The whirlwind of challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic has underscored the need for self-storage operators to re-examine their safety practices. We must take measures to protect employees, customers and guests from injury and unhealthy conditions, including COVID-19. It requires planning and action. Below is some guidance to ensure your facility is a haven, one that works for you, not against you.
After more than 20 years in self-storage, it still amazes how deficient facilities can be in regard to safety and cleanliness. Safety issues expose the business to legal risk, so it’s important to look at our properties with fresh eyes. When conducting walk-throughs, actively look for physical hazards, including anything that could contribute to slips, falls and other injury-causing accidents. Address potential problems as quickly as possible. Here are some important areas to watch:
- Flooring: Make sure all walkways and hallways are clear of debris. Be mindful of inclement weather and maintenance activity, which can result in slippery floors. When appropriate, post warning signs in prominent locations.
- Doorways: Ensure all building and unit doors close properly, and that none are blocked by maintenance equipment, trash or tenant goods—especially emergency exits.
- Stairwells: Check these often. Nothing should ever block or be spilled on the stairs. Also, perform regular spot checks to ensure lights function properly. Nothing good will come if a customer suddenly finds himself in darkness while navigating the stairs.
- Grounds: Regularly inspect downspouts, cladding and any other building components that may come loose. Examine sidewalks and pavement for uneven surfaces, holes and debris. Check perimeter fencing for gaps. If your facility gets snow, have a plan for clearing it from walkways and the parking area, and for
- Lighting. Ensure all lights work properly. If you aren’t sure whether there’s enough illumination inside and outside to ensure safety, consider having an expert do an evaluation.
- Security equipment. It’s imperative that video cameras, gates and any other components are in working order. Cameras should be clean and have a clear line of site. Make sure the video recorder works. Ensure emergency gate codes and alarms are operational.
There’s never a good time for a disaster or accident. That’s the point: You won’t see them coming! For that reason, it’s critical that your emergency-response equipment is always in its proper place, functional and ready. These include:
- Emergency lighting: In the event of a power outage, backup lighting can be a lifesaver, as it illuminates common areas and exit paths.
- Directional signage: Doors and exits must be clearly marked. Take a page from the hotel playbook and post “You Are Here” floor maps at entrances and elevators to show tenants their location and the appropriate emergency-exit path. Also, post clear signage with exit directions, keeping in mind that many safety doors lock behind people as they move through the property.
- Fire extinguishers: These must be properly inspected and tagged. Ensure they’re in their proper locations, with no damage to protective plexiglass. Some municipalities have tight rules on extinguishers and fire-sprinkler systems, so make sure your facility is up to code.
- First-aid kit. Every office should have a good one. Make sure it’s fully stocked and that the contents haven’t expired. Replace any out-of-date items immediately.
The safety measures we’ve discussed thus far have been part of standard self-storage operating procedures for decades. If 2020 taught us anything, though, it’s that we must be prepared for anything. COVID has made all of us acutely aware of the need to sanitize our work environments to help protect customers and staff.
Though many of us pivoted last year to run our properties remotely or in a contact-free way, some consumers still want to conduct transactions face to face. To accommodate them, it’s important that staff aren’t at risk and everyone feels safe. Here are some protocols to follow:
- Entry gate: If you don’t already offer mobile-app entry, now may be the time to upgrade your access control. At the very least, sanitize your keypad daily. Just be careful not to damage the equipment.
- Office/lobby: Require anyone inside the office to wear a mask. Keep a supply of inexpensive options on hand to give to customers who don’t have one. Install plexiglass dividers between staff and customers, just like at the local grocery store or bank. Place tape markings or decals on the floor at six-foot intervals to promote social distancing.
- High-touch areas: Invest in hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Staff will need them to clean the office and other touchpoints such as door handles, elevator buttons, moving carts, the restroom, etc. Also, make these available to customers throughout the facility.
- Payments: Consider shifting to a touchless payment system to eliminate the need to handle cash and cards. Take payments online or over the phone. Near-field communication (NFC) technology allows customers to pay by “tapping” their card near the equipment. It also allows those with NFC-enabled devices, like smartphones, to pay using digital wallets like Apple and Google Pay.
Safety should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind today. Take a fresh look at your self-storage facility as well as your policies and procedures to ensure you’re prepared to avoid and address incidents of illness or injury. Make sure tenants understand your site rules, and don’t be afraid to issue friendly reminders and safety tips in your regular communication.
Your ongoing, daily practices should be designed to ward off accidents, reduce risk and protect people from hazards—tangible and unseen. Any workable, sustainable safety program begins with awareness, and that begins with the eyes and actions of facility staff.
Jim Mooney Jr. is vice president of operations for Freedom Storage Management. He leverages his 20 years of experience to improve the performance of the company’s portfolio of Pennsylvania self-storage properties. He was formerly a vice president for Devon Self Storage, where he held various positions. He serves on the Pennsylvania Self Storage Association Board of Directors and has been a speaker at numerous industry events. To reach Jim, call 717.767.2735; email [email protected].