Upcoming Meetings

Blog

How Facility Managers Should Be Responding to Coronavirus

How Facility Managers Should Be Responding to Coronavirus

The emergence of any new disease is scary, especially when there's a lot of misinformation circulating about it. Right now, officials in the U.S. and overseas are talking about closing down schools and other public places in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), and it has facility managers rightfully concerned. Here's what you should be doing to help keep yourself, your employees, and your visitors safe:

Enforce hand washing protocols.

The news is full of stories about stores running out of antibacterial soap, hand sanitizer, and even masks, but the best defense against diseases like influenza and COVID-19 is regular old hand washing. Coronavirus is believed to be transmitted through contact with respiratory secretions. Train employees in proper handwashing techniques, post new signage as a reminder and make sure bathrooms are properly stocked with soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Encourage sick employees to stay home.

It's a sad fact that many people don't feel that they are able to stay home to rest when they are ill. Avoid scheduling any shifts that can't absorb a loss or two if someone needs some sick time, and make sure employees know that they can and should leave work or stay home if they begin experiencing upper respiratory symptoms. If sick employees insist on coming in anyway, send them home. The minor addition to productivity they would bring is not worth jeopardizing the rest of your employees, tenants, or visitors. This is especially true of workers in hospitals, nursing homes, or other areas with a high concentration of potentially vulnerable people.

Review sick leave policies.

One of the biggest reasons that sick people don't stay home is that they fear being penalized for doing so. Go over your company's sick leave and paid time off policies, and make sure that employees aren't in a position that disincentivizes reporting symptoms or responsibly taking sick leave. Put policies in place that cover furloughs or workplace closure.

Promote good coughing or sneezing hygiene.

If you are managing a store or office building, your visitors and tenants may not have the things they need to prevent infection, so provide them -- within reasonable expectations. Set up stations with hand sanitizer, disposable tissues, and a wastebasket, and keep them stocked and cleaned. If you are managing a hospital, keep stations stocked with masks, and post signage encouraging anyone with respiratory symptoms to use them. Masks don't protect the wearer very well, but they are excellent at protecting others from the wearer.

Go over cleaning procedures.

Contaminated surfaces can transmit illness when people touch them and then touch their eyes, mouths, or noses. Make sure your policies outline the procedure for sanitizing each area of the facility, what products need to be used, and protocol for avoiding cross-contamination. Make sure that any disinfectant products used have EPA-approved claims against bacteria and viruses of concern. There haven't been any tests specifically on COVID-19 yet, but the EPA's Emerging Virus Protocol offers information on products that are effective on similar pathogens.

Keep some extra inventory on hand.

It's not a good idea to hoard supplies, but it's reasonable to expect some supply chain disruption. Public health experts recommend that households have some extra non-perishable staples on hand in case of store closures or problems restocking, and this can be extrapolated to facilities, too. Take inventory on your most-used supplies, and stock 10-15% extra. It should be enough to get you through a minor disruption, but not enough to cause problems with purchasing or storage.

Keep tenants and employees informed.

Epidemics are frightening, and being kept in the dark only intensifies those fears. Keep tenants and employees up-to-date on the latest information and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, as well as all of the steps you are taking to protect their health. Go over employee and tenant contact information, and make sure it's up-to-date. If there isn't a good communication system already in place, set one up.

Train supervisors or other key employees in infection control and reporting.

As new cases of COVID-19 emerge, it's imperative to report exposures to local public health departments. Educate key employees in the potential impact of the virus, make sure they have easy access to relevant company policies, and give them the contact information for the public health authorities in your area.

Don't panic.

The media tends to sensationalize stories and play on the public's fears. Make sure you're getting your information from a reputable, expert source, and don't succumb to the temptation to panic. It isn't necessary to stockpile bottled water and food, and many of the most-frequently stockpiled items (like triclosan hand sanitizer and surgical masks) aren't effective against viruses anyway. Remember: Right now, the flu is a bigger threat than COVID-19. If the flu isn't triggering a panic, that shouldn't either.

When most companies plan for disasters, they think of tornadoes, fires, explosions, and floods. Illnesses can easily become emergencies, too, and it's vital that facility managers have policies in place to help mitigate the damage they can cause. By following these tips, you can keep your employees, tenants, and visitors safe, and business running smoothly.

If you're an IFMA-LI member, please login so you can comment on this article.

Return to list