidance on emergency management of epidemic prevention in the workplace.