Why do all FM’s need a winter management plan in place?

Vicky Lopez, director of De-ice

When it comes to considering the operation of their sites, FMs look at every element – from the air conditioning to accessibility areas, and the smooth running of the reception or ‘front of house’.

With their air conditioning, they wouldn’t avoid having units serviced in order to save on cost. If the temperature is soaring, it is vital that tenants remain comfortable, as well as content with the service provided – complaints will – eventually – lead to vacated properties. In the same way, FMs wouldn’t turn the heating off when the temperature drops; conversely they’d ensure the boilers are well-serviced and ready to heat the building – in order to ensure the comfort of their tenants.

Attention to detail and high levels of service are paramount to the smooth running of the properties. Tenants need to remain confident in the service being provided, and the people responsible for looking after them.

Climatic conditions will vary considerably, depending on where a property or FM is located. One based in Edinburgh is far more likely to experience harsher and colder weather, by comparison with their London counterparts. Gritting services are certainly more prolific in Scotland than in the south of England. Each has their own micro-climate, but – on a national level – the story is very different.

Already this year, we are hearing reports of the strongest El Nino for 65 years grabbing the headlines. Indeed, we look set to have some very unsettled weather ahead. An (El Nino) event occurs when the waters of the Pacific become exceptionally warm and distorts weather patterns around the world. However, as the rest of the world warms, Europe looks to get increasingly colder. El Nino occurs every two to seven years, and it never behaves in the same way twice and is only one of the elements in play that will influence the winter weather to come.

Without doubt during the last El Nino of 2009/2010, the winter across northern Europe, including the UK was exceptionally cold. Heavy snowfall brought transport chaos to much of the country with airports closed and train services suspended. In December that year, the average UK temperature was just -1C – the coldest since records began.

Clearly only time will tell if we are set for similar weather trends this winter. There are other factors to take into account such as the NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) and Sun output. The long-term forecast is unclear but the more credible camps are erring towards a milder and changeable start to the winter with periods of high winds and rain. Any gaps in this pattern could see temperatures plummet and snow on lower ground. Indicators of the NAO changing later in the winter months would bring colder, snowier weather conditions later in 2016.

We work closely with the MeteoGroup, Europe’s largest private weather forecasters to make sure we have the best forecasting available at the earliest possible opportunity both in pre-winter planning and operationally should severe weather occur. This highly accurate forecasting means that we wouldn’t go out and grit a site for no reason. But, it triggers off when we should go out and service – no one wants ultimate responsibility for whether winter gritting should take place at a site on a Sunday afternoon. Our contracts (and forecasting) is designed to take the pressure off this decision making process, and to ensure that everyone remains comfortable with the activity that does take place.

And, at the end of the day, shouldn’t the responsibility rest with the supplier in question? The customer should be content with the outsourcing decision made, and to know that they have the best level of support in place. They should be treating their winter maintenance supplier as a true partner, and not making any compromises – as per their heating and air conditioning.

A payment-per-visit contract means that the customer will only pay for the service(s) received, as opposed to an ongoing contract. For many, they feel this gives them a greater level of control over the service provided.

We often question why some companies leave their winter maintenance planning to the last minute, and other organisations (which are few and far between), opt to run their own service. For the latter, they need to consider whether they have the man power, or if such an approach is right for them.

In the knowledge that snow, or any extreme weather will have a huge impact on any public-facing organisation, particularly one which operates 24/7, it is vital for them to recognise the fact that there is a real need for effective winter planning to avoid accidents, claims and possible reputational damage. Can any industry really afford not to adequately provide for the safety of their staff, customers and visitors? The potential cost of failing to do is vast.

We have seen winter maintenance support and provision really evolve over the last 15-20 years, and it is now a recognised part of the FM service. Certain outlets, for example retail or essential services such as hospitals cannot avoid the potential exposure – given their need to remain open and operational, often 24/7.

Many of our clients view us as their strategic partner. Every year that goes by, there seems to be increasing awareness of the service we provide, and its importance. My only concern is that – due to its seasonality – it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Whether we like to admit it or not, frost, ice and snow — even if they don’t last long — are predictable features of the British winter. To protect staff, contractors, drivers and the public, there is a real need to plan ahead before the first ‘unexpected’ snow flurry puts people at risk and causes disruption. Planning ahead of time doesn’t cost anything, but – if needed – it can make the difference between remaining operational, and ensuring exposure to slips and trips is minimised. Why have your backs against the wall? When – as an FM – you can take the responsibility into your own hands to ensure the highest levels of service.

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