Show 129 – How to get the workplace functioning safely again

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Now that Covid-19 restrictions are starting to be lifted, in this episode we discussed how to get the workplace functioning safely again and giving employees the confidence to return to work.

In partnership with Finsen Tech Group , Russell Goldsmith was joined online by: 

Russ also caught up with Dr Tina Joshi, Lecturer in Molecular Microbiology, University of Plymouth.

Bill began by saying that he was very keen to get different perspectives wider than healthcare because as a business, Finsen they are engaged in healthcare on a daily basis. He said getting the workplace back to normality, getting footfall in through businesses and looking after employees within industry manufacturing is extremely important.

Dover Fueling Solutions, part of Dover Corporation, is a customer of Finsen Tech, with their European headquarters in Dundee. Mark explained that it’s been an interesting 12 months to say the least. He said having to become a pandemic expert, sending people home and having to Covid proof the business has been something they thought would be an insurmountable challenge, but they’ve managed to go above and beyond. He explained that their focus as a business for a number of years has been safety which put them in good stead. Mark said their parent company, Dover Corporation have a huge focus on safety themselves in managing the pandemic and they had to work with them to make sure the Dover sites had the highest level of pandemic protection across the board. He said they initially had to send people home, then four days into the pandemic found out they legally could remain open as they’re supplying to the fuelling and transport sector. Therefore, they had to try and Covid proof the business and feed their employees back in on a volunteer basis and then as confidence grew, getting more people through the door. Mark said on the flipside of that, they had to send all non-direct staff to work from home, so they had a number of different challenges, but they’ve come out of this in a really strong place.

Petr explained that at Marriott, business in their 7000+ hotels has been impacted dramatically.

  • They started earlier in the beginning of last year in China, where they shut down the majority of their hotels and continued the impact in their Asia-Pacific region and then moved into Europe, Middle East and Africa and then the United States.
  • The majority of their hotels have been closed and if hotels have reopened, they’re running below 10 percent occupancy and all meeting spaces and restaurants have been closed.
  • They had to put a lot of their employees on furlough and then moving forward, they needed to resize some of the operations in their hotels, so had to let go some of their employees.

Petr had the pleasure of starting a new job in the middle of March, moving from Asia-Pacific, Hong Kong to the United States.  He said what was very important for them was that all the continents and hotels were pulling together to make sure that they came out of it very strong.

  • The first thing they did was focused on cleanliness in their business, making sure that when they welcome their guests back to their hotels, they are super clean.
  • Together with their internal and external experts, they had science professionals to help them put together protocols for when they reopened, and they called it Commitment to Clean (10 standards and a guidance for how the hotels should clean as they welcome their guests back)
  • A year into this, they are in a much better place and slowly but surely occupancy is rising.
  • They are dealing with both guest and employee safety.
  • Marriott was one of the first hotel chains that implemented mask mandates in the business.

Mark explained that they went through a process where they created a Covid-19 playbook (a guide on how you can successfully Covid proof your business).

  • They created that in conjunction with their parent company, Dovercorp and it touched on everything from, distancing employees from each other, putting up physical barriers, identifying high touch areas, sanitising regimes, physical hygiene regimes.
  • They investigated a number of different products and services to help them with their sanitisation gels, sprays and even a sanitising fog.
  • The sanitising fog which that they used in the building in Dundee, was used on a reactive and proactive measure.
  • Reactively they were using the sanitising fog every time they would have a case or somebody who was symptomatic and proactively every six weeks through the entire building.
  • The downside to that is, you can’t really see or smell the fog and was part of the reason for looking into alternative hygiene tools, like the UVC robot, to give people reassurance.

Mark said the UVC robot was a game changer for them, it was something they were able to physically take, implement and put around their factory floor to give people a real confidence boost. He added they had to completely revamp their large facility, from the material coming in, to material leaving, different ways of ventilating and putting a complete one-way system. Mark said finding ways to give people confidence in their systems was one of the challenges because there was a lot of misinformation in the media meaning people were making up their own versions of what you were and weren’t allowed to do.

UVC Robots

Mark said that they’ve found extra externalities that were extremely beneficial, and it’s been an incredible piece of kit to bring onto the site which they deployed both in a proactive and a reactive sense. He said in the event of any cases or suspected cases, they have a positive case protocol that they roll out every single time. He said they’ve also scoped out the factory to different zones, marked on the floor with stickers which were numbered and associated with a chart and a logbook. He said they had a two-shift pattern in their factory where they were able to then do individual different segments of the shopfloor area and you can do the entire factory floor in a regular sanitising.

Bill explained that with their particular technology, they’ve encompassed a number of different aspects.

  • They have military specification Lidar (light and radar) that measures the room to millimetre accuracy, contents, size, shape, and position.
  • You can do it in a segmented approach and then work that around a workflow aspect.
  • With Thor they can do spaces such as a cupboard up to an auditorium size which is put into the cloud, so you know who’s operated it, where, when, how long, how strong.
  • Thor not only cleans the surfaces, but it cleans the air at the same time.

The Science Behind UVC Technology

Dr Tina Joshi said UVC is a type of ultraviolet light in the electromagnetic spectrum which exists between x rays and visible light, it’s fast, effective, user friendly.

  • The UVC that she is interested in is highly germicidal, between 200 and 300 nanometres which disinfects bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms by disrupting their nucleic acids, as their DNA and their RNA which renders them ineffective, they can’t infect people. Their cellular functions are also disabled so it’s an optimal way of disinfecting.
  • Viruses autonomously replicate and are acellular, so they’re technically not alive.
  • When UVC light enters a virus, it damages the nucleic acids and the virus’ core, in the case of coronavirus, it’s RNA is damaged so means the virus can’t continue to replicate, its life cycle can’t continue, and it stops it from actually getting into a host.
  • With the current variants of Covid-19, the mutations are within the RNA genome and UVC light will not have any effect on the way the virus mutates. So, mutations are no actual consequence to UVC use. 

Tina explained that the only downside to using UVC is there should be no humans in the room or the place where the UVC is being implemented, but that is only for about a minute or two.

Marriott and UV Technology

Petr said last year they started to look into UV technology, carried out some test runs in their hotels and found their major challenge was the scale, the number of rooms and moving the UV equipment from room to room. However, he said they’ve definitely found a solution and now if you come and check into their hotels, you will get a key card and the UV technology disinfects those key cards after each guest checks out.

Marriott’s ‘Connect with Confidence’

Petr said the end goal at Marriott is to instil confidence for their customers, bring them back to the business and into the meeting spaces. He said after they developed the cleaning protocols, they moved on and developed a protocol for meeting and events, ‘Connect with Confidence’. This maps the entire journey from the customer arrival all the way to the meeting space and to departure and breaks down the entire experience in various sections. He said in their hotels today you can register as a Marriott Bonvoy member and check in without going to the desk and in several locations, you can use their mobile key which they have been working on for quite some time.

Petr said with this journey of ‘Connect with Confidence’ they really focus on six key pillars:

  1. Commitment to Clean
  2. Contactless Solutions
  3. Social Distancing
  4. Reimagined food and beverage
  5. Hybrid Meetings (guests joining in person in their hotels and the rest of them joining them virtually)
  6. Flexibility with their guests

Petr said they ask all their vendors and meeting planners to follow their protocols and they run quite a substantial occupancy now complying with guidelines. He said they have a list of preferred vendors that Marriott is using that they know are safe they are making sure that all the equipment is sanitised on entry point and as they go through operations.

Hospitality and UVC technology

Bill said one of the main things is that they want the people they fill these rooms with to have confidence, enjoy themselves and work safely. He said they’re about to launch a further range of products where you can be using and sanitising the air on a constant basis with very high-level filtration and UVC technology, whilst people are occupying the spaces. Bill explained that if they can reduce the bio burden in the air, it makes the UVC technology even more efficient because less is going to be on the surfaces and in the air at the time. He said if you have a sporadic approach to the UVC decontamination for the robots coming into the space, you can manage the logistics.

Mark said a lot of their job was centred around giving confidence to people to come in to work and show them it was as safe as they could possibly make it. He said they really had to go the extra mile to do that because people naturally had a fear element there that they had to work hard to try and conquer.  Mark said giving people light at the end of that tunnel is very difficult when you don’t control the outcome and there’s been different challenges at different times in the pandemic but the UVC technology and investing in high end equipment really gave them that leverage.

Bill said there’s no silver bullet, no one thing that’s going to make everything OK again, it’s a continuum of actions and protocols that they put together. He said the fact is, the use has to be there, it has to be an appropriate protocol where they work with customers on the implementation. For example, Bill explained that they were doing work with local gyms and as soon as they started putting it in their newsletter, not only were more staff coming back, but there’s a significant uptick in people wanting to get back to exercising safely and going into those environments.

Cost of not Taking Infection Control and Disinfection Seriously

Petr said for them there isn’t a really serious cost, but they have the highest standards with all their partners anyway and make sure they select the right partners from the very beginning. He added they typically ask for a fairly steep liability insurance anyway for anything they do as they have 7500+ hotels.

Bill said they’re a private equity backed organisation in 40 countries and engage with probably 300 people per day involved in their business. He said if it’s not safe to come to work and they get a workplace associated infection, there’s going to be some new language coming in. Bill said if you haven’t got the right protocols and procedures in place then the insurance companies will look at it.

Mark said within industry in general, you’ve heard rumblings of lawsuits on the back of this and people might wish to claim against their employer for what they perceive to be a workplace transmission of covid that could have been prevented. He said post pandemic, there will certainly be scrutiny on employers to say, did you do enough?

Behaviour Change Going Forward

Mark explained that the pandemic preparedness going forward is much better and we’re in a much better place to understand how to respond, what measures to put in place and how quickly. He said when he looks at their business, the work at home or office relationship will probably permanently change to some form of hybrid model and employers will be much less rigid about allowing that scenario, more flexibility, more adaptability.

Petr said that as countries are reopening again, they’re going through the same thing, they’ve seen great pick up in China for example. He said it’s difficult for them to project the business but their main focus at the moment is hybrid meetings because they are here to stay.

Will the widespread use of UVC technology make people feel more confident and comfortable returning to the workplace?

Dr Tina Joshi said Yes, certainly. She explained that knowing that microorganisms could be rendered ineffective or unable to transmit by using something such as UVC light is incredibly important because it can make a difference across a variety of settings. She said it’s a big game changer and it should give people the confidence to be able to go back and live their lives almost as normal if and when we get out of the pandemic.

Bill said it’s incumbent on businesses across the world to actually raise standards, we have got to do many things which goes towards the process and the protocol. He said having a robust protocol that people engage with is a key thing, there are human factors to all of this about the risk and reward and people knowing that they have a safe environment to work, play and live in is the end result. He said they’re seeing a lot of engagement across multiple sectors and a continuum of product as well that are producing results. Bill said healthcare is not just delivered in a hospital or a care home, it’s actually being delivered in the events, meetings, at work, in manufacturing. He said it’s just raised people’s awareness to ways to do things better and slightly differently. It’s one thing that the human race is good at is adapting.

Find out more about Finsen Tech at www.finsentech.com.