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Sleeping Safely

15 July 2008

The 24/7 nature of the hotel business creates a challenging and complex electrical safety testing schedule. As Steve Gold explains, Travelodge’s FM partners Marshall recommended that Epsilon Test Services to conduct the tests for its 318 hotels across the UK

Travelodge  in Caterham, Surrey

WITH A NEW TRAVELODGE OPENING on average every eight working days in 2008, it’s imperative that every existing and new hotel performs at the highest level in order for the hotel chain to continue to attract and accommodate high occupancy. With this in mind, it was essential that the group maintained it’s compliance with Electricity at Work 1989 regulations as part of ensuring all hotel rooms in the estate were online and available for sale.

“We were obviously delighted to win this contract in partnership with Marshall,” said John Harbutt, Operations Manager with Epsilon. “But we quickly realised that it was going to take a unique approach to fulfil.”

At the start of the contract Travelodge had some priority sites that called for an immediate response. These priorities were swiftly dealt with whilst the main contract programme was rolled out. “We had to flex for rapid demands without compromising on the orderly fulfilment of the project plan,” explained Harbutt. “Whilst the deal was done at a national level, the arrangements for testing had to be made with the duty manager of each hotel individually. They call the tune when it comes to access and they are especially vigilant in avoiding any loss of room availability given their need to maintain customer satisfaction at all times.”

The electrical testing for Travelodge encompassed over 78,443 appliances and in the order of 63,600 circuits. Phase One of the contract was executed in just three months and encompassed 175 hotels. The remaining 75 sites were dealt with in Phase Two.

According to Harbutt there were very different approaches for different types of hotel within the group. Motorway or road side hotels tend to be a standard format, whereas the city-centre sites tend to be larger and have portions of rewiring, or more than one incoming supply. A number of hotels within the estate have also been extended, meaning each building in such an instance would also have a newer extension with more rooms.

Whilst the technical fabric of each hotel was different, a common difficulty at each was getting access to the whole site at one time. Lots of the rooms were occupied so it was a case of testing in a random pattern to fit in with availability. Harbutt explained; “Our engineers worked with each of the hotel managers to ensure rooms were clear before testing began. We also had to be mindful of guests in neighbouring rooms and so all 140 engineers were briefed to take extra care and adopt a quiet approach.”

The requirements of the manager for each hotel site were followed, and in some cases this meant one or two engineers spending extended periods of time at the site, only able to gain access to test bedrooms as they became available during unpredictable turnaround times.In bigger hotels teams of up to eight engineers were sent to flood the site and conduct all the testing rapidly within a tight window of opportunity.

PAT and fixed installation are usually run as completely separate disciplines but hotels have some unusual wiring that calls for combined testing skill. Kettles, lights and other appliances within rooms may be plugged-in or alternatively hardwired in as a spur. This turns a PAT item into part of the fixed wiring and hence needs to be dealt with entirely differently. This situation made full use of Epsilon’s skilled workforce and, after some deliberation, was quickly accommodated within the programme.

“One of the things that impressed us about Epsilon was that all their engineers are well trained and all qualified to either C&G 2377 or 2391 standard,” explained Tony Crawshaw, FM manager for Marshall. “That fact turned out to be particularly important on this project as they dealt proficiently with whatever a site presented them with, without delays or disruption to the client.”

According to Crawshaw, Marshall was the natural port of call when Travelodge needed electrical support. As one of the firm’s main building contractors, they had a long relationship with the hotel chain as it has progressively expanded over the years. “The FM side of the business started life in the 1990s when our managing director, John Marshall, was asked if he had a facilities management division. At the time he didn’t, so he took a leap of faith and created one,” Crawshaw said. During his seven years as head of facilities at Marshall, he has seen the company’s FM business steadily rise from an annual turnover of £400,000 to £2m.

“The other major factor in selecting Epsilon was their investment in IT systems,” he explained. Every engineer is equipped with wireless-enabled PDAs, running uniquely tailored software, to transmit results from their handheld testers straight back to the central server. Once these tests are checked and verified the results are automatically posted onto an intranet that’s available – by password access - to both the FM project team and the client. Epsilon has received a good deal of industry attention for its groundbreaking application of technology and won the DTI Award for Innovation and Beacon status as a result.

Crawshaw explained; “Travelodge had recently undertaken an investigation into its heating system and found its heated towel rails and heaters in the corridors outside the bedrooms, were non-essential to the maintenance of comfortable ambient heat within the hotel itself. It therefore devised a plan to turn these surplus heaters off and asked Epsilon to undertake this work and make them safe.

Commenting on the successful project, Mike Lea, Head of Facilities for Travelodge, said “This safety testing programme has run extremely smoothly. Epsilon and Marshall worked excellently with the hotel operation teams and together they overcame any hurdles and delivered to our scope of works, on time and within budget.”


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