OHS Canada Magazine

How early pandemic preparations helped keep Burnaby university campus clean

Simon Fraser University custodians responded quickly to COVID-19


Quick decisions by Grady Ott helped keep Simon Fraser University clean through COVID-19. (Simon Fraser University)

By Natalie Lim

Every fall, BEST Service Pros, Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) custodial services contractor, executes a flu-cleaning response that focuses on disinfecting high touchpoints and handrails to limit the spread of germs.

This year, that process was enacted in January, months before the B.C. government declared a public health emergency in the province.

“When COVID-19 started making the news in January, I made a call and said, ‘I think we need to start attacking this thing right away,’” says Grady Ott, an operations supervisor with SFU Facilities Services in Burnaby, B.C.

Ott is responsible for helping to co-ordinate the 82 BEST staff who keep SFU clean.

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While news around the virus worsened through January and February, he did research, ordered extra cleaning supplies, advised SFU’s pandemic response group and worked with BEST to update its strategy in the face of rapidly changing information.

What happened next was unprecedented: all classes moved online and faculty and staff were encouraged to work from home. Faced with a nearly deserted campus and unsure what the next few months would look like, Ott made another call.

“We instigated our semester cleaning protocols a month-and-a-half early,” he says. “We asked ourselves, if the students came back tomorrow, where would they need to feel the most comfortable? So, we cleaned and sanitized all the lecture theatres and classrooms, and then we locked them up so they’ll be ready to go whenever the students come back.”

‘More soap than Staples’

Because Ott began preparing for the pandemic so early, he ended up with a surplus of cleaning supplies once classes moved online.

He has been working closely with SFU Residence and Housing, sharing equipment and supplies to ensure that students still living on campus have a clean living environment.

“At one point we had more soap than Staples had in their warehouses,” he laughs. “I portioned 50 per cent of it to send back if necessary. We went through empty buildings like the AQ to collect hand sanitizer for people living in residences. We also donated 10 cases of hand sanitizer to The Kettle Society, which is supporting vulnerable populations through this pandemic.”

These days, BEST team members are cleaning windows and waxing floors — tasks that are difficult to co-ordinate on a busy campus. They also continue to clean public areas like hallways, lounges and bathrooms; these areas will be sanitized immediately before the community returns to campus.

Through all this, the safety and well-being of custodial staff has been a priority for Ott. Physical distancing protocols have been put in place and schedules are being modified where appropriate.

“No team member will be asked to do work that is unsafe,” says Ott. “We’re all in this together and we’re going to get through it together.”

This article has been republished with permission from Simon Fraser University.