Caterers working in hospital and care home environments are under enormous pressure at the moment. So what happens if something in their kitchen goes wrong and they need an instant fix? FEJ explores how service and maintenance providers are rising to the challenge under unique circumstances…
Catering engineers are used to plying their trade in conditions that the average worker would baulk at.
From having to diagnose problems under the tightest of time constraints to squeezing into the narrowest of spots to replace failed catering parts, the life of a technical services expert calls for improvisation and adaptability on a daily basis.
But the coronavirus pandemic has brought challenges that the catering equipment service industry has never encountered before when it comes to servicing kitchens in places such as hospitals and care homes.
If the number one obstacle used to simply be gaining accessing to these places at a convenient time, there are all sorts of additional factors that now need to be dealt with to ensure a job can be completed with the safety of everyone involved assured.
Service providers with teams carrying out duties on frontline environments have had to quickly adapt their processes and demonstrate an ability to get appliances operational in the most testing of circumstances.
Derek Maher, managing director of warewashing equipment maintenance specialist Crystaltech, describes some of the simple things that have changed for its engineers visiting high priority sites over recent weeks.
“Nursing homes and hospitals are checking engineers’ temperatures and questioning for symptoms prior to allowing them to fully enter the premises,” he explains.
“Engineers are fully trained on what measures they should be taking to protect themselves. Risk assessments and method statements relating to Covid-19 are carried by the engineers and all of the healthcare organisations that we deal with have issued specific instructions that are issued to our engineers prior to attending their sites.”
The pressure that hospitals are under, coupled with the fact that employees are being required to pitch in and perform different functions to what they ordinarily might do, has meant that service providers are having to overcome communication issues.
Most are, of course, understanding of this given the circumstances, but it can impact the speed at which equipment is repaired.
“There’s no hiding how big some hospitals are, but not being given the right contact numbers, people to talk to, a location for parking and the unit can be an issue,” says Kane Needs, technical manager at microwave specialist Marren. “Trying to get to the machine to give them a valuable repair is sometimes challenging.”
There is also the daily ritual of van and tool preparation to consider. Having the right equipment and supplies on board to achieve a first-time fix is at the top of every engineer’s list at the best of times, but it now takes on even greater significance.
“Our engineers are now carrying more cleaning and sanitising items for cleaning tools, clothing and hands before and after the repair,” explains Needs. “Gloves and other PPE are also needed depending on where the repair is undertaken,” he adds.
NWCE Foodservice Equipment in Bolton has found most hospital sites to be accommodating as they need their equipment working now more than ever. “The only restrictions we are coming across are more security and PPE requirements, which is understandable,” says managing director Ben Odling.
“All of our engineers have been issued with extra PPE, including gloves, hand sanitiser and goggles — as required with some sites — face masks and aprons. We have also issued guidelines to our engineers regarding handwashing.”
Sylvester Keal in Grimsby has been ensuring its technicians follow the new health and safety requirements imposed by frontline sites. It is finding that entry must be via the kitchen only and timed visits are paramount given safe distancing is an issue in smaller kitchens and laundries.
“Our engineers are adhering by strict cleaning regimes with their personal hygiene and all tools are being cleaned with our Envirosan sanitising cleaner, as well as disposing of all PPE after each job,” says director Irene Keal. “Engineers are sanitising their tablets before and after taking the customers’ signature and reporting daily on any health concerns the staff may have.”
Like a lot of service providers that operate in care sector sites on a regular basis, NWCE has always applied strict guidelines around working procedures in such environments, but Odling says this has been stepped up further in the current environment.
“We have issued more PPE and statements to our engineers about signing-in and -out procedures and these are evolving day by day at all sites,” he reveals. “All parts are also now sent direct to sites to stop any contamination and to limit exposure.”
NWCE has decided as a company that it will only be charging normal working time on all call-outs and labour fees to any NHS and care sites while the country fights the pandemic.
This includes single time charges at the weekend and bank holidays. Odling confirms this had to be negotiated with the company’s engineers first, but they all voted overwhelmingly in favour of showing their support. Additionally, NWCE has also offered its logistics resources to the NHS for free, including the transportation of equipment in its vans if required.
Sylvester Keal, meanwhile, turned around a two-week project to convert a care home into a Covid-19 hospital in Grimsby. A small team of staff worked around for the clock for 14 days solid to get the kitchen ready for opening.
“We are very proud of the team that worked on this project under less than normal circumstances and put others’ needs before their own without a second thought,” says Keal.
With the country’s national health infrastructure facing its sternest test, catering equipment service providers are certainly doing their bit to indirectly support those on the frontline or fighting their own personal battles of survival.