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What Role Do Facilities Managers Play in the Safety of Their Buildings?

By Jack Rubinger
Published: January 15, 2021
Key Takeaways

Building maintenance and repair play an important role in keeping facilities safe.

Caption: Maintenance work Source: AlexRaths / iStock

Facility managers are responsible for the safety of their buildings and facilities. Their purview spans from the interior to the exterior, from the boiler to the basement.

Facility managers are essentially the steward of their buildings. They are the ones responsible for maintaining its operation.

Large Campuses Keep Facility Teams Constantly on the Go

Large facilities like universities and hospital campuses can span over more than 1,000,000 square feet across multiple buildings.

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Teams of facilities professionals might walk or use golf carts to go from building to building as they make their rounds, do repairs, and undertake maintenance tasks.

(Find out How to Build a Maintenance Program That Keeps Maintenance Workers Safe)

Their role in maintaining safety can be as simple as preventing slips and falls or as complex as ensuring that the buildings would be safe in the event of natural disasters like earthquakes or unpredictable events like active shooters.

According to David Van Hook, Director of Facilities at Georgia Highlands College. “Properly maintaining systems is the only way to ensure their safe operation. Properly operating systems protect a building from environmental dangers (such as freezing or fire)."

Facilities also intersects with food safety (when food services are involved), chemical handling safety, and janitorial safety.

Administrative Aspects of Facility Safety

Another aspect of the job is the administrative part — all the documentation associated with safety, including emergency evacuation plans, maintenance logs, and inspection checklists.

Facility Safety Checklist

A facility manager's daily safety facility checklist might include:

  • Daily rounds
  • Expediting work orders
  • Planning for new construction, renovations, and remodels

They must address various safety-related questions. What if a pipe bursts? What if a backup generator goes down? What’s the plan if there’s an active shooter on site? Where are all the chemicals stored? Are the chemicals properly labeled? How is medical waste disposed of?

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Savvy facilities managers make this administrative work easier by using mobile devices to access building plans or walkies to communicate with facilities staff.

Workers Comp/General Liability Exposure for Insurance Carriers

The role of facility managers often extends beyond their core maintenance and repair tasks.

"As an FM, I am always looking for ways to improve our facilities while also reviewing the ROI of new initiatives, repairs, remodels and new equipment," said Aaron Keck of HCI Hospitality. As he points out, this not only improves safety
"but also reduce our Workers Compensation/General Liability exposure for insurance carriers.”

Keck, for instance, mentions that he is "currently working on implementing an oil mitigation system within our restaurants that removes the need to have an employee wheel out and dispose of old oil in a container behind the restaurant." This system would make the work safer, which can result in lower insurance premiums.

Facilities may also be responsible for vehicular safety — both for regular street vehicles like cars and trucks as well as the safe operation of vehicles like forklifts.

A facility manager should also be familiar with municipal, state, and federal safety laws, as well as being prepared for OSHA inspections.

(Learn more in 6 Steps to Prepare for Unexpected OSHA Visits)

Pandemic Stretches the Resources of Short-Staffed Facility Teams

With the pandemic, facility teams may be short-staffed due to furloughs or older workers retiring. Teams have to stretch their resources, manage their time wisely, and learn to work smart instead of working hard.

That can be complicated, since working in this space is definitely not a 9 to 5 gig. When a pipe bursts at 2:00 a.m. or on a weekend, the facility manager gets called in right away.

Facility managers also work closely with management and building owners. The best facilities teams create safety teams so others can serve as the eyes and ears of the building.

Facility managers are the unsung heroes of the safety world. They might not be safety professionals, but their contribution to safety is invaluable. By making sure all the facility systems are running smoothly, they reduce the risk of incidents and help keep the occupants, guests, and other workers out of harm's way.

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Written by Jack Rubinger

Profile Picture of Jack Rubinger

Jack Rubinger has 10+ years of experience writing about workplace safety, construction, lean manufacturing, warehouse management, visual communication, healthcare, agriculture, education, and technology. His articles have been published in a wide range of media, including ISHN, EHS Today, New Equipment Digest, Industry Week, and many others.

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