As you will be more than aware, Coronavirus has had a massive impact on the facilities management industry, with buildings closing their doors to the general public and staff being encouraged to work from home where they can. The Government began by encouraging employees to return to the office over the past few months to kick-start the economy and encourage city and town centres to start trading again, but a recent surge in cases means that advice has been reversed to asking people to work from home where they can.
Some organisations are encouraging staff to continue to work outside of the office environment for the time being; for example, Royal Bank of Scotland is allowing its 50,000 staff to work remotely until the start of 2021.
For FMs, your responsibilities don’t just extend to the building you look after. It extends to the staff too. Health and safety requirements apply to all employees whether they are in the office or at home, in line with The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. As the designated duty holder for the building, the appointed facilities manager is responsible for the health, safety and welfare of employees, regardless of whether they are working in the office or working at home. This means that if you are a facilities manager for a building and you have staff working from home, you need to ensure their electrical equipment continues to operate in a safe condition.
Staff working from home may not be aware of the potential fire risks of working from home; leaving phones and laptops charging on beds and sofas as well as overloading extension sockets and reels. This is something that would be closely monitored and controlled in a building.
Electrical Safety First surveyed 3,000 people at the start of lockdown and discovered a third of employees were unaware of the potential fire risks of overloading plug sockets, with 44 per cent of those working from home admitting to ‘daisy-chaining’ extension leads and adaptors together to extend reach.
In line with the release of the 5th edition of The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) ‘in-service inspection and testing of electrical equipment ’, which was released in September this year, you should encourage employees to carry out visual checks of equipment before they use it.
Visual checks include looking for risks like frayed and damaged cables, as well as dented, scratched and scorched plugs and casing. However, visual checks do not account for internal damage and should be complemented by a thorough internal inspection.
ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT TESTING AND HOME WORKING
Electrical equipment testing (or PAT testing) is still far the best way to ensure printers, monitors, extension leads and chargers are safe to use and will not cause a fire risk. Electrical equipment testing should be carried out by a ‘competent person’, at a frequency appropriate to a business’s needs. The frequency of this used to be automatically determined, but in line with the IET’s release of the 5th edition, it is now decided by a risk assessment. This risk assessment takes into consideration factors including working environment, the type of equipment, frequency of use and equipment service life.
If staff are working from home, there are two ways you can still provide electrical equipment testing to staff and ensure compliance. You can carry out testing at an employee’s home, where the person responsible for testing carries out testing there. Home testing can be more convenient for the employee and ensures their home setup is safe but can be expensive.
Alternatively, you can test equipment when employees attend the office, for example for a performance review or team meeting. This is a more cost-effective solution but can be hard to coordinate and requires staff to bring heavy or cumbersome pieces of equipment into the workplace.
TESTING IN THE OFFICE – WHAT HAS CHANGED?
As well as arranging electrical equipment testing for those working from home, testing priorities in the office environment may have changed where buildings have started to reopen. For example, onsite catering facilities have now been reduced, meaning staff are more likely to make their own teas and coffees, as well as bring food in from home that needs heating.
Physical distancing has meant having to use additional extension cables to ensure staff are adequately spaced out from one another and can still use their computers and phones. We are more reliant on our computers to carry out Zoom and Microsoft Team meetings and coordinate with each other on channels like Slack and Trello.
These factors mean it is more vital than ever to ensure this electrical equipment is working and is safe to use. In the best-case scenario, you run the risk of frustrated and angry staff; in the worst-case scenario, you run the risk of the loss of assets, structural damage to your building and most critically, the potential loss of life.
The FM sector has had to drastically change the way it works over the past year and work hard to keep clients happy. Even though buildings are now starting to reopen, things are not quite back to normal just yet, and with winter around the corner, there is still the possibility of a second wave and a return to working from home.
Staff safety is still imperative, whether employees are working from home or have returned to the office, and electrical equipment tests should not be disregarded just because of a change of location.