Earlier this year the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) announced it would change its name to the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM). As part of the Institute’s bid to become a chartered body, it desires “to reframe facilities management, emphasising its ability to make a real contribution to the performance of organisations - more value creator, less cost centre”. This objective makes perfect sense; in the quarter century since the sector gained its first trade association, FM has evolved to become increasingly professionalised with the creation and introduction of standards, higher quality training and increasing amounts of transformational technology.
The impact of technology
As with virtually every other industry, a key part of this evolution is the greater adoption of technology. The BIFM noted that a key driver for adopting the term workplace is to acknowledge the degree to which professions are intersecting, with FM professionals increasingly needing to work alongside their colleagues in IT when managing the working environment. Practices such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), exemplify the way that technology can have a dramatic impact on how sites can be proactively managed throughout their lifecycle.
Yet while some aspects of FM are racing ahead, the picture often looks starkly different the minute you step outside. At GRITIT, we offer services in two areas – Winter Gritting and Grounds Maintenance - both markets in which the exploitation of technology and the adoption of professional ethos still fall far behind. Addressing this gap is precisely how we’ve been able to grow as a business. Most of the productivity gains from early and often discrete technologies, such as tracking, have now been exploited. More recent investments have delivered customer-friendly transparent services with tools such as apps that are more accessible and engaging. While not claiming to be transformational, the real-payoff of long-term bespoke IT investment is starting to be realized through the integration of data and automated tools that offer more immediate control. Just as BIFM describe the change from ‘managing space to empowering productivity’, outside we are looking at a shift in emphasis from managing logistics to empowering quality service.
So, knowing that technology can deliver real benefits in outdoor FM, it is still frustrating to see that across the wider market that this sort of innovation is limited – particularly as sticking to older ways of doing things can involve playing fast and loose with health and safety.
Taking a chance with ad hoc winter maintenance
Over the course of this winter - just as with every other winter - professional gritting companies will invariably receive multiple desperate calls from businesses that have suddenly found their arrangements for snow and ice clearing to have fallen dangerously short. Whether it’s a call for emergency cover when that unbelievably cheap contractor fails to show up, or requests for quotes that come in as the snow starts falling, we see dozens of examples of organisations feeling the heat when the temperatures hit freezing.
Particularly alarming is that this ad hoc approach is not just confined to smaller businesses - even large organisations with otherwise highly developed FM arrangements can treat snow and ice clearing as an afterthought. A particularly egregious example we encountered was a state of the art fulfilment centre that found their trucks unable to move due to compacted snow that had turned the loading areas into ice rinks. In that case, leaving the task of clearing ice to poorly trained staff caused a just-in-time supply chain to grind to a halt.
To borrow an analogy from elsewhere in the FM world, when it comes to winter maintenance many organisations find themselves affected by “blocked toilet syndrome”. In other words, a vexing problem that has to be dealt with reactively. Yet this attitude is dangerously ill suited to the risks presented by snow and ice.
The costs of slipping up with Heath and Safety
Aside from the cost of lost business, there’s also the risk of accidents resulting from icy conditions. In research we conducted alongside the BIFM, almost 40 per cent of FMs reported two or more ‘slip and trip incidents’ in the previous winter. Accidents will of course happen, but ‘slipping on ice’ accidents have the potential for the most high-value fines and compensation claims and the law is uncompromising in cases of negligence.
According to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, organisations have a Duty of Care to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees, including the provision of a safe working environment. This also extends to anyone visiting, or passing by the facility, including suppliers on company business and members of the public.
When organisations need to be able to demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to make an environment safe in wintery conditions, there is a clear-cut case for a highly professional approach. This should encompass everything from risk assessment, planning, staff training or appointing contractors, as well as documenting when and how work is carried out. These processes, which technology is making increasingly more efficient, are particularly important when accidents do happen. At the same time, it is also important to remember that breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act can lead to prosecution even where no actual harm has occurred. Moreover, changes in sentencing guidelines, introduced in 2015, removed the maximum cap on fines, which means that the financial costs of getting things wrong could be disastrous for a business.
Demand professionalism throughout the supply chain
As awareness of the consequences increases, so too does the recognition of why professional standards matter. In the highly outsourced market of FM, this is good news: We are seeing organisations waking up to the risks and seeking to ensure that quality standards are reflected by their contractors and downstream through the entire supply chain. Even so, there are still instances when contracts are agreed, in full knowledge that a service can only be delivered in a way that falls short of best practice. Here, it’s important to note that professional service delivery can depend on how an organisation approaches procurement.
Therefore, just as the best time to procure IT security isn’t after you’ve been hacked, getting snow and ice clearance right is best done before you have cause for regret. While, admittedly less sexy than other areas of risk management, winter maintenance warrants a professional, proactive approach.
About the Author
Jason Petsch is the CEO and co-founder of GRITIT, one of the leading winter gritting, grounds maintenance and landscape management services providers in the United Kingdom. Jason also leads the group's Grounds Maintenance (GM) division and is committed to fostering an inclusive and productive working environment with strong customer focus.
Visit www.gritit.com to learn more about Gritit's award-winning services.