Computerized Maintenance Management Systems CMMS can Help Manage Facility Use and Re-Occupancy Risk
Leon Wasser, MBA, P.Eng., President, Wasser Resources Inc.
The Challenge of Re-Opening Publicly Accessibly Facilities at Risk of COVID-19
As Ontario, Canada and the world begin the gradual process of re-opening facilities and operations to public use, it is clear that we will not be going back to business as usual any time soon. For the foreseeable future, we need to adapt to new ways of doing things that ensure the safety of individuals and society against the lingering and ever-present danger of COVID-19 infection. One key change we absolutely need to implement is to become far more strategic and rigorous in how we clean and disinfect facilities. Importantly, we need to be in a far better position to report on these now vitally important activities. Going forward to senior management, building occupants, responsible regulators and the general public can be considered important stakeholders who need to be kept informed about the cleanliness and safety of publicly accessible buildings. An effective Computerized Maintenance Monitoring System or CMMS can be a vital tool for buildings to achieve the dual goals of effective facility management and timely operational communication to all stakeholders during this critically important phase of our collective COVID-19 response.
COVID-19 Aerial Transmission
One thing we have all learned from this COVID-19 pandemic is that there are several key infection transmission vectors for Coronavirus. The first path is through respiratory secretions – expelled when we sneeze, cough or even talk. These airborne secretions in the form of droplets or even smaller aerosols can be inhaled by people nearby. This is why public health officials have mandated community risk mitigation strategies including social distancing, restrictions on social gathering, and protective face masks. Our public health officials have done a great job of getting us to change our collective and individual behavior to make us safer.
COVID-19 Surface Transmission
A second infection pathway, of specific concern to facility managers, is when exhaled virus infected droplets or aerosols settle on various surfaces. The Coronavirus can then be picked up when someone accidentally or intentionally touches the contaminated surface. The virus can be transferred to the person’s face and breathed in, resulting in infection. The infected hand can also transmit the virus to other surfaces and further spread the risk. There are many surfaces that are touched frequently over the course of the day which are commonly referred to as “high touch” surfaces. High touch surfaces where there is high risk of infection transmission because of their potential exposure to air borne droplets and aerosols, or hand contact from people already carrying the infection, and are smooth surfaces that can release the virus easily, are called fomites. Fomites include door handles, washroom faucets and toilet handles, light switches, stair railings, playground equipment, elevator buttons, cell phones, ATM and other keypads.
Variations in COVID-19 Risk Factors
We are learning that there are great disparities among different surface materials. Smooth surfaces like metals, plastics and glass appear to be most problematic because it appears that it is relatively easier to pick up the virus from these surfaces than from rough or textured surfaces. There have been reports that there are significant differences in the Coronavirus lifespan on different surfaces, including claims that the virus can remain active on materials like stainless steel for up to 72 hours. As in many things related to Coronavirus, intense research is being done to confirm the facts about the risks and mitigating measures related to this virus.
The Importance of Cleaning and Disinfection Procedures
One important lesson we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is the critical importance of facility cleaning and maintenance procedures. Never before have these functions taken on such importance. As we move forward to open more facilities to public use, including office buildings, shopping malls, schools and assembly spaces, cleaning and disinfection procedures for these facilities will become even more critical. Consequently we need strong facility protocols to ensure that we keep our buildings as safe as possible. Procuring and inventorying appropriate cleaning and disinfection products will become ever more important, planning and scheduling of building hygiene functions. Fomite surfaces where the risk of virus transmission is highest need special attention. In addition to knowing what building element was cleaned, it is important to know and record when it was cleaned and by whom. While building cleaning processes used to be a routine internal matter, in the future we can expect that other stakeholders including public health officials, other regulators, insurance companies, building occupants and the general public may also want more disclosure and reporting.
Public Health and other Notification Protocols
Other building functions already have building reporting protocols. In many jurisdictions, restaurants are inspected by public health officials who issue health and safety compliance certificates which need to be posted. Many large buildings display banners to declare their compliance with BOMA energy standards in their lobbies, and leading manufacturers proclaim their ISO standards compliance with large exterior banners. Many public facilities like malls and cinemas have, cleaning ledgers in their washrooms. Some of these systems are automated, but many are not, limiting their utility to address potential COVID-19 reporting standards where a computer based system with stronger controls and information all in one system is desired.
Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS)
Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) are structured software systems used to plan, budget, schedule, control and monitor building operations. CMMSs are used by major facility operators to plan, schedule, and monitor all building maintenance procedures including caretaking. They are employed both to organize the facility’s own staff, and also the work of any required external contractors. Hospitals, universities, office buildings, shopping malls and public facilities generally use a CMMS to manage their complex operations. Smaller facilities including retailers, restaurants and long term care facilities have not historically used a CMMS, and maintenance work is scheduled more informally.
Using A CMMS to Fight COVID-19
CMMS software may be one of the most effective tools to help individual facility managers, complete building sectors, public health officials and governments to build confidence in the ability to manage the COVID-19 infection risk. In addition to cleaning procedures, the CMMS can be used to used to manage electrical, plumbing and heating ventilation and air conditioning HVAC) operations. A CMMS will help operators to identify and address all types of issues throughout a building, whether they are directly related to COVID-19, or pose other issues that should be addressed in a timely manner. The COVID-19 crisis has revealed that informal maintenance management systems may not be adequate in certain circumstances, and don’t provide all the accountability and reporting that may be required, including for regulatory inspectors. In contrast, in larger organizations, a CMMS is commonly used to generate detailed reports to senior management and other stakeholders including government regulators, joint health and safety committees and other internal or external stakeholders. This information will be particularly useful as we plan to re-open and start using our larger public facilities again.
Using A CMMS for Inventory Control
One additional facility challenge exposed by the COVID-19 crisis has been a weakness in critical supply inventory systems in many facilities. An effective CMMS will help management determine the required stock of each critical inventory item. Properly implemented across operations, the system will record when critical items are used, calculate the balance remaining and then alert management when established thresholds are reached requiring the ordering of replacement stock to ensure that adequate inventories are continuously maintained. This process can be automated so that orders can be issued electronically to pre-designated suppliers, and can track orders until the required supplies arrive and are secured in the facility’s inventory stockrooms.
The implementation and use of an effective CMMS can facilitate the implementation and compliance with building hygiene service standards help reduce and mitigate COVID-19 infection risk in buildings. An effective CMMS together with a proactive communication and disclosure protocol can help build and maintain both regulator and community confidence that facilities are taking the safety precautions needed to make them as safe for use as possible.
Leon Wasser MBA, P.Eng. has written about and lectured on technological innovation. Wasser Resources Inc. is a management consulting practice dedicated to developing, commercializing and distributing innovative building and energy technologies. Leon has also been involved in implementing CMMS systems at a variety of facilities including for Eagle Technologies CMMS.