It is often said that opportunity arises out of adversity. Covid-19 has been massively disruptive, but it does provide some opportunities …
"In the same way that this time has allowed Mother Nature to take a deep breath and the natural environment around us to become healed and restored, this could also be seen as a period when the built environment is given an opportunity to rest, be repaired and be restored,” says Lydia Hendricks, a director at facilities management experts Facilities Management Solutions (FMS).
“According to the regulations of the Disaster Management Act: Alert level 3 during Coronavirus Covid-19 lockdown, businesses and other institutions with more than 100 employees must minimise the number of employees at the workplace, at any given time, through the introduction of staff rotation, staggered working hours, shift systems, remote working arrangements or similar measures, in order to achieve social distancing and to limit congestion in public transport and at the workplace.”
As a result, there are far fewer people on the premises than there would normally be, giving businesses the ideal opportunity to do repairs and maintenance jobs without causing major disruptions to their day-to-day activities.
Inspect and repair or replace worn flooring
Hendricks notes that, each year, as many as 8 500 accidents are caused by “slip and trips” in the workplace – in countries that typically have a population of 60 to 70 million people. “This equates to approximately 37% of all total accidents. Apart from costing the economy in excess of R12,5 billion per annum, a further R8,5 billion is lost annually by employers due to lost production.
“The importance of regularly inspecting floors for any sign of wear and tear and ensuring that damaged floors are replaced as soon as possible cannot be overemphasised. For this reason, most countries (including South Africa) have now begun introducing legislation that requires that public floor areas be installed to comply with fixed safety regulations.”
Because floors in an office space are often subjected to heavy foot traffic and damage caused by chairs, desks and trolleys, it is important to install a floor that will be able to withstand this abuse, yet be easy to maintain and clean. Other measures include laying static dissipative and static conductive flooring to eliminate static, unwanted shock transmissions and disruptive surges in sensitive areas where static electrical discharges might be hazardous to sensitive devices and electronics, such as those in computer server rooms or laboratories.
“Replacing office floors can be very disruptive to employees, as the entire space needs to be cleared and could be out of use for several days,” she says. “The smell of glues, solvents or cleaning chemicals might also irritate some people and make it difficult for them to work. For this reason, it is prudent to consider using this time to invest in new floors or conduct a thorough deep-cleaning of office carpets.”
“Small actions taken now could end up saving companies a lot of money and frustration in the long run,” Hendricks says, adding that the cost of electricity is also expected to increase in due course. “Things like changing light bulbs and upgrading to low-energy LED bulbs, implementing a remote meter reading or conducting electricity checks are important steps that should be taken now while disruption will be kept to a minimum.”
The lockdown period is also an ideal time to conduct arc flash assessments. The European multinational Schneider Electric, which provides energy and automation digital solutions, defines an arc flash as an electrical accident that creates a high-temperature explosion.
“It can vaporise surrounding metal, set fires and result in severe burns,” it reports on its website. “An arc flash can happen during abnormal use due to a corruption of isolation or in circumstances involving animals, flooding, vibrations or corrosion. Yet, it can also occur during commissioning or maintenance, rendering equipment unusable and forcing costly downtime with serious economic consequences.”
Anoj James, senior electrical engineer at Con Edison Solutions – a subsidiary of Consolidated Edison, an American company dating back to 1823 – highlights some important steps to reduce the risk of arc flashes.
“For commercial and institutional building owners, safety must be a top priority. To protect maintenance workers and others who may come into contact with a building’s electrical equipment, regular analysis of this equipment is essential. Running an arc flash analysis is a preventive step that building owners can take to evaluate their facilities’ electrical system.”
He adds that the arc flash assessment should be conducted by a professional electrical engineer and these are building-specific – allowing building owners to understand how much energy will be released during an incident, the degree to which it could injure those who may be working on the machinery, and the required level of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other precautions required to safely work on energised equipment.
“Arc flash analysis must be done consistently and must be updated whenever changes are made in the electrical distribution,” James says. “Whether because of maintenance, utility upgrades or an upgrade to a building’s electrical service or distribution, the state of a building’s electrical system can change quickly. A review or update of the arc flash analysis should be undertaken at least every five years.”
He adds that one of the most common problems individuals encounter when working on existing electrical equipment is poor record keeping. “Basic equipment information, including equipment ratings, cable sizes and lengths, and load sizes, needs to be well documented. This way, when maintenance workers or third-party engineers engage with the equipment, they know exactly what they are dealing with.”
James notes that building owners should maintain up-to-date records that indicate the last time an arc flash analysis was run, to ensure equipment operations are as safe as possible and to protect anyone who uses the equipment.
“Every time a study is conducted, a PDF and electronic working file of the study should be catalogued, and labels printed out and placed visibly on each piece of equipment. This way, when a subsequent study is run, whoever is running the study is not starting from scratch.”
Ensure you are Covid-19 ready
In addition to the regular maintenance services that are required to ensure a safe and healthy working environment, it is vital for companies to use this time to ensure that they comply with regulations aimed at protecting workers from contracting Covid-19.
“Our handyman and FM services seamlessly integrate with our occupational health and safety offering to deliver expert guidance in this regard. We help prepare the workplace by designing an ergonomic office set-up that also ensures adequate social distancing, sanitation stations, quarantine facilities and the use of necessary markings. We also take over the responsibility for disinfecting and regular deep-cleanings to protect the workers,” Hendricks says.