Commercial property owners and facilities managers should not turn a blind eye to safety just because sites are closed for the COVID-19 pandemic, writes Stuart Smith, Managing Director of commercial heating specialists Lord Combustion Services.
Maintenance and safety certification should remain a priority for building operators, even though many are unoccupied or operating with significantly reduced capacity while staff work from home.
During the national lockdowns, across the country office occupancy levels and usage of a host of other business premises dropped as people abided by the Government instruction to stay at home to protect the NHS.
Schools have reopened and other sites are being occupied again, but many buildings have a lower level of occupancy or remain closed.
With the new tier systems for the UK in place this winter, social distancing and other restrictions will mean sites stay closed or run at a fraction of normal usage.
Budgets and spending remain under severe pressure for many organisations but that is no excuse to ignore statutory safety requirements.
As the Health and Safety Executive has stated, although landlords and site owners may have “difficulties” during the pandemic their responsibilities remain the same. Its website states: “You have a legal duty to repair and maintain gas pipework, flues and appliances, do annual gas safety checks and keep a record of each safety check.”
The Gas Safe Register website is even clearer in explaining how checks are essential: “During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, there is a balance between ensuring people, including the vulnerable, are protected from possibly fatal risks arising from carbon monoxide exposure or gas explosion, while doing what we can to protect people from COVID-19.”
Facilities managers must ensure safety inspections are carried out to prevent the risk of legionella spreading in building water systems, increasing the risk of occupants getting Legionnaires’ disease when the site reopens.
The most effective way to prevent Legionnaires’ is to maintain the water supply properly so the bacteria cannot grow and multiply.
When a building is not occupied regularly and the water supply stays still the risk increases so water systems should be periodically inspected and, if need be, disinfected.
Based at our Oldbury HQ, Lord Combustion Services serve more than 1000 customers every year, including landmark buildings such as Edgbaston cricket ground, numerous NHS sites, schools and other public buildings.
In general, we have found facilities managers and other professionals have been up to date with their checks and fully understand their responsibilities.
But as the winter goes on and we move between lockdown and the new tier system, it will become increasingly important that safety is maintained.
Many heating engineers and other trained staff qualify for key worker status so they can work while abiding by social distancing rules to ensure safety is maintained.
The world may have felt like it stopped at times this year, but legal requirements remain in place to protect the public’s safety.
With 2020 nearing its end, COVID-19 continues to have a big impact on everyday life.
Ensuring your site is safe for the months ahead will preserve the safety of the people who rely upon you acting responsibly.