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CDC Advice: Re-opening Your Service Organization

by Jessica Weisman-Pitts
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If you’re a service organization looking to get back to business following lockdown from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a number of things to consider.  First and foremost is the safety of your employees and customers. Critical to that is ensuring that after you reopen, you have a safe workplace and can maintain it in a safe manner. You need to develop a detailed plan to reopen, implement that plan, and while running your business, assess its effectiveness, revise, and update that plan. Utilizing a field service management system can help you document and manage that plan. The CDC has released a considerable amount of information, some of which is summarized here.

Employee and customer safety are paramount.  Some recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for your “Back to Business Plan” would be:

  • Protect employees at higher risk, monitoring of staff, as feasible – have a plan if someone is sick
  • Ensure adequate supplies of PPE and disinfectant for staff
  • Establish personal hygiene expectations
  • How long has your facility been closed? Assess all public areas in your facility.  Look at the surfaces and types of materials, anything or anywhere someone could or would put their hands.
  • Assess areas where people tend to gather – break areas, conference rooms, meeting rooms, etc.
  • Is there ample room for social distancing of at least 6 feet under normal work conditions?
  • Are cleaning personnel adequately protected?

Some of our customers have queried their staff for indications that they may be at higher risk – older adults or team members that have asthma, HIV, liver disease, or compromised immune systems, and temporarily assigned them to non-customer facing roles.  Back office support, tier two support, or other tasks where they do not need to interact with many people, thereby reducing the risk of infection.

Specific field service technology tools for secure video and voice communication allow for these types of redeployments to happen.  Some organizations have started to monitor staff at work, taking temperatures voluntarily, before and at the end of each shift, requesting that staff that feel unwell stay home and see a doctor.  Other clients have, where possible, planned for COVID – 19 testing for their staff, as needed.

The important thing is, have a plan for if someone does get sick.  Some of our customers have made this a part of their daily tasking and work orders within their ServiceMax platform, utilizing the application to create Job Safety Assessments that require their technicians to validate that the health and safety guidelines from the company have been completed.

In most cases, the CDC recommends cloth facial coverings to help prevent the spread of the virus.  Special cases where your staff may be exposed to higher risk may require more specialized protective equipment, such as N95 Masks and latex gloves.  Cloth facial coverings are intended to prevent people with the virus, but without any symptoms, from spreading the disease and should always be worn outside the home when in contact with coworkers and/or customers.

Staff should also be provided with disinfectant hand sanitizer.  Normal hand washing, for 20 seconds under warm water with soap, is sufficient to prevent contamination, but that option is not always available.  If not, and hands are not visibly dirty, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol can be effective.  If staff cannot maintain effective social distancing on the job, you may want to consider higher levels of PPE for their safety.  These requirements can be included in dynamic checklists and reminders can be added to work orders, requiring technicians to indicate that they have read and are complying with these guidelines.

Team members should clean hands often, prior to starting a job, upon finishing a job, after entering a client site and upon leaving a client site.  As noted above, washing hands in warm water, with soap, for 20 seconds is sufficient.  Hand washing is preferred to alcohol-based disinfectants, but they may be used if washing hands is not feasible.  If hands are visibly dirty, they should always be washed.  In addition, after using the restroom, before and after eating or preparing food, after sneezing or coughing, after being in contact with any animals, and after being in contact with any other people.  Staff should avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

According to the CDC, if your facility has been closed and empty for longer than 7 days, normal cleaning is sufficient to reopen.  If not, there is a list of approved cleaning products that are effective against COVID – 19. In assessing your workplace, decide what needs to be disinfected.  Look for frequently touched items like counters, tables, doorknobs, light switches, desks, handles, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucet handles, sinks, touch screens, etc.  The CDC list of effective disinfectants recommends the best disinfectant for the type of surface you are trying to disinfect.  As each location to be cleaned is unique, you will need to complete a thorough assessment prior of yours to prepare a comprehensive disinfecting plan.  Once this plan is in place, it can be scheduled as a daily reoccurring work order in ServiceMax and compliance with the guidelines can be tracked and available on a dashboard for management.

While assessing your place of business, take a long hard look at where people tend to gather.  Break areas, conference rooms, meeting rooms, etc.  Is their use required?  Can they be closed for the time being? Do you have refrigerators or microwave ovens for food preparation?  Can access be controlled or restricted? Taking these items out of use will eliminate the tendency for workers to congregate and increase the risk of spreading the virus.  Break areas can be moved outside where sunlight and fresh air restrict the transmission of the virus and social distancing can be controlled easier.

In addition, when considering reopening, consider if you have enough room for customers or vendors in reception areas for them to adequately social distance.  Do you need to restrict access to a set number of people, or modify how customer interaction occurs to allow for a safe distance?  In the shop, do your staff have enough room to work and maintain at least 6 feet between themselves at all time?  When reporting to a customer location is it possible to adhere to social distancing and still provide services to the client?  On large jobs, is it possible to work crews to effectively work and maintain a suitable distance to work safely?  These factors may impact your decision on which PPE is most effective for which employees. If there are different requirements at different customer locations, they can be identified and tracked in your field service platform.

We are all in this together, and hopefully this will help you plan out a strategy to keep your employees and customers healthy and to help you document and record the steps you are taking to keep your staff and customers safe.

Much more information on this topic is available from the CDC’s guidance on re-opening and www.ServiceMax.com

Joseph Kenny is Vice President Global Customer Transformation at ServiceMax.