This article originally appeared in the BOMA Ottawa Commercial Space Directory. Read the full publication here.
Just as the 9/11 attacks forever heightened security measures around the world, the global pandemic could have the potential to change the way we think about the sanitization and disinfection of buildings and public spaces.
The devastating health and economic impact of the coronavirus will likely remain in our collective memory for years to come, even post-vaccination.
“Nobody is ever going to take something like this lightly again and say, ‘Oh well, it’s just some kind of flu coming from overseas,’” says Jeffrey Supino, vice-president of strategic development for Allen Maintenance, an Ottawa-based janitorial company that cleans commercial, industrial and institutional buildings. “Cleaning and disinfecting will remain at the forefront of priorities.”
Allen Maintenance has gone from its usual cleaning of office buildings – including carpet vacuuming, floor waxing, garbage removal and the cleaning of office bathrooms, kitchens and general surfaces – to focusing more than ever on disinfection, which results in a deeper level of germ killing, he says.
The cleaning staff has to pay more attention now to high touch-point areas, such as door knobs, light switches, hand railings and elevator buttons, Supino says. “They must be 100 per cent cleaned and disinfected, not just wiped down.”
There are fewer employees working at offices these days, which means cleaners spend less time on areas that remain spotless from their more recent cleaning session and more time on the disinfection, Supino adds. “We’ve been able to work with our clients to mitigate costs to them and to us.”
Early in the pandemic, Allen Maintenance trained its cleaners to follow the mandated health and safety guidelines, from hand washing and sanitizing, to proper wearing and removal of masks and gloves. Even habits that most people do without thinking – like coughing or sneezing into the crook of an elbow – were emphasized in the training, Supino says. As well, Allen Maintenance created a rotating work break schedule to minimize employee contact.
One of the challenges, Supino says, was having workers complete a screening questionnaire each and every time they were required to enter a building. Everyone wanted to keep the process contactless – meaning no pens and paper – yet not every worker had access to computers or the internet. Allen Maintenance found a quick and easy way to get it done by having mobile devices, such as iPhones and tablets, on hand to help with the screening process.
“It was just thinking outside the box and using technology,” Supino says.
The year 2020 has “certainly been different,” says Paul Guindon, CEO of Commissionaires Ottawa, a supplier of security services and personnel. “We’ve been able to demonstrate that we’ve been able to turn ourselves around quite rapidly and continue to provide essential services.”
Commissionaires Ottawa gained some new work during the pandemic by providing its security services to buildings that would not otherwise need it, he notes.
The private security organization has been making sure its guards are staying safe by equipping them with personal protective equipment and ensuring their workspaces are clean and disinfected, Guindon says.
“From the onset, we had to make sure that our workforce was safe.”
Since the pandemic began last March, only “a dozen or so” security guards have tested positive, he says. “We’ve done very, very well.”
Initially, the organization faced challenges trying to complete the certification and licensing of new guards during the spring and early summer, when many services were closed during the lockdowns. Courses such as CPR and First Aid training, for example, were not available during this time.
“We’re more or less back to where we need to be to get them fully trained,” Guindon says. “It’s a bit slower but we’re managing.”
Commissionaires Ottawa also saw some of its older guards choose to not work for health and safety reasons. “It put a bit of a strain on the workforce,” Guindon says, while adding that staffing levels are “pretty steady” now.
Walter Pamic is the CEO of Power-Tek Group, an Ottawa-based electrical and general contracting and construction management firm. His company experienced a brief lull at the beginning of the pandemic in March but was able to resume work once the construction industry was deemed an essential service.
One of Power-Tek’s larger projects in 2020 was at the Federal Courts in the Thomas D’Arcy McGee Building on Sparks Street. The crews were originally supposed to be done in June. By November, work was still ongoing, putting them way behind schedule.
The pandemic has made it more challenging to get building materials delivered on time, Pamic says, explaining how the massive disruption in global supply chains has caused a construction material shortage.
“Much of what we order comes from all over North America; a lot of it from the United States,” Pamic says. “There’s a huge backlog.”
Also slowing down projects are health and safety guidelines relating to the pandemic. Crew members must complete a daily screening checklist before stepping onto a worksite. As well, they have to maintain a safe distance from each other, wear masks and use hand sanitizing stations.
“The pandemic has, unfortunately, cost us money,” Pamic says. “You have to try and pass those costs on. Is it fair for us to shoulder all of that burden? We’re in negotiations right now, let’s put it that way.”
At the same time, contracting firms have had to navigate the sudden absences of key personnel.
At the time of the interview, Pamic had an estimator off from work and in quarantine because his young son had been sent home from daycare with coughs and sniffles. The family had to quarantine until the test results came back.
“It’s the second time for this poor fellow,” Pamic says. “It was negative the first time and, hopefully, it will be negative this time also.”