Coronavirus: are FM policies good enough?

ISO 41001 Facility Management Systems

The presence and spread of any pathogen within a facility is bound to be a deep concern for the facility’s users and facility manager. In healthcare, patients continually face the threat of cross-infection from pathogens such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus ) – a bacterium that has been termed a superbug because of its virulence and resistance to treatment. Successful treatment of MRSA with antibiotics is possible, although those with pre-existing health problems might not be so fortunate.

The current covid-19 (or coronavirus) pandemic involves a virus, which cannot be treated by antibiotics, although can be prevented by vaccination. This is of little comfort to those who have already been infected or to those who might become infected since no vaccine is currently available. These two diseases are fundamentally different but do have two things in common – they are easy to contract and can be life-threatening.

The need for the highest standards of hygiene and cleanliness in healthcare facilities is widely recognized. So too, is personal hygiene. Those same high standards are not, however, present in other facilities where significant numbers of people congregate such as in some workplaces as well as transportation, educational, shopping, entertainment, sports and leisure facilities. The point is that we need to have policies in place for facilities of all kinds that can minimize the risk of contracting a life-threatening disease.

It is not the first time that outbreaks of infectious diseases have occurred. While it is reassuring to see tabletops, handrails, push-plates, buttons and other contact surfaces being disinfected, we are bound to ask why this is not done routinely or to the same extent as at present. Unfortunately, cleaning personnel have been observed wiping handrails repeatedly as if they were polishing rather than disinfecting. Safety notices and announcements request us to hold the handrail; but can we be blamed for not wanting to do so? We are not suggesting that facility management is able to halt the spread of the current pandemic; however, more effective facility management could slow the spread and reduce the likelihood of transmission of future diseases and cross-infections.

A good place to start a more proactive campaign on hygiene and cleanliness is with our policies on FM, which should already include strict rules on health, safety, security and the environment. If they are lacking in any way, now is the time to give them teeth. Any FM policy that is written simply to enable a box to be ticked is pointless. There needs to be more serious thought put into requirements on FM policy that can prevent the spread of diseases.

The International Standards Organization should take note and support recommendations and guidance on how FM policy can be developed to help prevent or at least minimize the occurrence of such incidents in a world that is increasing interconnected and exposed to hazards of many kinds. There is no need to wait for the next epidemic or pandemic. The time to act is now.