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Ebola-Readiness Advice For Facility Managers
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: This PagePt. 2: Ebola Awareness And Readiness Steps, Plus More Resources
The Oct. 8th death of an Ebola patient at a Dallas hospital and the virus’ infection of two nurses there challenged American confidence that “It can’t happen here” and “It’s nothing I need to worry about.” With reports of the disease making headlines, most of the focus has gone on healthcare facilities, yet facility managers responsible for other types of facilities may also be looking for guidance about what they can or should be doing — just in case. Facilitiesnet.com consulted facility experts and assembled, via email, some advice about the Ebola crisis for facility managers.
Additional Ebola resources following the question-and-answer session.
Our panel of experts:
• Sean A. Ahrens, CPP, is an asset-protection (security) consultant for Aon Global Risk Consulting.
• Nancy Bechtol is the Smithsonian Institution’s director of the office of facilities engineering and operations.
• Robert Lang is assistant vice president, strategic security and safety, and chief security officer at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga.
• Mike Robbinson is senior director of environmental health and safety at Jones Lang LaSalle.
Q: Regarding the Ebola crisis, what should facility managers be doing now, if anything?
Lang: Pandemic-response plans should be suited to address Ebola, even though the plans were not originally developed because of that disease. I suggest everyone take it "down from the shelf" and review the plan. Most likely it will need updates and action changes.
Ahrens: Become educated and advocate education. While Ebola is a destructive virus, the media has added unnecessary sensationalism around the symptom and overall effects. Comparably, there is a greater risk around other diseases that are communicated more easily. In essence, the sky is not falling.
Bechtol: The most important thing we can do as facility managers this time of year is to make sure we are cleaning our facilities as well as possible. Since it is flu season, we always try to make sure we are properly cleaning all areas that are heavily used by the public and our staff. The recent Ebola crisis has made us pay particular attention to our cleaning levels, and we have doubled our efforts in this area. We have sent out a reminder to all staff which compares symptoms and treatments for both the flu and Ebola, and provides guidance on how to protect yourself from infection of either virus.
Robbinson: Information is key. It is important to provide awareness and instructional information to employees, including facility managers, to make sure they are informed about precautions to take to ensure that employees are safe, and business operations are able to continue uninterrupted. It is also important for facilities managers to be informed about any protocols that their clients may have in place, especially in health care facilities.
An example of a required precaution is to make sure that employees and/or subcontractors who are conducting repairs on sinks, toilets, and drains are trained and follow the processes outlined in the existing OSHA CFR 29 1910.1030 “Universal Precautions Against Bloodborne Pathogens” procedure. This procedure is in place to eliminate or minimize employee occupational exposure to blood or other infectious body fluids, identify and control potential hazards associated with exposure to blood or other infectious materials, and ensure compliance with Federal OSHA regulations.
Additionally, many clients want to know that we have identified and made arrangements with one or more certified bio-contamination cleanup firms, in the event that an Ebola contaminated cleanup is needed at one of their sites. Making arrangements ahead of time with firms that can properly handle Ebola is a good advanced planning practice.
As we’ve heard from the Centers for Disease Control and other health organizations, for North America and most of the world outside of Western and Central Africa at this time, it’s very unlikely that an individual infected with Ebola and exhibiting the symptoms (which make them contagious) will appear in the facilities that we manage. So while this is certainly a crisis in some of the Western and Central African countries, it is not a crisis (nor it is expected to be a crisis) in most parts of the world. Vigilance and preparedness are, however, important.
The two groups of personnel who have a higher potential risk of exposure to Ebola are 1) those who may be traveling on business to or from countries where there are current Ebola hot zones, and 2) employees who are providing facilities management services in health care facilities. International SOS is an excellent source of current information on travel precautions and restrictions (see below), as well as health-related information on Ebola while traveling.
Managing the personnel and client operational risks of Ebola at managed facilities is just the most recent safety and health challenge that we have. But, we treat this challenge as part of our active and adaptable program to achieve our overall goal of maintaining a safe workplace.
Ebola-Readiness Advice For Facility Managers