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Covid-19 operational challenges

Author : Ghasson Shabha and Rory Jones

13 January 2021

Covid-19 is only the second pandemic of the 21st century since the first being the Influenza pandemic in 2009 which was considered mild in comparison.

This has had an enormous impact on the leisure and hospitality (L&H) industry in the UK resulting in two nationwide lockdowns and increased Government legislation and guidelines.

This article will be focusing on the key operational problems facing L&H industry and to explore key design interventions to mitigate the situation to ensure compliance with government guidelines during what has been the most difficult trading period.

An attempt will be made to examine the raison d'être for adopting each highlighting the challenges and impediments posed against effective implementations.

Access and navigation:

One of the key challenges of Covid-19 is to ensure safe access to facilities whilst reducing cross-contamination amongst users at Entry and Exit Points which essentially implies One Way Circulation Systems.

Whilst such intervention can be achieved through judicious space planning and well articulated circulation pattern supported by visual siting and signage, managing people behaviour and advocating change might prove to be more challenging (Atkin & Brooks, 2009:5).

Covid-19 is primarily transmitted between people through respiratory (droplet and aerosol) and direct cross-contact/contamination routes via hard surfaces (, 2020:3) (See Figure 1).

When direct cross-contamination is considered the mode of transmission can be facilitated by:

• A person.

• An object.

• Environment.

• Substance from which the infectious agent is transmitted to the host.

When host- the primary source of cross-infection are factored into any equation the laws which represent logic are constantly being moved and become more difficult to predict and manage as shown in the contact tracing approach advocated by the government to tackle the spread of cross infection.

Therefore, the issue of how to limit the potential spread of Covid-19 on door knobs, handles/push plates became a key challenge.

All entry/exit points and internal doors- both painted and stained with either stainless steel handles or steel push plates could potentially leave the surfaces susceptible to infection.

Appropriate selection of materials might be the key to reduce cross contamination.

It was observed that viruses on cardboard can persist for up to 24 hours, while on plastic and stainless steel it can remain active for up to three days.” (Ro, 2020).

It is not practically possible to eradicate the potential for the Covid-19 to exist even with an increased cleaning schedule pinpointing door handles as a key area of concern.

This is merely due to the volume, frequency of users traffic using the door handles over the course of a day.

One way of reducing the need for human contact with door handles is to increase the use of motion sensor technology above doorways which can negate the need for human contact with door handles or push plates by automatically opening doors when an individual approaches.

However, several practical considerations for a FM regarding powering sensors, reliability and maintainability can be envisaged.

Equally, issues such as adjacency of sensors to doors, power supply and increased cost to the client all need to be addressed.

When doors cannot be modified due to the design or if the location prohibits the use of motion sensors an alternative solution has to be contemplated.

Using anti-viral and anti-bacterial coatings materials like copper and silver could provide an alternative to the current stainless-steel door handles/push plates.

The benefits of using copper have already been realised in hospitals (Morrison, 2020).

It is imperative that FM must carefully consider the cost associated with making asset changes to the building in a bid to achieve best value for the client which implies continually striving for something superior at the lowest practicable cost (Atkins & Brooks, 2009:12).

Therefore, when motion sensors are not practical or financially viable the use of copper door handles/push plates can be considered as an alternative viable option to reduce cross-infection.

When cleaning protocols and surface cleanliness are considered, greater scrutiny of the cleaning rota and procedures is needed.

Prior to Covid-19 cleaning had fallen firmly into non-core business, seen as a task required to ensure the property was kept to a reasonable standard.

Covid-19 requires new strategic thinking regarding cleaning for areas usually considered to be non-core business.

The buildings have to be broken down into focused areas based on risk of infection for increased cleaning.

Toilets and communal hard surfaces in particular require most attention to help eliminate the potential for transmission due to the volume, frequency and intensity of user traffic and higher cross-contact in toilet areas.

Dr Ghasson Shabha

Advances in technology could significantly improve the current cleaning system and reduce cross contamination in WCs.

Suffice to mention SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in blood, faeces and urine” ( all of which are frequently found in WCs.

It is incumbent on FM to develop solution to mitigate the risk of cross contamination in WCs. This process incorporates:

1. Formulate criteria for evaluating options,

2. Generate options,

3. Evaluate options.

4. Select preferred options.” (Atkins & Brooks.2009:53)

By replacing traditional taps with motion sensored models and hence reducing human contact with taps, the cross-infection rate via will be reduced accordingly leading to improving hygiene.

By the same token, the same principle applies to toilets and shower units where mechanical manual push handles and buttons can be replaced with motion sensors based technology to eliminate the need for end user contact.

“We need to have public bathrooms open up as lockdowns ease, but the more non-touch we have the better. Taps that you activate by sensor need to be considered (Collignon.2020).”

By installing motion sensors, cleaning workload can be reduced due to lower volume of users touching the facilities.

The old-fashioned manual taps and toilet handles/buttons would require constant cleaning to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

Hard surfaces:

Cleaning hard surfaces as in bar and tables was completed once daily however Covid-19 has led to approximately 300% increase in daily cleaning.

Temporary material as with disposable paper table covers which could be changed between guests to prevent virus transmission and hence the risk of transmission could be reduced significantly by eliminating contact between the table and the end user.

Effectively, each end users would be provided with a fresh table surface free from cross contamination. However, attention would have to be paid to related and potentially infectious surfaces such as chairs.

The arms would require sanitising prior to the arrival of the next group of end users in order to mitigate cross contamination between guests.

Consideration could be given to material choice for chair arms. Similarly to door handles copper arms would help to reduce chances of cross infection but may prove too costly to implement.

Users could be pivotal in the cleaning regimen. By strategically positioning antibacterial wipes at each table and actively engaging with end users to sanitise the most at risk areas prior to seating.

This practice would help alleviate pressure on the cleaning rota by reducing the volume of surfaces that require sanitizing between occupants.

The most at risk areas would include anywhere cross contamination is likely to occur such as table tops, chair arms and seats.

Most users would be happy to be involved in this process due to heightened awareness of transmission and hygiene caused by Covid-19.

Introducing a one-way system. The Issue managing the adaption of existing buildings are highlighted by Atkin and Brooks when saying “an appropriate environment must be created in a facility that might not have been designed for the use to which it is now put.” (Atkin & Brooks.2009.6).

It was essential for a new strategy to be adopted by FM ahead of the policy changes being implemented.

The facilities manager assumed the role of strategic planner the importance of which is highlighted by Keith Alexander when saying “strategic planners need to predict future business conditions in order to make the appropriate decisions about the balance of facilities needed, the way in which to organise their operation and management, and the best way of providing them” (Alexander, 1994: 3).

An in-depth space planning is required to ensure new planned routes met Government Guidelines but did not impact on useable space.

Further consideration of the one-way system was required for disabled access and whether corridors in and around the building comply with current Buildings Regulations art M on width requirements for disabled users of having an unobstructed width (excluding any projections into the space) along their length of at least 1200mm. (Access to and use of buildings: Approved Document M).

Therefore, the facilities manager has to adapt new routes, which involve ramped floors (to accommodate and assist manoeuvring for disabled users during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Once agreed proper signage was required to identify the new one-way routes around the building to guide users navigation safely.

Covid-19 will have a lasting effect on the hospitality industry, the changes made by the facilities manager should be considered longer term takin into account the potential changes faced in the future and how these will impact upon the services required.

It is evident that advances in technology and materials can assist in bridging the gap between strategy and operation.

Embracing the use of new materials and technology have to become a key part of adaptations strategy which again demonstrating the importance of the skilled facilities manager to an organisation to mitigate the emerging effect of Covid-19.

Dr Ghasson Shabha is a SeniorLecturer at the School of Engineering and the Built Environment at BirminghamCity University (BCU) and Rory Jones Directorof Taylor & Jones Developments.

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