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Now is the time to prepare for winter risk management

22 June 2021

As we reach mid summer, the autumn and winter months are approaching and require plans to be made for facilities to be ready for all eventualities.

Advance planning is one of the essential elements required by FMs to ensure their facilities are able to manage risks in all areas and particularly when preparing for the winter months and anything that they may bring.

PFM readers are once again able to benefit from a range of expert opinion on this subject, beginning with the thoughts of Pelsis Group technical director Dr Bill Robinson:

“Across the past year the hygiene and cleanliness of facilities has been under intense scrutiny – a trend that is set to continue this winter.

“FMs operating across a range of settings have worked tirelessly to ensure the hygiene security of their premises. However, as winter approaches, we could see greater numbers of people gathering in indoor settings. The colder weather is also likely to make natural ventilation less feasible than during the summer and autumn,” he continues.

“These conditions mean it’s important for FMs to remain focussed on the hygiene and cleanliness of their premises, as they prepare for a time of year when virus transmission rates rise across the population.

"Many of the enhanced hygiene regimes FMs have put in place over the course of the last year will need to remain. In fact, ensuring these precautions are taken should be top of FMs’ agendas.

“Preparing premises for winter in this way will help protect people from the risk of infection. It will also be key to encouraging greater numbers of people back, with our independent research showing 87% of people place more importance on the hygiene of the places they visit than before the pandemic,” says Dr Robinson.

DMA Group group managing director Steve McGregor says that although winter can feel like a distant horizon, frigid British temperatures will soon be here.

“Now is the time for FMs to focus on unlocking energy and operational efficiencies to dodge those rocketing winter fuel implications and HVAC emergencies,” he continues.

“With the built environment responsible for around 40% of carbon emissions, improving the energy efficiency of the buildings in which we live and work is where FMs can make the biggest difference ahead of winter, both as a cost-cutting exercise and sustainability perspective.”

To identify and prioritise a reduction in waste and energy saving contributions to net zero carbon, FMs should start with a comprehensive energy survey and audit. Working with a professional partner, they can review current installations to identify energy conservation measures alongside opportunities for renewables technology.

Heating and lighting are naturally two energy sources which are relied heavily upon during cold and dark days, Mr McGregor continues.

Preventative HVAC and lighting maintenance in the form of servicing, repairs and checks will raise any alarms early so works can be carried out in advance.

“For those managing older buildings (around 80% of London’s ageing building stock will still be standing come 2050), this low hanging fruit might come in the form of simple improvements to the physical make-up of their buildings. Dealing with weatherisation upgrades now will save the headache and costly engineer call-outs in the midst of winter,” Mr McGregor concludes.

Kärcher UK head of professional product marketing Daniel Took says: “When preparing for the winter months, FMs need to ensure that preventative measures are taken to stop dirt from entering the facility.

“Maintaining a clean FOH is a must for keeping the premises looking good and safe for users. Entrance ways are some of the main areas that incidents, such as slips and trips, can take place due to the conditions caused by bad weather, so it is imperative that these areas are well-maintained, clean and dry,” he continues.

Prevention of dirt transfer into the facility will help to ensure cleanliness in other indoor areas. On average 80-95% of dirt is brought into a building from outside.

“Adopting the PDIR process is an ideal way to prepare for the dirt that can build up during the winter months. PDIR stands for four main areas that should make up FM processes – preventative, daily, interim and restorative. These steps ensure a thorough cleaning strategy that will reduce the spread of germs and the risk of slips and trips,” he says.

Taking an outside-in approach helps to ensure that each facility interior is at the highest standard. Keeping outdoor areas in car parks, walkways and paths clean will reduce the amount of effort required within the facility by stopping soil from entering the building in the first place.

“Daily maintenance of this ensures that any dirt that is tracked into the property is efficiently removed to prevent build-up. Interim cleaning will further maintain a clean and consistent appearance over time. If the surface does need treatment, then restorative work may be needed to ensure the floors are returned to their true ‘like new’ state,” Mr Took concludes.

Portico operations director Oliver Hiner states that while hard FM services take care of a warm and safe building during the colder weather, “how are we preparing to support the mental health and wellbeing of our biggest asset – our people?” he asks.

“As home and office life increasingly merge and we rely on virtual digital connection, the ‘human touch’ has never been so important.

"And it is going to feel like a struggle for employees to return to the workplace in the sunny months, but what about in the cold, rain and darkness of the British winter?”

This is where front of house (FOH) services come to the fore, he continues. Not simply there to greet people with a warm smile and a hot drink, FOH personnel also play a crucial role in the social distancing and safety protocols – which will become exacerbated during the cold and flu season.

“With seasonal affective disorder more common than any other mental health condition during the bleak winter months, don’t forget the ‘little things’ amongst the winter preparedness mix. The personal touch goes a long way in engaging our people and bringing joy to the workplace,” he continues.

Many organisations are budgeting for ‘surprise and delight’ moments to help support the health and wellbeing of their people.

Examples could be as simple as a free, themed hot chocolate on arrival once a week, or winter survival kits, containing luxuries such as umbrellas, tissues, hand warmers or hot chocolate to take home for the family.

“FOH personnel are taking it upon themselves to swat up on the latest weather forecast and travel disruptions during bad weather to help facilitate a smoother commute for their workforce.

"Some are working ahead of time with local hospitality outlets to lay on a food take-out service that can be pre-ordered from desks to be collected on departure to heat up at home,” Mr Hiner concludes.

Incentive FM Retail & Distribution director Glenn Wilson says: “Our overall Winter Strategy objective is to make sure that the buildings and premises that we look after are safe, secure and customer ready.”

Business continuity is at the forefront of his company’s premises management offering and its five stage ‘pre-season preparation’ for inclement weather ensures these are operationally fit and driving cost efficiencies including:

1. Service equipment - ensure all winter equipment is serviced and in good working order;

2. Replenish stock – review salt and grit levels to ensure each site has sufficient stock levels. This is most cost effective to purchase in the summer months when suppliers have excess stock, therefore driving cost efficiencies;

3. Strategic gritting – ensure each location has strategically positioned grit bins in good working order. Brief staff at each site with the winter gritting strategy so that they are prepared for every eventuality;

4. Training – safeguard all staff members by maintaining stock levels of appropriate PPE clothing and equipment;

5. Supply chain maintenance – at larger sites which will require snow ploughs and other large mechanical equipment it is vital to liaise with supply chain partners early to ensure that service level agreements are up to date, in place, and that the company is still operating after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Creating a ‘pre-season preparation checklist’ is one of the ways that Mr Wilson’s company ensures it is operationally on track to support all sites throughout the winter months, providing full peace of mind by preparing early.

Atalian Servest business director William Heaney says the pandemic has reinforced the importance of having a thorough understanding of how buildings operate and how FMs can provide a positive experience for all building users.

“As we approach freezing temperatures and cold and flu season, the three areas FMs should be focused on maintaining are a compliant technical infrastructure, enhanced sanitisation and supporting the wellbeing of building users.

"Most importantly, these must be maintained to recognised industry standards such as BICS, CIBSE and BESA.

“The core activities as we progress into the winter months include full assessments of key systems susceptible to failure due to low outside air temperature drops, such as water treatment systems and ensuring there is a controlled transition within BEMS systems to take into account lower ambient temperatures and required optimisation periods.

"For this to be successful, it is essential to combine clear delivery specifications with an experienced workforce, including supply chain partners.

“FM’s must consider their approach to energy and carbon management when developing a winter readiness programme.

"With the increased demand for ventilation systems to run on 100% fresh air and heating systems compensating for this upturn, increased filtration changes and air quality monitoring, utility consumption in winter will undoubtedly increase.

“To manage this, energy monitoring regimes should be implemented, with a particular focus on benchmarking and out of hours consumption.

"This will ensure HVAC systems are not demanded unnecessarily (eg by incorrect frost protection set points or un-representative sensor readings) and that building warm-up periods are not excessive,” says Mr Heaney.

Cori Seal Systems consultant Allan Hurdle says it has been quoted that out of 1,000 schools inspected by Zurich Municipals, 66% were rated as ‘poor’ for fixed fire products such as sprinklers. “Firefighters have been called out to 2,000 school fires in the last three years, which is a staggering 40 per month,” he continues.

“Both go to prove that fire safety within existing schools is critical and needs to be urgently reviewed and re-addressed.”

It has been suggested from school surveys that there are a number of schools built from the year 2000 to date, where no smoke stoppers were fitted into the perforated decking at the time of build.

If smoke plugs have not been placed within the roof decking/trapezoidal beams and a fire starts in a classroom adjacent to the means of escape, smoke would pass upwards to the ceiling, travel around the fire room and into the perforated beams.

As it cools it could drop through the perforated decking above the dividing wall and into the means of escape, this could create a smoke logged area where it was not anticipated.

Smoke could travel along the corridor’s entire length through each perforated cross beam, with smoke flowing into other classrooms leading to rapid smoke spread throughout the building.

“Facilities companies, building owners, risk assessors and fire authorities should check that smoke stoppers are fitted in the perforated trays above common escape routes as part of their risk assessment. It is important that compartmentation and smoke control in existing buildings is there, it is better to be safe than sorry,” says Mr Hurdle.

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