Businesses worldwide are strategy planning to cope with the Coronavirus outbreak and the cleaning sector is no exception. Jim Melvin, group chief executive at Exclusive Services Group, summarises the steps that his company has taken through its emergency response team (ERT) to manage the concerns of its clients and communities.
Seasonal illnesses are precisely that. Exclusive Group’s monthly Virus Spotlight report monitors them. In December 2019 it highlighted the transmission rates of an outbreak in Wuhan, China whose specified mortality rate gave cause for concern.
By February, a greater understanding of the issues faced and the longer-term concerns for staff and client communities prompted the establishment of an emergency response team (ERT) operating out of our Hatfield HQ and in line with our business continuity plan. The ERT draws in the skills of Exclusive Group’s operations, training, HR, supply chain, and H&S resources, reporting to a senior emergency response team (SERT) made up of group board members.
Guided by its 10-point plan, the response teams’ over-riding and primary objective is the safety and security of our staff, followed by resources, materials and equipment, payroll and financial planning. Working closely in conjunction with the British Cleaning Council and the CSSA (Cleaning and Support Services Association) and following the advice of the NHS and WHO, the Exclusive ERT sought to reach out to colleagues and associations in Italy, Spain and Singapore in order to establish what lessons could be learned from their experiences, with replies gained from Singapore.
The Exclusive Learning and Development Centre in Swindon has produced dedicated Coronavirus H&S training resources including videos to assist with signage comprehension for those whose primary language is not English. Pool machinery and materials stocks were reviewed and buffer stock increased where appropriate and feasible.
Every employee was emailed the ERT’s agreed approach to the virus challenge in the form of our H&S Monthly Spotlight document and a ‘Four-tier approach to deep cleaning’. Colleagues aged 69 or older (some may have a birthday during the pandemic) and those with known respiratory concerns were contacted individually to share their own concerns.
Given it is often forgotten that cleaning staff are also subject to being struck down, the ERT ensured the company obtained as much personal protection equipment and materials as possible, understanding that a huge percentage had been a compulsory purchase for the NHS. Guidelines were re-set to ensure training and compliance enabled staff to work safely and in partnership with client teams; process hygiene and work practice concerns were re-evaluated; and financials projected and revised, notably in terms of ensuring transparency of service costs as requisite spend levels were amended in advance of site deep cleans.
In addition to planning for staff mental health and overall wellbeing, Exclusive ERT ensured that staff have safe transportation and access to site while establishing remote working procedures where practicable.
The pandemic has brought communities together: acts of kindness include individuals signing up as NHS volunteers. Exclusive Services Group has team members already signed up to this cause and, in some cases, local charities and the company will recognise those who assist. Close to home, the company has worked to assist three dementia care homes located near its offices in Hatfield, Wokingham and Swindon. Care home patients are particularly vulnerable to the virus - it felt the right thing to do.
We are also working with our own team on mental health and awareness with regular management calls, conference calls and video conferencing. We will also now be discussing and reviewing remote social functions that we can assist with.
On topic, the irony that the UK plans the potential removal of key workers involved in the fight against the pandemic cannot and must not be ignored. The number of foreign nationals working in London is over 60%: hard-working people currently classed as low-skilled migrant workers. In the face of revised immigration proposals, by 2021 some may not be allowed to work in this country.
Ultimately, the strategic sharing of knowledge and understanding via ERT planning assists in bringing much needed clarity and reassurance for all concerned in a time of pandemic. It also asserts the key role played by cleaning and hygiene staff in the fight against COVID-19 and how we may have to rethink our perspective of these people and their real value to us. After all, consider how London would manage if this pandemic had happened in 2022.