Resuming Building Operations After a COVID-19 Shutdown
Many building owners, managers and tenants are focused on getting back to business following the COVID-19 pandemic. Buildings and equipment may have been left idle or reduced in capacity, which can lead to quickly deteriorating conditions and other issues that arise when a building is not routinely attended.
It is important to bring together individuals representing your primary operations in the early stages of developing your reopening plan. This can help in establishing a consistent and coordinated approach. Be sure to identify and communicate responsibilities and roles for each team member. The roles should align with individual’s areas of expertise – whether it be the building, employee safety or procedure development. Regular communication between team members can help to reduce potential oversight or duplication of efforts and help ensure a successful implementation of your plan.
As you plan your reopening, be sure to consider cleaning and disinfecting requirements as stated in local health guidance. If your building has been unoccupied for seven-days or more due to COVID-19, the UK government recommends completing normal routine cleaning and disinfecting procedures. If operations have continued under a limited basis, consider additional cleaning and disinfecting procedures.
Evaluate the building envelope – the walls and roof – to ensure it has not been compromised during the shutdown, as roof maintenance may have lapsed, and your building may have sustained damage due to severe weather. Inspect interior walls and ceilings for signs of water damage, crack or settling of foundation walls. If safe to do so, access the roof and visually inspect roof-mounted equipment for signs of damage. Consider hiring a licensed contractor to complete the inspection if you cannot safely access the roof. Also check the roof covering and flashing for signs of damage. Be sure to clean out debris located around roof drains to help prevent standing water.
It is also important to inspect gutters to make sure they are free from debris and are discharging water away from the building. Check windows to ensure there are no broken panes or signs of water damage. If there is a sump pump in the basement of your building, verify it is functioning properly.
In most cases, electrical systems will have remained in service at significantly reduced load during a property shutdown. Have a qualified electrician restore electrical loads slowly to prevent damage to electrical systems; have maintenance personnel assess equipment operation as power is restored.
Emergency power systems, such as emergency power generators, should be tested as soon as practical in accordance with the original equipment manufacturer’s guidelines and normal practices. A qualified individual familiar with the operation of the equipment should physically inspect it and observe the emergency equipment testing.
If the electrical distribution system was de-energised during the shutdown, have a qualified electrician inspect all electrical panels prior to reenergising the system. Extreme caution should be taken to prevent unexpected personal safety hazards while reenergizing the system. Ensure photovoltaic systems are in good working condition.
HVAC and Plumbing
In most cases, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and plumbing systems will have remained in service during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Whether or not the systems were shut down, their proper operation should be verified as soon as practical prior to re-occupancy of the buildings.
Qualified contractors or employees familiar with the proper operation of the equipment should verify that the equipment has no signs of leakage and is maintaining proper temperature, that fluid levels are as expected and, where applicable, that the equipment cycles on and off in accordance with normal operating parameters.
Efforts should be made to flush the building’s water system to help remove the potential for mold or bacteria build-up.
If your property was shut down or operations were limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, check and confirm that your fire alarms and sprinkler systems are functioning properly. Begin by reviewing the records of the last inspection or service and complete the inspection, testing and maintenance that have lapsed.
- Fire detection and alarm systems should be checked in accordance with the British Standard, BS 5839. Smoke and heat detectors should be visually inspected. If you use a monitoring company, confirm that it receives supervisory and alarm signals.
- Sprinkler systems and fire pumps should be maintained in accordance with relevant standards including BS9251: 2005 and BS EN 12845:2004. Travelers also has maintenance guidelines. If a sprinkler system was shut off, it should be promptly restored and tested. Begin by completing a self-inspection to identify what can be done in-house and what requires a contractor.
- Inspect all control valves to ensure that they are in the appropriate positions.
- Inspect sprinkler riser pressure gauges, record the readings and compare them to previous results.
- Run a functional test to ensure the valves are opening correctly and the fire pumps, if applicable, are working correctly.
- Ensure that life safety systems are tested and maintained in accordance with relevant European Standards. Conduct both visual inspections and functional tests (as applicable) of emergency lighting, fire doors, smoke control systems, firefighting equipment and door closers to ensure they are operating correctly.