Catering equipment 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, MD 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 explained.
“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.
For instance, Kane Needs, technical manager at microwave specialist Marren, detailed: “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. 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,” said Needs. “Gloves and other PPE are also needed depending on where the repair is undertaken.”
NWCE Foodservice Equipment in Bolton has found most hospital sites to be accommodating as they need their equipment working now more than ever. According to MD Ben Odling: “The only restrictions we are coming across are more security and PPE requirements, which is understandable.
“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.
Director, Irene Keal, recounted: “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. Engineers are sanitising their tablets before and after taking the customers’ signature and reporting daily on any health concerns the staff may have.”
Servicing companies revealed which are the most common issues they are currently dealing with in the healthcare sector call-outs they are receiving.
Equipment that is in high usage but not necessarily receiving daily care when it comes to maintenance is likely to need attention at some stage, said Kane Needs, technical manager at Marren. “Currently, our main appliances requiring repairs are microwaves, particularly the ones that are on the wards for heating up meals. A lot of these items are overheating because of the lack of filter/vent cleaning, meaning the machine cannot breath correctly coupled with the increased volume of patients to care for.”
While for warewasher specialist repairer Crystaltech, the concern at hospitals or care homes is the potential for cross-contamination from any item that has been washed in a dishwasher that is not operating correctly. MD Derek Maher insisted: “Correct temperatures and disinfecting detergents are essential in order to keep bacteria under control. Depending on the menu, we would promote the use of chemicals containing chlorine wherever possible.”
He added that Crystaltech is able to carry out bioluminescence testing to establish if there is a potential problem and gain an instant reading.
Heavier demand on appliances installed in what are already very busy kitchens can quickly expose shortcomings in maintenance regimes.
“What we are finding is that where most kitchens in the care sector would normally have at least two services per year, they now only have one due to recent budget cuts,” said NWCE Foodservice Equipment MD Ben Odling.
“This in turn is having a massive knock-on effect with avoidable breakdowns. We are also seeing a massive influx of breakdowns on waste disposal units and dishwashers.
“We have feedback from our clients that these units are now working 24 hours a day, which is a 100% increase in working time and demand. Dishwashers breaking down is very concerning for all as they ultimately help with sanitation,” he added.