It is one thing to maintain a facility in the spheres of big business, corporate offices or government departments. By seven o’clock at night, the lights in the office dim, the cleaners arrive and the day’s waste is emptied in the relative peace and quiet of an empty building.
But when the facility is in itself a home, the facility manager’s job becomes slightly more complicated. In fact, in the example of facilities which double up as homes, the need to continuously ensure optimum levels of maintenance can even become a matter of life and death.
Life and death you say?
We will focus on the example of care homes for the elderly or disabled. In an early 2019 analysis, Oscar Research has over 20 000 care homes listed in the UK, all of which operate 24 hours a day. From a national economic point of view, the sector brings in roughly £15 billion a year; making it an important sector to keep at optimum functionality.
But on the ground, inside these homes, there are people who require a great deal of care and support, within the safety of this environment. Of course, responsible and qualified staff are employed to the daily tasks – the caring of the people themselves. But what of the staff whose responsibility it is to maintain the facility? One could argue they are equally as important to the health and safety of those who live there.
How does facility maintenance impact their lives?
Risk analysis is part of any decent facility audit and one that is done on a regular basis to ensure peak levels of safety. The Health and Safety Regulations (HSW 1974) set out very clear terms for what constitutes an acceptable place of work. These standards are doubly important when that place of work is also someone else’s place of rest.
Risk analysis is rather simple. Most facility managers will have the experience to do it themselves or will call in an expert to check compliance. In either scenario, the entire plot is checked, from top to bottom, for potential dangers. But this analysis must also take place through the lens of the facility’s function. For example, risk analysis at a power plant will inherently differ from that of a care home.
So what exactly should a facility manager be on the lookout for in the sector of social services and care homes?
A hazard is anything which can cause harm, like chemicals, electricity, ladders, high places, open drawers, sharp objects and so on. In the context of care homes, this category would include things relevant to the sector; like deep water, railings, fencing, staircases, wheelchair access, windows, cutlery and so on.
Risk, however, is the chance that these hazards could lead to harm. The two must be contemplated together to build a well-rounded idea of the facility itself.
First of all, make a list. Think about potential hazard areas, possible risks and dangers and then make a list of everything you can think of. Contemplate how accidents could happen and try to concentrate on real risks, those that could be fatal. For many of these risks, you will need particular control measures which may require external assistance.
- Check instructions on equipment and products and make sure that any chemicals, foodstuffs or potentially harmful items are properly managed and handled
- Keep records of health issues and accidents, and keep an eye on previous records of such.
- Be extremely careful with non-routine operations and make sure that any operations which occur on your premises are correctly and efficiently overseen
- Think long-term as well. Hazards may arise over time and due to specific weather or climate changes. Always take the long view.
Secondly, you are going to want to cross reference your list of hazards and risks with the actual people within the care home. Who is most likely to get harmed, and where? This includes employees as well as the people who live on the premises.
- Bear in mind that certain people have different needs and requirements, and try to ensure that they are well catered for to avoid liability.
- Keep in mind the people who are not in the facility all the time. Care homes see many visitors of all kinds, and their wellbeing must remain top-of-mind as well.
- If you are on a premises close to the public, or where public access is available, bear in mind how your activities may impact them too.
- If you share your premises with other businesses, bear in mind the potential impact on them and their working lives as well.
Your next step is to properly evaluate these risks for precaution or elimination. Where you are able to remove the risk or hazard, you should do so. For everything else, you want to mitigate the potential for harm as much as is possible. This should be done under the prescription os ‘reasonable practicality’. Nobody expects you to plan for unforeseen risks – but you should still do your best to anticipate these.
Two questions you can ask are:
- Can I remove the hazard completely?
- If not, how do I reduce the risk as much as possible?
You may also wish to look at models of other similar workplaces, just to check your own due diligence. With over 20 000 care homes in the UK, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find someone to bounce ideas or risk-plans with.
Once your evaluation is complete, you need to record your findings and implement your changes. In facility maintenance and management, records are absolutely imperative to the successful management of your premises.
‘Suitable and sufficient’ is the phrase for a good risk assessment. Namely, have you shown that:
- A proper check was made
- You looked at all potential people who could be affected
- You have taken care of the obvious hazards, and have acknowledged the number of people involved
- The precautions are reasonable and the risk which remains is low
- Your employees or their representatives were involved in the process
This final point is critically important in the sector of care homes. Not only are you responsible for the health and safety of the employees, but of the people who live there. Many of these people may not have the faculty to recognise potential issues or even recognise how their lives may be affected by the daily running of the facility’s maintenance in general. Involving their loved ones in the communication around these issues may be imperative.
What else can be done to ensure a safe care home?
The Health and Safety Executive is the authority responsible for social care sector regulations. Apart from the overall need for risk analysis and hazard precautions, there are a number of important topics to be evaluated, including but not limited to:
- Beds and bed rails
- Equipment safety
- Window safety and potential falls
- Moving and handling patients
- Scalding and burning
- Sharp injuries
- Slipping and/or tripping
- Workplace violence
Many of these above topics are both the responsibility of the staff and social workers, and the facility maintenance team.
The risk analysis experts?
Of course, the wise choice is to ask the experts. In this case, Voltix Services have the ability and expertise to conduct a full assessment of your premises and then carry out any potential jobs which may arise. These could be to ensure compliance, mechanical and electrical maintenance, building maintenance, environmental services, fire and security, estate management and energy services.