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What Facility Managers Need To Know About OSHA Standards In 2021

What Facility Manager Need To Know About OSHA Standards In 2021

Keeping abreast of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations is just one of the many responsibilities of a facility manager, but it's an important one. This is especially true post-COVID  the agency has updated its inspection policy, issued guidance relating to inspections, and adjusted its civil penalties for infractions. 2021 has just begun, so there's no time like the present to catch up with all of the new information. These changes include:

1. OSHA's annual adjustment to civil penalties.

OSHA periodically changes their penalties to account for cost-of-living increases. This helps with compliance since it ensures that penalties continue to act as a deterrent as the economic landscape changes. The maximum penalty for serious or other-than-serious violations will be $13,653, up from $13,494. The maximum penalty for repeated or willful violations will be $136,532, up from $134,937. These will apply to any infractions discovered after January 15th, 2021. For more information on the increases, please visit OSHA's page on Penalty Payment.

2. New guidance on COVID-19 inspections.

COVID-related inspections have their own particular emphasis, and it's not uncommon for employers to receive citations for infractions they may not have even noticed before. To help employers avoid penalties and keep employees safe, OSHA has issued special guidance (and a one-page overview) outlining the most common COVID-related citations. Some of the regulations employers fail at most frequently include:

  • Performing appropriate fit tests for employees using respirators.
  • Providing medical evaluations before fit tests or respirator use.
  • Establishing, implementing, and updating a written respiratory protection policy, including protective measures specific to each worksite.
  • Properly storing personal protective equipment.
  • Properly maintaining records of injuries, illnesses, and fatalities, including reporting fatalities that happen within 30 days of a work-related incident.

3. Updated site-specific targeting policy.

OSHA recently developed a new category for employers with consistent increases in their rates of injury and illness, as assessed over a three-year period. The agency also created special inspection procedures to help avoid employers who erroneously end up included in the category due to incorrect data. Under this new policy, OSHA will create lists of workplaces with high rates of Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred (DART), and sites whose numbers have steadily increased over 2017-2019. After being placed on a list, businesses will be sorted into one of four sub-categories. These include:

  • Workplaces with injury and illness numbers higher than their industry's average.
  • Workplaces with above-average numbers in 2017, which have continued to trend upward.
  • Workplaces with below-average numbers in 2019, to assess the efficacy of OSHA's reporting mechanism.
  • Workplaces that failed to report data.

If a compliance safety and health officer determines that a workplace was included in error, they may conduct a records-only inspection. During this inspection, the officer must conduct a walkthrough of a relevant worksite, and interview employees to assess the workplace's actual history of illness and injury. For more information, please read OSHA's overview of recording work-related injuries and illnesses.

4. Potential changes coming with the new Presidential administration.

After his inauguration, President-elect Biden may choose to create a new emergency standard for COVID-19 using OSHA. While OSHA currently has the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, which addresses Hepatitis B vaccines, it doesn't yet have one in place for COVID vaccines. If this new standard addresses COVID, employers may be required to provide vaccines to their employees. The hepatitis B standard largely protects healthcare workers. The novel coronavirus is much more easily transmissible, and any public-facing position or work in close quarters puts employees at risk of contracting the disease. If OSHA chooses to create a COVID standard based on the Bloodborne Pathogen standard, it may mean that employers must:

  • Offer COVID vaccines to at-risk workers, at no cost, shortly after training.
  • Train employees on the vaccine's efficacy, safety, and benefits.
  • Obtain a written recommendation from a healthcare provider on whether or not an employee is fit to receive the vaccine.
  • Require employees who decline the vaccine to sign a form acknowledging their decision.

It should be emphasized that this vaccine policy is still speculation based on the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, and has not yet been codified or put into action. Even so, employers should anticipate some form of COVID standard shortly after President-elect Biden's inauguration. It may be wise to look to the existing hepatitis B vaccine policy to inform their decisions and prepare for any upcoming changes. The novel coronavirus has altered many of the ways that employers treat workplace safety, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is working to follow suit. While keeping up with policy changes may be confusing, OSHA has provided several resources to outline and explain these changes on the agency's website.

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Facility Management Trends & Challenges For 2021

Facility Management Trends & Challenges For 2021

2020 caused a lot of problems for the facility management industry, many of which managers had never had to confront before. The pandemic has shaped everything from cleaning procedures to emerging tech, to interior decorating trends, and brought a heightened awareness to the role that buildings play in public health. As we get ready to head into 2021, here are some of the new -- and continuing -- trends and challenges facility managers are going to see:

1. Remote monitoring.

Millions of people were pushed to work from home if they weren't furloughed or laid off entirely. This resulted in three things: a scramble to create more robust systems to handle so many people working remotely, a push for heightened cybersecurity, and the realization that remote technology can have beneficial impacts on sustainability and costs, as well as health. Even as people begin to return to work next year, the ability to keep an eye on things from a distance has hundreds of applications in facility management. Sensors help with inventory, security, equipment monitoring, as well as functions as simple as lighting and ventilation. It's likely that remote monitoring and Internet of Things tech is going to continue to occupy a significant niche in facility management.

2. Artificial intelligence-led maintenance.

Preventative maintenance can save facility managers major headaches and expenses down the line, but it's easy to see why it so often gets pushed to the side. Proper preventative maintenance pulls employees off of other tasks, takes time and labor, and means throwing parts away before they've completely worn out, all of which can seem really wasteful for something that isn't an emergency. AI-based predictive maintenance helps cut down on this waste by collecting data from sensors and accurately determining when parts really need to be replaced. Some algorithms can even analyze behavior over an asset's working life, and send alerts when it needs to be maintained or repaired.

3. Sustainable (yet breathable) buildings.

This is both a trend and a challenge in one. For years, new builds emphasized their energy efficiency -- which generally meant being heavily insulated and sealed up tight to avoid wasting heating and cooling power. Now that there's a push for better ventilation, there has to be a compromise between bringing outdoor air in and keeping it from sending the electric bill through the roof. While builders will be responsible for facing this challenge in new construction, facility managers will have to bear the brunt of it in older buildings. This is another area where remote monitoring technology can help, by using sensors to optimally balance temperature, humidity, and fresh air, as well as guiding maintenance for ventilation systems.

4. Shifting from software to platform.

Facility management software helps managers keep tabs on virtually every aspect of their operations, from work orders to inventory, to to-do lists, and more. As the IoT, AI, and remote sensors gain a larger presence, facility management software is shifting from a tool to a comprehensive, user-friendly platform. Soon, managers may be able to handle everything from within a single seamless digital interface. This is especially true as the older generations of facility managers near retirement. Younger generations are more accustomed to technology and have high standards for the software they use. Expect to see facility management platforms adapt to provide more intuitive, attractive user interfaces that are able to operate across devices -- from computers to tablets and cell phones.

5. Security, security, security.

COVID-19 created some unique security challenges. Now, not only did facility managers have to worry about unauthorized people getting access to buildings or other assets, they had to worry about keeping people out if they failed a health screening. With more employees working and monitoring things remotely, there were more opportunities for cyberattacks. As technology becomes more advanced, interconnected, and ubiquitous, the need for strong cybersecurity just becomes greater. Attackers are getting more sophisticated, and facilities need to keep pace to keep buildings, people, data, and other assets safe.

6. Cost.

As was hinted above, some of these trends are going to come with added costs. Remote monitoring and IoT devices cost money to buy, implement, and learn. Greener, healthier buildings mean initial costs for upgraded HVAC systems and insulation and ongoing costs for electricity. AI-led preventative maintenance is still going to cost money to implement, even if it saves in the long run. Facility managers have always had to balance expenses with efficiency, operations, and comfort, and that isn't going away any time soon. If anything, the new emphasis on ventilation and healthier buildings will only add to the challenge. 2020's pandemic had a big impact on facility management, but it isn't the only factor guiding things going forward. A continued push for sustainability, advancing tech, sophisticated cybersecurity threats, a generation nearing retirement, and the desire for greener buildings are all guiding trends and challenges for the industry. As the IoT and AI become more abundant and integrated, facility managers are likely to see more and more of the center of their job on software. Fortunately, builders and software developers alike are forging ahead to help managers handle these shifts smoothly.

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6 Facility Management Blogs Every FM Should Be Reading

 6 Facility Management Blogs FMs Should Be Reading

The field of facility management is ever-evolving, so it's important to stay current. That's where blogs come in -- since they're updated regularly, they can be a veritable treasure trove of innovation and information. This has never been more true than right now, as governments and businesses alike hurry to develop strategies for safely operating in a post-COVID world. Keeping on top of all things COVID-related is a daunting task, even for a dedicated facility manager. Fortunately, tons of blogs out there are working hard to collect, distill, and provide the latest research in an accessible, easy-to-navigate format. The International Facility Management Association's Long Island chapter has a great blog that you should definitely follow, but it's always a good idea to have as many resources at your disposal as possible. To that end, here are the six sites that facility managers definitely want to have on their blogroll:

1. Facility Executive's Facility Blog

Facility Blog covers all industry-relevant breaking news. With a three-times-a-day posting frequency, you're sure to find something new and fascinating pretty much every time you check. Lately, many of their posts have covered news on the COVID front, including emerging technology, new partnerships, tools, and other resources facility managers can use to help keep their buildings safe and limit the spread. Don't miss their piece on Matrix Medical's COVID-19 certification program.

2. i-FM

This UK-based blog offers facility managers the world over a wealth of news and information. Operating for over twenty years, this site had constantly evolved to make sure they bring their best to the field, and this year is no different. With news, comments, and features on topics ranging from sustainability to industry news, to effective cleaning, to tracking post-COVID office usage, i-FM has a lot to offer facility managers looking for information about any facet of the industry -- including how to limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

3. FMLink

FMLink is maintained by a full staff of publishing, computer, and facilities pros, and offers a combination of their in-house professionals and contacts with facility management associations -- if they don't already have a blog post for you, they can get you the answer you need. If they can't, one doesn't exist. The site is also very navigable. Resources are organized by topic and type, so, if you need a white paper on sustainability or a case study on health and safety, you can find it. Their front page also has a hard-to-miss section of today's top facility management news, which is great for managers trying to keep on top of HVAC innovations, studies on the effectiveness of UV-C disinfection, or other COVID-related info.

4. Buildings.com

Buildings might not update quite as often as some of the other guys, but their posts are always high-quality. They span everything from the latest decorating trends (don't miss their piece on how to use Graham & Brown's 2021 color of the year) to ways buildings can improve mental and physical health. They even have a specific section of COVID-19 coverage, which saves a lot of work for managers specifically looking for pandemic-related information. They also offer a section of podcasts, for facility managers that prefer to get their information in an audible format, and even have a series of webinars.

5. Facilities Manager Magazine

Formatted as an online magazine rather than a traditional blog, Facilities Manager Magazine regularly brings in experts to post on the most relevant topics of the day. They're produced by the Association of Physical Plant Administrators, whose mission has been to support "educational excellence with quality leadership and professional management through education, research, and recognition" for over 100 years. The organization is for facility managers who want to refine their craft, and their blog reflects this -- every post is backed by some serious research. Don't miss their recent post on best management practices for face-to-face operations in the midst of COVID.

6. Service Futures

Service Futures is primarily geared toward workplace and people management, outsourcing, and integrated facility services. They put out high-quality posts every few days, which is helpful for facility managers who don't necessarily have the time to pore through multiple posts a day. Recent articles include coverage of post-COVID reopening strategies, the benefits of outsourcing hygiene and disinfection services, and the three traits of successful facility managers. It can be hard to keep up with industry-related posts, especially now. However, as new research emerges and old information gets cast aside, staying on top of the latest news is more important than ever. If you're a facility manager looking for tools and resources to keep your employees, guests, and buildings safe in a post-pandemic world, you can't afford to miss out on the gold mine of information offered by these blogs.

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How FM Software Can Ready Your Facility For Winter

How FM Software Can Ready Your Facility For Winter

Prepping a facility for winter can be challenging. There's a lot to remember and consider, and it's very easy to overlook minor problems that can turn into major issues once cold weather strikes. Fortunately, today's facility managers don't have to shoulder this burden alone. Facility management software takes a lot of stress out of the whole winterization process. Here's are just a few of the ways it can help:

1. Providing a contractor directory.

When a frozen pipe turns into a major flood, it doesn't leave a lot of time for shopping around for the best plumbing or flood remediation contractor to repair the damage. If an uninsured, uncertified contractor does a poor job, that can also turn a simple repair into a huge legal headache. Good facility management software includes a contractor directory, which puts a list of licensed, insured, experienced contractors right at a manager's fingertips. These lists include extensive profiles of each expert, with their insurance status, licensure, reviews, specialties, years of experience, and more.

2. Creating checklists.

One of the toughest parts of getting ready for winter is making sure that nothing gets missed. Have the HVAC units been inspected and maintained? Has water been shut off to unheated areas of the building? Are the pipes properly insulated? Facility management software can help managers create and manage checklists, streamlining the winterizing process, and ensuring that everything gets done.

3. Planning preventative maintenance and manage work orders.

A major component of winterization checklists is scheduling preventative maintenance. HVAC units need servicing, landscaping needs to be maintained, and minor repairs need to be taken care of before the winter weather hits. A solid maintenance plan helps managers stay in control of expenses and downtime, and facility management software makes that a lot easier. Facility managers can create a preventative maintenance plan, make maintenance calls, and stay on top of work orders, all in one convenient program.

4. Keeping on top of budgets.

Winter usually means higher bills, especially for facilities in areas that experience very cold weather. This can make it more challenging to keep on top of spending without sacrificing facility maintenance. Facility management software offers some sophisticated business analytics. This doesn't just help facility managers stay on budget during winter, it can make it easier to detect patterns and anticipate expenses for years to come.

5. Creating an emergency plan.

If severe weather strikes, an emergency plan is crucial. Every facility should have established equipment shutdown procedures, power outage backup plans, and bad weather policies. Facility management software makes it easy to keep all of this information in a central, easy-to-update place that can be accessed from anywhere.

6. Standardizing.

Standardization helps boost efficiency and cut costs. Facility management software makes it easier to keep track of exactly what bulbs, fuses, hoses, filters, and other consumables are needed, and where. Using standard consumables simplifies ordering and inventory, two things that can save a lot of time and money if supply lines get delayed because of winter weather.

7. Saving manuals.

There's nothing worse than trying to troubleshoot or maintain a piece of equipment without a current, easy-to-read manual. Paper manuals can fade, tear, get stained, be lost, or just fall apart. Facility management software can help by saving manuals where employees can access them whenever they need to. When HVAC, plumbing, irrigation, and other equipment maintenance and tune-ups are such an important part of winter readiness, it's better not to take a chance on hard copy manuals.

8. Staying connected.

From severe weather to COVID-19 related business shutdowns, a lot of things can keep facility managers out of the office. Web-based management software is secure and easy to access from anywhere with an internet connection, even with a tablet or cell phone. This means that facility managers can make sure that things are running smoothly, enact emergency plans, and facilitate a safe, thorough business shutdown if need be. All the contacts, work orders, manuals, and other information they might need are right at their fingertips. Winter can turn minor maintenance and inventory concerns into emergencies, and the best way to avoid that is to be proactive. Facility management software takes a lot of stress out of planning for winterization, from making checklists, to creating emergency plans, to managing inventory and lists of contractors. If you're starting the process of readying your facility for winter, make your job easier. Let facility management software handle the organization and analytics for you.

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Reduce the Spread of COVID-19 with Better Indoor Ventilation

Reduce the Spread of COVID-19 with Better Indoor Ventilation

It's no secret that poorly ventilated spaces are often unhealthy, but medical researchers have found that indoor air can hold onto higher concentrations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus for a lot longer than outdoor air. There's a saying that "the secret to pollution is dilution," and the same holds true for COVID-19. Better indoor ventilation is one of the simplest, most effective ways to reduce the spread, but how can facility managers balance the need for more fresh air and cold winter temperatures?

1. Prepare to accept some higher energy bills.

Unfortunately, the social distancing strategies that work outside don't work indoors. When a space is poorly ventilated, the virus can freely mix and disperse throughout the room and people are no safer at 100 feet apart than they are at one. There's really only one way to dilute indoor air, and that's by opening the windows and letting the outdoors in. After years of working to make buildings as energy-efficient as possible, it's probably really disheartening to hear that the nice, heavily insulated, well-sealed windows that keep energy bills low are pretty much the enemy when it comes to mitigating the risk of COVID-19. It's true, though -- with better ventilation comes higher energy bills. Winter air is cold, and inviting it in means expending more energy to keep it heated and comfortable.

2. Increase humidity.

Temperature and dilution are only part of the whole ventilation picture when it comes to keeping indoor air quality safe, but they're often what gets the most attention. Winter air is dry, heat dries it out even more, and dry air means drier respiratory tracts that increase the risk of catching the novel coronavirus. Adjusting HVAC systems or using supplemental humidifiers to keep the air between 40-60% humidity can help limit the risk.

3. Limit the number of people indoors.

While having everyone stay six feet away from each other won't help, you can increase the effective ventilation per occupant by reducing a facility's number of occupants. More people means a greater need for more ventilation. Limiting the number of people decreases that need. Encourage remote working whenever possible, and limit building and room occupancy. If it's an option, have occupants use rooms with higher ceilings. The added air space means there's a little more clean air to dilute any that's potentially infected.

4. Skip the tents.

Many restaurants, bars, and other hangouts are turning to enclosed tents as the temperatures start to drop. The idea is that these can help guests stay more comfortable, while still being safer than eating indoors. There's only one problem: It's not true. Enclosed tents still don't offer enough ventilation, especially when compared to sitting outdoors. If tents are a necessity, keep two opposite flaps open to allow for a cross breeze. This still isn't the same as having no tent at all, but is safer than a fully enclosed space.

5. Increase air filtration.

HVAC units have to compromise between the energy needed to heat and cool air, and the energy needed to pull it through a fine, efficient filter. The better a filter is at filtering, the harder the unit needs to work. As a result, most places don't use the most efficient filters they can. Swapping old filters for new, higher efficiency ones can help keep the virus from circulating via air ducts. It's also a good idea to invest in some air purifiers with HEPA filters. HEPA filters are very efficient, to the point that few HVAC systems are even equipped to use them. A separate air purifier allows a building to benefit from good air filtration without overtaxing the HVAC system.

6. Adjust fans to pull up, rather than blow down.

Ceiling fans typically have two settings: up and down. One is intended to blow air down to keep occupants cool, the other is intended to pull cold air up and drive lighter, warmer air toward the floor. Adjusting fans to pull air up toward the ceiling in winter serves two purposes. First, it can help heating systems work better by moving warm air to where people actually are, instead of allowing it to rise and stay near the ceiling. Second, it can draw potentially-infected air up and away from where occupants are more likely to breathe it in. Winter means a higher risk of illness in general, whether it's from colds, influenza, or the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Diluting indoor air using good ventilation is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 indoors, but winter's chill can make that challenging. With these tips, facility managers can keep their employees and guests comfortable, while also reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

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Outdoor Office Spaces In the Post-Pandemic World

Outdoor Office Spaces In the Post-Pandemic World

Now that COVID-19 has become part of our reality, building trends are shifting toward outdoor and hybrid outdoor spaces. This is especially true of office buildings, where the increase in ventilation provides a boost to both productivity and employee health. While sneeze guards, temperature checks, and social distancing have their place, more and more facilities are taking to long view and adopting changes that treat pandemics the way that do earthquakes and floods -- as another natural disaster to plan for.

Changes to the Open Plan Office

Open-plan offices have been a controversial topic for a long time. While some experts claim they boost creativity and collaboration, many employees find that they experience more distractions and reduced productivity. The pandemic may signal sweeping changes to open-plan offices as we know them. Some experts point out that rooms with large shared airspaces and few barriers provide the perfect conditions for disease transmission. Others say that the solution is to install intake vents in the ceiling and fresh air vents near the floor. Only one thing is for certain: If office managers plan to maintain an open-plan design, they need to do something to increase ventilation. That's where outdoor and hybrid outdoor workspaces come in.

The Benefits of an Outdoor Space

Even before the pandemic, commercial architecture was moving in a more natural, biophilic direction. Skylights, "living walls," light wells, and other features help bring in more natural light and fresh air while increasing employee exposure to nature. This doesn't just improve air quality, it can also help promote healthy circadian rhythms, lower stress, and keep employees happier, more productive, and more creative. Now, it's a known fact that one of the best ways to reduce potential viral exposure is to bring in as much fresh air as possible. (One study found that the risk of spreading the SARS-CoV-2 virus was as much as 20 times greater indoors than outside.) As a result, building developers are working to incorporate more outdoor space into their designs as a matter of course. Within a few years, there may be very few new commercial build-outs that still resemble ones from over a year ago -- patios, terraces, open courtyards, balconies, and hybrid rooms will be de rigueur, compared to the concrete blocks of the past.

Outdoor Working in a Four-Season Climate

While fresh air is great for employee health and happiness, inclement weather is not. In areas that experience cold winters, this can be especially tricky. One solution, already in use in Europe, relies on a window design that incorporates heat exchangers into the frame. Even with the windows open, any incoming air gets heated or cooled as needed before entering the room. The end result is year-round fresh air and a space that brings the outdoors in. Other buildings are pressing rooftop terraces and balconies into service. Overhangs provide protection from rain, while glass half-walls and hedges function as windbreaks. Large conference rooms or auditoriums are ideal for hybrid spaces. In one concept, a large conference room is backed by a glass garage door. Opening this door increases the number of available seats, and effectively turns the area into a space that's half-indoors, half-out. When it comes to heating, the increase in outdoor workspaces is likely to lead to a concurrent boom in climate control technology. Right now, portable outdoor heaters can help provide some comfort, as can wearable temperature regulating devices. With a way to block the rain and wind, flexible conference rooms, and the ability to provide heat in winter, outdoor workspaces can function in all but the most severe weather.

The Challenges of Working Outdoors

Other than the weather, there are two other big challenges faced by outdoor and hybrid spaces: flexibility and functionality. If outdoor air quality is worse than indoors, as happens in areas prone to wildfires or heavy air pollution, employees must be able to adjust their workspace accordingly. There should still be adequately ventilated indoor areas available, and workers should be able to control the windows and doors to their own areas. In the past, landscaped areas and patios were largely conceptualized as decorative -- not a place where people would spend a significant portion of their day. That's changing. Outdoor workspaces need to function the same as indoor workspaces. This means that lighting and shade need to work with screens without causing too much glare. Electrical and network connectivity should be just as seamless outdoors as it is inside. Outdoor furniture needs to be comfortable and ergonomic, not just decorative. Working outdoors is one of the best ways to improve worker health and happiness while also reducing the risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus. While this strategy poses a few challenges, particularly for offices located in areas with cold winters, technology and architecture are moving to adapt as swiftly as possible. In the future, outdoor and hybrid outdoor spaces may be viewed as a rule for office buildings, rather than an exception.

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9 Winter Preparation Tips For Facility Managers

9 Winter Preparation Tips For Facility Managers

Winter can be a brutal season for facilities. Inclement weather strikes, unused heating systems get pressed into service, and sand and road salt can wreak havoc on landscaping. With the addition of the COVID-19 outbreak this year, winter is shaping up to be especially challenging. Here are 9 tips to help facilities weather the season:

1. Clean ducts and change filters in HVAC systems.

A dirty HVAC filter won't just make the air in a facility smell and feel bad, it'll negatively impact the health of the occupants. This is especially true now, as experts recommend switching from typical HVAC filters to ones that are more efficient at trapping small particles, to hopefully reduce the amount of SARS-CoV-2 virus in the air. More efficient filters get clogged and dirty more quickly, so be sure to swap them out before winter hits. Clean ducts to get rid of dust, debris, and mold spores. It might be a good idea to consider installing a UV sanitizer, as well -- it's a simple way to help eliminate airborne viral particles and keep them from being blown around by HVAC systems.

2. Get ready to increase ventilation.

It might seem counterintuitive, but research shows that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is capable of remaining airborne for longer than previously thought. This means that during winter, when facility managers typically focus on keeping their buildings' energy-efficient and sealed up tight, facilities could inadvertently create conditions that encourage the virus to spread indoors. Bringing in more air from outside, either via windows or through adjusting the HVAC system, can help dilute the number of viral particles in the air. It'll mean higher energy bills, but the payoff is healthier, safer employees and guests.

3. Clean out gutters.

Autumn leaves mean clogged gutters, and clogged gutters can mean water damage. Be proactive before winter storms hit, and remove leaves, sticks, and other debris from gutters. During winter, clean gutters regularly to keep them from being blocked by snow and ice.

4. Inspect the building's exterior and make any needed repairs.

The middle of winter isn't a great time to have to fix a leaking roof or repair a door, so facility managers should give their buildings a thorough inspection to spot any potential trouble spots. Check the heating system, window insulation, doors, plumbing, and attics, or crawl spaces. Making repairs now will save a lot of trouble in the long run.

5. Take inventory.

Winter's a terrible time to have to make the trip to buy supplies, and severe snow and ice can delay shipments. Don't wait for stocks to run low -- have spare supplies on hand in case of an emergency. This includes items like disinfectants and cleaning supplies, paper products, de-icing supplies, disposable masks, and hand sanitizer.

6. Get ready for power shortages.

Storms can knock out power lines, leaving facilities scrambling to keep operating. Downed power lines aren't the only concern this year, though -- as more places consume power to keep their buildings adequately heated with increased ventilation, there's going to be a higher demand put on power grids. Have emergency lighting, a backup generator, and a solid plan in place in case the power goes out.

7. Prepare outside spaces.

People generally don't spend as much time outdoors in winter, but it's still important to maintain the landscaping. Water plants regularly before the first frost, so they'll be able to weather the dry winter air. Add two to three inches of mulch around the base of plants to help insulate their roots and keep water from evaporating too quickly. Figure out a designated spot to pile snow that won't damage plants, or make plans to have snow professionally removed and hauled away. Determine what de-icing treatments are safest for landscaping, and make a plan for keeping plants protected.

8. Winterize cooling systems.

Chances are, cooling systems aren't going to see much use for the next few months. For facilities that shut off theirs during winter, it's especially important to make sure that they go into the season properly cleaned, drained, and maintained. For facilities that keep them running, make sure that they're properly protected against freezing.

9. Pay attention to unheated spaces.

Unheated spaces might not look like a big deal, but they're a huge problem for pipes. Plumbing that runs through an unheated room is at risk of freezing and bursting, leading to a big, expensive mess and an equally expensive emergency visit from a plumber. Shut off the water and drain pipes that feed unheated rooms, or, if that's not possible, work out a way to insulate the pipes and keep the rooms warm enough to prevent freezing. Winter is a tough season. Proactively engaging in good, thorough winter preparation can help facility employees and occupants stay healthier, safer, and more comfortable while reducing long-term costs by avoiding emergency repairs.

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Tips For Cutting Energy Costs In School Facilities

Tips For Cutting Energy Costs In School Facilities

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools are some of the most seriously impacted institutions. Many schools remain closed, and those that open are facing hundreds of empty seats as kids attend either part-time or via remote learning. Not only do schools have to cope with creating flexible, effective learning plans for distant students and providing a safe learning environment for those who attend in person, but they also have to do so while staring down budget cuts. Fortunately, there's one way that schools can decrease their outgoing expenses: cutting their energy costs.

Public and Private Schools Suffer from Budget Cuts

Schools of every stripe rely on state governments to provide funding. When the pandemic drastically raised the unemployment rate and left business unable to operate, that decreased the amount of tax revenue that states were able to bring in -- sometimes by as much as 30%. Lowered tax revenue translates into budget cuts, and schools all around the country have had to plan around serious budget cuts.

Lowering Energy Costs Helps Schools Make Ends Meet

Heating, cooling, and lighting a building as large as a school costs a lot of money. There are numerous ways that schools can reduce their expenses by paring down their power bills:

1. Undergo a (re)commissioning study. Before making changes to a school's energy consumption, it's a good idea to figure out exactly where and how to reduce expenses. In a commissioning study, an engineer observes a building to see how efficiently it operates, and make recommendations to improve efficiency and cut energy costs. Research shows that monitoring a school's energy systems can lead to as much as a 15% reduction in energy bills -- as much as $14,000 per year for an average school building.

2. Trade fluorescents for sunlight. Fluorescent lighting is inexpensive, but it still costs money. Schools can take advantage of natural lighting by installing blinds, adding skylights, and turning the lights off. While fluorescent lighting can be harsh and distracting, natural sunlight help people relax and focus and improves mood. If natural light isn't an option, consider LED bulbs. Modern LEDs allow lighting in different color temperatures, ranging from the cool of a fluorescent bulb to the warm gold of sunlight. They're also inexpensive to operate and last for a very long time.

3. Seal off unused areas. For schools with reduced class sizes, consider closing off unused classrooms. Block off vents to keep cooled air out of unoccupied rooms. This will keep air conditioning where it's most needed, and keep the HVAC system from consuming more power than is necessary.

4. Perform regular HVAC maintenance. It's easy to underestimate the amount of power an inefficient heating or cooling system can waste. An economizer can help save power by drawing in cool air, but can end up adding to the power bill if the damper linkage jams or breaks. Dirty condenser coils cut an air conditioner's cooling capacity, wasting energy as it struggles to keep the building cool. Dirty filters and dust-choked ducts keep air from circulating where it needs to go. Regular HVAC maintenance keeps heating and cooling systems running efficiently and saves money in the long run. If a school's cooling system is more than 15 years old, it might be time to consider a replacement. Even with regular maintenance, old air conditioning systems consume up to 20% more energy than newer ones. Air conditioning is the second largest energy sink in commercial buildings, and the most efficient air conditioning systems on the market are 52% more efficient than the federal standard.

5. Set up sensors. Automated sensors can turn the power on to occupied rooms, and shut it off as soon as they're empty. In areas like bathrooms, lights are often left on for safety and convenience. With a motion sensor, there's no reason to keep the room lit when it isn't in use -- they can turn on and off as needed, saving energy.

6. Swap out old appliances. While the old adage says, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," there are a lot of ways for appliances to fail before they break. Older refrigerators and microwaves consume far more power than energy-efficient models. Many newer appliances (like convection ovens) also produce healthier foods than conventional fryers at a fraction of the energy cost.

7. Don't forget the water bill. Low-flow faucets and showerheads don't just save water, they also save the power needed to heat that water. It's also a good idea to install sensors that automatically shut off sinks and showers after a specific period of time, to encourage students to reduce water use. Many schools already suffer from underfunding, and it can be hard to figure out how to reduce costs more than they already do. By consulting an energy expert and making a few changes to lighting, water, and HVAC usage, schools can cut their energy costs and better cope with COVID-19-related budget cuts.

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The Pandemic Is Changing How Facility Managers Deal With Floors

The Pandemic Is Changing How Facility Managers Deal With Floors

It's no secret that facilities that see a lot of traffic pose the highest risk of infection, whether you're talking about the common cold, or something as serious as COVID-19. Many sanitizing procedures deal with common contact surfaces, like countertops, door handles, and plumbing fixtures, with the understanding that people are very likely to touch a surface and then accidentally rub their eyes or touch their faces. Floors pose their own dangers, however, as dirt, bacteria, and viruses get tracked in from outside. One study found that pathogens could easily be transmitted from a contaminated floor to adjacent furniture, particularly after people removed their footwear and proceeded to touch objects in the room. Facility managers are responding to this by changing the way they handle everything from floor cleaning to the flooring itself.

Why switch to non-porous floors?

Anyone who has ever had to pull up carpeting can vouch for the fact that it's often deceptively dirty. Even well-maintained carpets can end up with dirt or liquids trapped where regular vacuuming and shampooing can't reach them, only to release particles back into the air. Bacteria also love places with ample surface area to grow on, and carpeting provides plenty of it. For this reason, many facility managers are making the switch to hard, non-porous flooring. With less surface area and fewer tiny spaces to trap grime, they are an easier-to-maintain and more hygienic option. That said, the type of non-porous flooring matters.

Seamless vs. Tiled Floors

Some flooring is seamless, meaning that it consists of one piece. Other flooring types, like tile, has to be pieced together. The difference might seem small, but it can become significant -- while all non-porous flooring is easy to clean and sanitize on the surface, the tiny gaps between pieces can be very difficult to keep clean. Tile flooring is attractive, but it requires grout, which is porous and notorious for trapping grime. Textured tile can also have small gaps or spaces worked into the design of the tile itself, which increases its surface area and creates spaces that trap debris. While all of these options are still less porous and easier to sanitize than carpeting, seamless flooring is less hospitable to germs than pieced-together flooring. Unlike many other types of floors, tile can be applied to walls as well. This can create a less porous surface than wallpaper, fabric, or eggshell paint, but, as mentioned above, still has some areas that are vulnerable to harboring pathogens.

Scrubbing, Disinfection, Wear and Tear

Another thing to consider is the amount of wear and tear a given floor is likely to receive. Under normal conditions, most floors get a regular mopping and an occasional scrub, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed that. Now, facility maintenance workers have to clean more often, using disinfectants that prioritize germicidal activity over gentleness. For some floors, particularly vinyl and laminate, that can mean that the flooring ends up worn down faster. The coating can also strip off, leaving a more porous surface behind.

The Case for Epoxy and Urethane

Resinous flooring made of epoxy or urethane creates a seamless, non-porous surface that can even be extended to walls, making an entire room easy to sanitize. It's very easy to maintain, with virtually no small spaces to trap germs or dirt -- even gaps between the floor and the walls can be covered with cove base molding. In addition to liquids, epoxy floors are also resistant to shock and fire. Because of its durability, resinous flooring is very often used in factories, warehouses, garages, and the like. This gives it an industrial connotation that may not be aesthetically desirable in other facilities, though it is possible to change its appearance by mixing in various pigments. Urethane and epoxy can also be slippery unless they are texturized, but adding too much texture creates areas for bacteria to hide.

When to Choose Carpeting

Carpets still have their place, even if they do require some extra care. Soft surfaces help soften the acoustics of a room and give it a warmer, cozier appearance. For this reason, it may benefit hotel rooms, waiting rooms, and other areas where people tend to spend more time. For areas where the pros of soft flooring outweigh the risks, it may be a good idea to switch from wall-to-wall carpeting to a large area rug. Unlike carpets, rugs can be picked up and professionally cleaned, and won't trap grime between the backing and the subfloor. Post-COVID-19, facility managers are looking for options that make things as safe as possible for their tenants, visitors, and employees, and as easy to maintain as possible. Considering how often surfaces needed to be cleaned, flooring that takes hours to thoroughly disinfect isn't a viable option. Switching to non-porous floors of any type provides several advantages over carpeting, though carpeting will always have a home where it's softening, warming, and sound-dampening properties are desired.

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Access Control Procedure & Policy Tips For Facility Managers

Access Control Procedure & Policy Tips For Facility Managers

One key strategy for protecting employee and guest health is keeping pathogens out of a facility. The best way to do this is by rigorously controlling who can come and go, though this isn't always an easy task. Most businesses are used to limiting access to protect their equipment, employees, and intellectual property from things like theft, sabotage, and violence, not viruses. Here are some tips for making sure that people who may be sick -- including carriers of COVID-19 -- are prevented from accessing your building:

1. Create a solid (and legal) access policy.

The first thing any facility manager should do is implement a way to determine who is and isn't allowed in, and how that determination is made. Will all visitors have to pass a temperature check? What is required for someone to come back after they are sent home? If you choose to use a temperature check, what number will you consider a fever? The CDC defines a fever as over 100.4° F. Some states consider a fever anything over 99.5° F. Some places turn away anyone with a temperature over 100° F. After forming a plan, run it past the company's legal department. There are several ways that these policies can end up doing more harm than good -- they may infringe on employee's rights. You may be required to inform tenants or employees that you will be collecting protected information. If you plan to employ security guards to turn away potentially infected people, follow all OSHA guidelines regarding proper protective equipment. Ensure that whatever procedures you choose to put in place are legally sound and consistently enforced without bias. It's also important to inform employees, visitors, and tenants of any policy changes verbally, then follow with a written notice. Emails, regular mail, and signage can all help here. Be sure to include a phone number that they can call if they need help with compliance.

2. Consider adding a temperature checkpoint.

A fever is a pretty reliable indicator of illness, though it isn't the only one. People can run a fever without realizing it, or try to come to work regardless if they don't show other symptoms. Some facilities use security guards equipped with non-contact infrared thermometers, and instructions to turn away people whose readings are abnormal. Other options include biometric temperature monitors connected to door locks. One potential avenue is to equip an entryway with a thermal camera -- if a visitor reads as having a fever, the door will not open. Some companies specializing in touchless access point control are adding thermal sensors to their lines. A fire department in Duxbury, Massachusetts, uses wearables to continuously track vital signs.

3. Know what to do when visitors fail to pass the checkpoint.

It's understandable that someone might be upset at being asked to leave after failing a temperature check. For this reason, it may be a good idea to perform two or three checks a few minutes apart -- if all of them fail, the person must go home. This must be handled discreetly, to protect the person's privacy. If the person is an employee, make sure they know that they can be subject to disciplinary measures for refusing to go home. Follow up with them afterward, outlining what is necessary for the tenant or employee to return. If someone refuses to leave, consider your options. If you provide accommodation to one person, you must be prepared to provide it to everyone. You may have to threaten a belligerent person with termination (if they're an employee) or legal action.

4. Have a procedure for dealing with high traffic times.

Checkpoints create a bottleneck, and this can make it difficult to keep things efficient and streamlined. Pay employees for the time they spend waiting and being screened. Make sure all available entrances are open and able to be used, so not everyone is crowded near one door.

5. Have a procedure for handling deliveries, visitors, and messages.

Visitors and delivery people generally aren't in a company's access database. They don't have badges, so this can make them difficult to keep track of. Create a policy that determines who is allowed to enter, whether they should be accompanied through the building by an employee, and how to handle cleaning and disinfection afterward.

6. Consider adding new tech to your arsenal.

COVID-19 has exposed a lot of vulnerabilities that businesses and facility managers just weren't aware of before, and tech is rapidly moving to take care of them. Cloud-based access control systems allow facility managers to work remotely, granting or restricting access as-needed without having to be in the building. Some biometric access technology now includes mask-detection. Safe Scan by Optec International, for example, scans for elevated temperature and mask-wearing and can scan up to forty faces per minute. Access control has always been about safety, but it's only recently become about illness prevention. By using these tips, facility managers can restrict access to their buildings, protecting everyone inside from potentially dangerous pathogens.

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