As government officials in Canada grapple with pandemic response, similar efforts linger in condo communities from on-the-ground decision-makers. Condo corporations have already implemented a flurry of new policies and procedures, while professional property managers continue to oversee safe building operations amidst public health and workplace safety requirements.
Now, in the wake of a potential third wave, industry members are more aware of the transparency and foresight required of them, prompting recent questions about how to currently respond.
With respect to the pandemic response in residential buildings, what’s the most important message to communicate to condo corporations?
As a basic measure of fundamental due diligence, condominium corporations through their professional property management firms should be auditing everything they have implemented to date.
We’re coming up to the one-year mark since property managers throughout Ontario led the response in condo-land and implemented an array of new policies and procedures to protect residents and staff. These policies and procedures were based on public health guidelines, emergency orders, municipal bylaws and published best practices at the time.
To date, the condo industry has remained vigilant thanks to dedicated management and an informed community, but it’s now time to identify what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to be updated based on the current advice. More importantly, are we doing what we are supposed to do?
The simple step of auditing a COVID-19 safety program will serve managers and their corporations well in the event of an outbreak within a community. An audit of a program does not have to be intense and should focus on some key elements. For example, in early 2020, corporations likely implemented a high standard of cleaning with a focus on touch points, such as elevator buttons, door handles, and shared workstations to reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission. Corporations should have vigorously implemented cleaning schedules, while documenting them in detail, including their frequency and additional resources to ensure high-traffic touch points were cleaned.
An audit should confirm that this is still happening. If not, why is that? Is the documentation readily available? Is the documentation validating completion? Do the records serve the corporation as evidence of compliance in this area?
Another area of focus in an audit is the condominium’s requirement to maintain social distancing, including signage and mask requirements. To support this recommendation, the executive director of Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards recently said that the City will be conducting inspections in apartment buildings and condominiums. The City will be taking enforcement actions against the “operators of the building” if the required signage and mask policies are not in place.
Finally, the audit will serve as a foundation to “health check” your corporation’s actions to date and will allow building staff to re-engage on the topic of workplace safety. Again, back in March 2020, in order to meet the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), building managers explained the workplace risks to employees and how to properly don and doff the required Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), as well as how to efficiently wash their hands.
As a due diligence organization responsible for a workplace under OHSA, condo corporations revised internal workplace procedures to address the new risk and hazards of COVID-19. It’s time to do this again. Re-engage building staff: managers, superintendents, security, concierge and cleaning personnel. Reiterate the risks and hazards in the workplace regarding COVID-19.
This education must be ongoing and documented. Review the requirements of social distancing, face coverings and proper hand hygiene in the workplace. Be prepared to discuss and have answers to questions about attendance and sick-leave, access to clean washrooms, antibacterial soap, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies suitable for disinfecting shared workstations, etc. Document the date and time you spoke with each employee so that you as the employer have evidence of completing this vital step.
For service providers and essential services entering the building, implement a strict zero tolerance for violations of your safety procedures and communicate this in writing to your vendors. If this was already executed back in March, a due diligent condo would reiterate these procedures now at the 12 month mark.
What is one event I can prepare for right now through proactive building management?
Have a plan in the event of a confirmed exposure in relation to your building. Essential workplaces are already required to have this plan in place.
Consider the scenario where a security guard is confirmed positive in a high-rise building. In a virtual setting, along with property management and directors of the condo corporation, itemize how the building leadership would respond to this.
Ask, what information is public health going to request of us as the corporation? Are we tracking contact information from essential trades and workplace visitors? Are we pre-screening essential services before they come into the building? Is this documentation available, and is the data in the documentation all accounted for? What would the board communicate to residents? What would management say to employees?
When reviewing your organization’s response, and communication strategies, use the viewpoint of both an employee and a building resident. Don’t simply look for the risks and liability. In using this dual-lens approach, your team will learn to be considerate of everyone within the building.
Another challenge for condo corporations will be the requests from residents to reopen amenities. In order to effectively respond, property managers must ensure that the why, what and how are documented as to what should be opened or closed.
While amenities should not be considered for reopening until the end of April 2021, condo corporations are to start the planning process and create a detailed plan for each amenity that could potentially reopen.
This plan should consider the following areas of focus: access control; health screening; cleaning; signage; social distancing, notification requirements, equipment and resources needed, including any reduced occupancy loads. In addition, the plan—as simple as two pages— must show how it shall be audited and enforced.
Once created, the board can “sign-off” to either reopen the amenity or keep it closed, while also acquiring the documentation to prove they have a safety plan and are practicing due diligence.
In most jurisdictions, this plan must be posted and shared with anyone who would enter the amenities, including residents, owners and condo employees. There are numerous free templates available for these safety plans. Check your local public health website or engage a professional to have these developed.
Jason Reid is the senior adviser for Fire & Emergency Management with National Life Safety Group in Toronto. He has worked with international embassies, government, public and private sector critical infrastructure facilities; commercial/residential high-rise buildings; world class shopping centres and mass assembly facilities. He is also recognized throughout Canada for innovative best practices in the fire service and property/facility management industry – protecting people, assets, reputation and the bottom line. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org Main: 647-794-5505 Toll Free: 1-877-751-0508 www.nationallifesafetygroup.ca