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29 October 2007

How SAFE is your hotel?

How SAFE is your HOTEL ... or Company???

By Hoda Nassef

In comparison to all the countries in the world, Egypt rates as one of the safest countries to live in, and to visit. But, is your hotel really safe? Are you doing enough to ensure the safety and good health of your Guests? In recent years a new job post, “Industrial Safety Officer”, has been applied to industries, factories and hotels. The position sometimes goes by the name of “Industrial Hygiene & Safety”. The correct name, however, is “Industrial, Hygiene & Vocational Hazards Officer”. This key position has become mandatory in many hotels for the general safety of all personnel and guests.

Some hotels do not apply all the essential safety rules, and are not even aware of the necessity of this key job position. Other hotels simply train some members of the personnel staff from an outside organization for safety, in lieu of having their own permanent staff solely responsible for implementing safety rules, as well as training the other departments. In any case, why not read this to review all possible angles of safety, as sort of a self-test for your own reassurance? If you feel you do not comply with all the safety measures mentioned, then perhaps you will reconsider hiring more personnel specialized in the field of safety and hygiene. I will gradually mention subjects that may not even be included in the criteria of the aforesaid job description, but comes from simple common sense, which I am sure you all possess, but could be applied to some minor issues which anyone may sometimes overlook.

So, let’s begin!…

How safe are you in case of a sudden fire? Do you have smoke detectors in all your halls, corridors, rooms, Guest Outlets and Executive Rooms, as well as employees’ offices? Are they really functioning? Have you tested them lately? What about the fire extinguishers? Do they work? Do your employees know how to use them? Have you trained them, or trained a group from each department on how to use the fire extinguishers? Is there a ready functioning water supply? Can they reach all angles, top to bottom?

The prevention is better than the cure, as they say, so to avoid fire, first check the smoke detectors. Then, check all the electrical wires and network, fuses, sockets, lamps, and generators. Be sure that all electrical appliances are safe and in working condition, in all the Guest Rooms, and that the electrical wires are not fazed, exposed, or damp. Be sure to have on all floors equally paced fire extinguishers, buckets of sand and ashtray stands. Check that your Guests are not using electric cookers or heaters in their rooms. Also, make them aware of your Hotel Regulations, as well as the voltage in Egypt.

Despite all precautions, a fire might break out, say, from someone’s cigarette butt carelessly tossed away. Do you have Emergency Exits? Arrows placed clearly on the corridor walls to indicate directions of Emergency Exit Doors? Have you placed arrows on night lamps, for night emergencies? Have you trained your personnel what to do? Do you have regular drills for all employees, old and new, on how to act (and assist the Guests) during evacuation? Different drills should be given, by a professional organization, for earthquakes (Heaven forbid!) – especially along the Red Sea Coastal resorts. Also, drills on what to do in case of floods, especially in Sharm El-Sheikh, Dahab and Nuweiba. Do you have pamphlets in Guestrooms to instruct them what to do, where to go, or whom to contact during emergencies? Or, maps in each Guestroom indicating the nearest Emergency Exit in proximity to each room?

Ever since the “Luxor Incident” a few years ago, then the Taba attack, our Government has tightened security procedures, from airports to hotels and other tourist sites. All hotels and beach resorts are now enforced to install bomb detector doors at all entrances and exits, or else have their licenses revoked.

But, let’s start with the basic rules of security. Naturally, by now you have installed bomb detectors (as in the airports) in all your hotel entrances. You also have screened and employed a good number of alert and reliable Security Personnel. Most probably they are also equipped with emergency flashlights, and manual body detectors.

What about the Receiving Gates or doors, where the Kitchen and Purchasing Departments receive all their goods; foodstuff, meat, fish, poultry, furniture, office supplies, etc? Have you installed security doors and bomb detectors there too? Have you taken photocopies of ID’s and fingerprints of all your constant Suppliers? Have you checked their car and/or truck licenses with the Authorities? Have you taken I.D. photocopies of your elevator maintenance, or other outside technical or manual labourers? Have you placed Security Personnel along the beaches, and at all possible entrances, whether by Sea, through adjoining beaches, or from the street? Even if your Visitors are just from local couriers, screen them with body detectors, and screen their parcels before entry to Hotel.

By now you are relatively sure that your Guests are safe from fire and potential lunatics or terrorists. But do they feel as sure as you do? Have you conveyed the feeling of security to them?

Little things, irrelevant to security, can make your Guests feel more at ease. Advise, for example, your waiters not to hover in little groups and grumble or mumble about their personal problems to each other in the Restaurants; a Guest may feel that they are “plotting” something. A neat and clean-shaven face is more likely to make the Guests feel safe and at ease (in Housekeeping and Room Service); besides looking less tough and ‘macho’, defining a young man’s features is also more reassuring to them. Make your Guests aware that they are watched over and protected – without actually letting them witness anyone in uniform hovering around them and impeding on their privacy. Never let them see guns or holsters; it will give an adverse effect.

Now that you’ve taken care of the ‘natural disasters”, how about checking up on the “human touch” – and I mean that literally! You may be a 5-Stars Hotel or Beach Resort, with several outlets (restaurants) boasting of magnificent décor, sumptuous buffets, gourmet menus – but somehow your Guests end up having serious stomach disorders, diarrhea, or even food poisoning. No matter how experienced, ‘Continental’, or excellent your Executive Chef, Chefs and other Cooks are – if they do not know the basics of hygiene, then they can be downgraded to “zero”. Start checking, A to Z. First, be sure you buy fresh food from your suppliers. Be sure your products have not been grown or bred in pesticides and hormones, and that the meats are not defrosted, then frozen again. Be sure that your kitchens are sterile, spotless and healthy – (i.e. clean and not sprayed with pesticides) and are without rodents - (check the air ducts). If you have to spray, then put away all food in sealed containers, and cook over sterile tops afterwards.

Check water tanks, and water filters, making sure that they are always clean and the filters replaced by new ones. Analyze your water at a well-known chemist or laboratory.

At all times, wear rubber or disposable cellophane gloves while cooking or handling food. This is mandatory, to avoid possible diseases or microbes being transferred. And, for goodness’ sakes, do not let anyone with any type of contagious cold or disease work in the kitchen, until he/she is completely cured, verified by a doctor’s certificate. Do not store partially molded food – throw the whole lot away, and do not keep your pet cats (or parakeets) in the kitchens!

Big hotel kitchens should be treated as hospitals … no outside personnel should walk in and out of it, like a bus station (as a short cut) – apart from the F & B Staff only. And remember, whether you are 5-Stars or 2-Stars, serve Salmon Fumé or Felafil, a clean kitchen and tasty food will get you Repeat Guests – as well as a good reputation.

O.K., so your Guest went and ate outside, and got sick anyhow. Not your fault, naturally, but do you have an emergency First Aid Kit stashed away with the Personnel Department? Does your Hotel have access to a good Doctor? Telephone numbers ready with the Operators? A live-in (resident) Doctor? A hotel Clinic? Doctors, 24-hours availability? Telephone numbers of the nearest Hospital and Decompression Units for diving-related emergencies? Speaking about diving, do you have Lifeguards at your swimming pools and beach areas?

And, how are you taking care of your Employees? Do they have medical insurance, and proper medical care? Are they “vocational & industrial hazard-ly” trained — to protect themselves? Are they well-trained on how to use they heavy-duty machinery and equipment? Do they protect their hands against laundry chemicals, and wear oxygen masks while spraying pesticides? Are the kitchens and laundry areas well ventilated? Do they have full knowledge on how to use the fire extinguishers, and what to do in case of 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree burns? Do all your employees have basic First Aid knowledge? For instance, what would YOU do if you saw a Guest choking on a piece of meat? Are you trained to cope? If your employees can help themselves, whey will be more capable in assisting their colleagues, as well as the Guests.

So, everybody is now feeling certain that their Hotel is very safe indeed. But, don’t get too smug, because accidents do happen, no matter what precautions you take - even at home! A Scenario: There you are, making the rounds one afternoon and checking on everything. You decide to have your daily meal, enter a restaurant, and notice a boisterous group having a rowdy good time. Suddenly, the ‘joker’ of the group chokes on a piece of toast because his tipsy wife walks right through a glass door. Don’t panic! Call an ambulance while you have some hefty guy grasp the choking man (from behind), put a fist to his stomach (under the ribs in the center) then heave upwards several times, till the air propels the congested bread outwards. Someone else checks on his wife and the seriousness of the cuts from the glass, removes carefully all glass particles, and lightly bandages the cuts to reduce bleeding. Morale: be sure your glass windows or doors are distinguishable! If your doors, partitions and windows are not already etched or fumé, then place stickers - (hotel baggage stickers) - in the center of each.

As for your handicapped Guests, hopefully all hotels have smooth wheelchair ramps, apart from the actual wheelchairs. One or 2 wheelchairs for emergencies are expected, as well as spare crutches. Wheelchairs should be easily accessible to stairs and elevators, or, makeshift wooden ramps can be built over parts of the steps, and the freight elevator instead. Speaking about elevators, are the inside alarms or intercoms working?

Swimming pools should be regularly cleaned and the chloroform checked and analysed, to avoid skin diseases. Underwater spotlights should be very carefully checked, to avoid electric shocks.

Sand on the beaches should be daily raked and smoothed out, not only to make the beach look neat and pretty, but mainly as a necessary means to rake out the debris or sharp articles which may injure the feet.

Now that the Guest’s physical being has been taken care of, make sure that all his/her possessions are also safe. All Guests should have their own safe deposit boxes, free of charge, at the Front Office, where they are made aware of upon arrival. Apart from informing them of their safes in order to put their valuables and important documents, such as gold, jewelry, money, credit cards and passports, you must also advise them that anything valuable lost or stolen on the beach or in their rooms is partially their responsibility; they have safe deposit boxes for the purpose of avoiding loss or theft. Sometimes Guests may misplace their possessions, forget them while shopping or on the beach, or even (rarely) steal from each other.
Naturally, all junior employees leaving the main Hotel to their Staff Housing units, should be checked. That is, their parcels checked daily, and their luggage checked when travelling back home after three weeks’ work at the Resorts. If a theft occurs in the Hotel, then the Staff taking care of that particular room at that time should be physically checked - in an inoffensive “routine” manner. You don’t want to risk humiliating the employee, hurt his pride and self-esteem and eventually ruin his reputation; he/she may be innocent. So, be careful in your investigations. Some Guests actually admit later on that they were not sure if they brought the ‘missing item’ to Egypt, in the first place, or perhaps they forgot the ‘missing item’ at the airport, etc.

Let the Guest Relations personnel advise your female Guests not to walk around in the streets, construction sites, or remote areas, without proper clothes. It would be wiser to confine their swimming outfits to the swimming pools and beach areas only.

Last, but not least, concerns our summer climate. It is quite unpredictable and deceptive to foreigners. So, make sure they are instructed on how to avoid a sun-stroke, instead of getting a sun tan. The Guests should receive a nice standard letter from the Hotel’s Doctor (or General Manager) with related information to their health, diving precautions, sun lotions, hats, feet protection, coral reefs instructions, water consumption, air-conditioning, etc.

The winter season is even more receptive to tourists, especially considering that our weather is much warmer then in Europe or elsewhere, as well as relatively civilized, with lots to do and see. Plus, a greater influx of working foreigners, as well as students. So, give your hotel a real makeover...in safety!

Your ultimate goal is to have your Guests enjoy themselves, feel safe, relaxed, happy, remain healthy throughout their stay – and come again. By implementing all the above safety measures, you will become a truly safe haven – and …a “home away from home”.


H.N.

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