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Ready and waiting

The biggest issue is water systems. He explains: “If you simply turn them off and let them stay stagnant you are wandering into a whole world of pain when it comes to flushing out and recommissioning. This is why we’ve stepped up our testing regime for this, to ensure that the systems will be ready to use in 24 rather than 48 hours, once buildings are reopened.”

He adds that once a building is at low or zero occupancy, it is more important to provide a bespoke maintenance regime than carrying out PPM (planned predictive maintenance) by rote. For clients this might mean a reduction in the number of PPM visits, with a lowering of their service charge to reflect the reduction. “When a ‘hibernation’ process is undertaken it is normally agreed what maintenance can be reduced, what can be modified (through increased periodicity) and what can be deferred (or cancelled).”

There is one silver lining. Unoccupied buildings provide maintenance teams with the opportunity to go in and tackle issues that would be difficult to undertake if the building was occupied as normal.

Says Shaw: “Our advice to clients is to reduce the planned tasks and offer them a rebate for the variance to the agreement. Then where we identify reactive jobs and raise them, that is an area where we as a service provider can retain our revenue and income. The customer can reap a reduction in their planned tasks, but benefit from our ability to carry out jobs we can complete more easily by having access to the building without inconveniencing occupants.”

Even if most staff are based at home, Derek Parker, Head of Business Development at Artic Building Services, warns that owners, landlords and tenants still need to maintain their buildings for health and safety purposes. This includes security, maintenance of statutory compliance, and monitoring of critical systems. Particularly important are water systems, fire protection, handling of refrigeration gases, electrical and gas safety checks, ventilation hygiene, security and lifts.

Buildings should be maintained in line with the industry standard SFG20 (3), he advises, which is continually updated to reflect changing regulatory requirements. “In normal circumstances, planned preventative maintenance is implemented, scheduled months in advance, which in turn keeps buildings safe and compliant. However, through this time of uncertainty, organisations have an option to ‘mothball’ their building or reduce their maintenance regime to a lower level.”

He agrees that SFG30 (2) is a good starting point for shutdown procedures and eventual reactivation of a building, providing a guide to best practice. If a building, or a system within a building, is not required for the immediate future, full or partial isolations are possible where SFG30 can be applied.

He picks out a few important considerations:

  • If shutdown is for a significant period, you will need to notify your insurance company. They will want fire alarms and sprinklers maintained, especially if the building is left empty for periods of time.
  • For buildings that are still occupied with a skeleton workforce, emergency lighting, fire alarms, generators and all aspects of life safety must continue to be maintained as normal. If emergency generators are still being relied upon to provide power in an emergency, they will need to be tested.
  • Fire suppression systems still need to be checked if they are being left active while the building is shut down. Contact your local fire brigade to discuss assets such as hydrants and other firefighting facilities. They will have individual allowances and expectations.
  • For occupied buildings, lift maintenance needs to continue. However, if it can be shown that lift journeys are reduced, you may be able to cut this down. Where lifts are still operating ‘as normal’, they will require thorough maintenance to be carried out as normal. If there is more than one lift in a building, consider removing one or more from operation. This will need to keep in line with building risk and fire strategies.
  • Heating systems could potentially be turned on to ‘winter mode’, not necessarily drained down.

“The key consideration when applying a revised maintained strategy is the cost,” says Parker. “You need to weigh up the cost of ongoing reduced maintenance versus the cost of mothballing and the reactivation of assets and services.”

Unfortunately, this will be determined by how long the building is out of action – something that so far has been impossible to predict.

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