Coronavirus: initial guidance for charity facilities managers

The World Health Organisation has declared the outbreak of coronavirus a global health emergency. This page sets out guidance for charity facilities managers what you can do to minimise risks in the workplace.

A health worker at Wuhan railway station

Medical staff at Wuhan railway station in January 2020. (Photo: China News Service CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia)

By Annette McGill

On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. Ten days later, the cause was identified: a new form of coronavirus.

Since then, the new virus has spread to many countries, and the UK government has declared that the incidence or transmission of the novel coronavirus constitutes "a serious and imminent threat to public health."

What is it?

'Coronavirus' is the name of a family of viruses that can cause illnesses, ranging from something like the common cold to very severe illness. The new form of coronavirus has been given the official name COVID-19.

It first appeared in a live animal market in Wuhan in China. Most people who are currently infected live in, or have travelled to, mainland China, but the virus is spreading to other countries.

On 30 January the Britain's Chief Medical Officers advised the government to raise the UK risk level from low to moderate. We don't yet know how the virus will spread, but facilities managers should start informing themselves about the virus and what they might do to mitigate risks in the workplace.

What are the symptoms? 

Symptoms include (but are not limited to) fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue and shortness of breath. People with underlying health conditions appear to be at higher risk for severe illness.

How is the virus spread? 

Health authorities are still learning about how this new virus spreads. It is most likely to spread from person-to-person through:

  • direct contact with a person whilst they are infectious
  • contact with droplets when a person with a confirmed infection coughs or sneezes
  • touching objects or surfaces contaminated by droplets from a person with an infection, and then touching your mouth or face. 

What can Charity Facilities Managers do?

This page has five sections:

  1. Check government advice.
  2. Communicate key messages
  3. Review cleaning and hygiene provision 
  4. Manage Travel risks
  5. Online Resources

1. Check government advice

The website has current advice about the virus. Charity fms should keep up to date with the latest advice.

2. Communicate key messages to staff and visitors 

Providing accurate news and clear to colleagues about the virus is one of the most useful things you can do.

Staff and stakeholders may feel anxious about health risks, and some people may also be misinformed about the situation, creating further uncertainty. 

Facilities managers can play a key role in advising senior staff. You should aim to should be a source of accurate, up-to-date information about the outbreak and what measures your charity can take. 

The section below sets out the information you can provide to staff and visitors:

How can we help prevent the spread of COVID-19? 

Good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene is the best defence.

Practice good hand hygiene

Wash your hands frequently and properly. 

Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • After using the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

NHS and World Health Organisation guidance advises that after drying hands, people should use a disposable towel to turn off the tap. 

 If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub with at least 60% alcohol.

The US CDC has an excellent resource on hand hygiene on its website.

Practice respiratory hygiene

Cough and sneeze into a tissue and dispose of the tissue in a closed bin immediately. If no tissue is available, cough and sneeze into the crook of your elbow. 

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Your hands touch many surfaces. If you have touched a contaminated surface and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands, you can transfer the virus to yourself. 

Maintain social distancing

Maintain at least one metre (three feet) distance between yourself and other people, particularly those who are coughing, sneezing or have a fever.

Stay home if you are sick

Do not bring illness into the workplace. Use online conferencing if you need to speak with people.

Managers should ensure that staff stay at home if they are unwell - and lead by example.

If you have traveled to an area where the virus has been reported, or if you have been in close contact with someone with who has traveled from China and has respiratory symptoms, refer to government advice.

A note on facemasks

There is some debate about the utility of facemasks. The US Centre for Disease Control does not recommend the use of facemasks for the general public to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It says that if worn properly, a facemask can help block respiratory secretions produced by the wearer (often called 'source control').

Keep it clean!

Viruses can live on hard surfaces for up to eight hours. Sanitise objects such as keyboards and door handles frequently. 


This advice is also good advice for limiting the spread of other viruses such as the flu.

Facilities teams can make use of all available communication channels to circulate information, including posters, video screens, email and social media. The information should be relayed in a clear, low-key way. 

3. Review cleaning and hygiene provision

Ensure that facilities for handwashing are available, adequate and well supplied. More people washing their hands more often may require more supplies of soap, paper towels, etc.

Provide additional hand sanitisers and cleaning resources around your buildings. This will help to reassure staff and visitors.

Review your cleaning regimes to ensure that there is better coverage of key areas - eg surfaces such as door handles, the arms of chairs, etc. 

4. Manage travel risks

Some charities ask their facilities team to manage staff travel. Detailed travel guidance is outside the scope of this document, but the basic steps include:

1. Keep up to date with current travel advice

2. Review and plan

  • Consider whether the travel is absolutely necessary. Consider alternatives such as video conferencing.
  • Undertake a full travel risk assessment - and include the travellers themselves in this process.
  • Provide clear advice and training to people travelling.
  • Work with your insurers or travel consultants to ensure that you provide the best support for travellers affected. The FCO publishes advice on travel insurance.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) also has a detailed guide on how to support travellers

5. Guidance

UK Government advice

The website has information for the public on the outbreak in China, the current situation in the UK and information about the virus and its symptoms.

World Health Organisation (WHO)

The WHO works with 194 countries to improve global health. It is providing regular updates on the COVID-19 outbreak

Travel Advice

Advice for travellers is outside the scope of this page. The international travel security services company International SOS has a web page setting out advice for international travellers 

IOSH also provides coronavirus travel advice

Hand hygiene

The US CDC guidance on how to wash your hands correctly


The World Health Organisation has a series of downloadable posters giving public advice on hygiene.

Related information:

Read our introduction to Business Continuity Management(BCM).