The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., is among the facilities that have committed to attaining GBAC Star accreditation. (OCCC.net)

New program will certify facilities’ disinfecting efforts

A new facility hygiene accreditation program formally unveiled Thursday by the Global Biorisk Advisory Council offers live event venues and other industries detailed guidelines and performance criteria on sanitation, disinfection and infectious disease prevention best practices. When followed, the program leads to a formal accreditation that’s expected be a key part of ensuring safety and restoring confidence amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Already committed to attaining the GBAC Star accreditation are Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, and several convention centers: Chicago’s McCormick Place; the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.; the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and Las Vegas Convention Center; and the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas.

The 20-point accreditation program answers facilities’ need for “a credible third-party certification they (can) slap on their door” to show they’ve taken steps toward operating disinfected facilities in as safe a manner as possible, said John Barrett, executive director of the advisory council’s parent organization, ISSA. That group was known until 2005 as the International Sanitary Supply Association.

Also committing support to the program are the International Association of Venue Managers, the International Facility Management Association and the Go Live Together coalition of leaders from the live events industry, formed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating impact.

The GBAC Star program is also suitable for other industries, including retail, hospitality and restaurants — Hyatt Hotels & Resorts and Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group are committed — as well as facilities like airports, train terminals and offices as it “establishes requirements to assist facilities with work practices, protocols, procedures and systems to control risks associated with infectious agents, such as SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19,” according to a statement released by the council.

There are even beauty industry and golf course versions, each with specific protocols.

“We basically modified the standard to suit each of these businesses, not just convention centers and football stadiums,” Barrett said.

Patricia Olinger, GBAC executive director, said in a statement that the program represents “the gold standard of safe facilities,” adding that the accreditation “empowers facility owners and managers to assure workers, customers and key stakeholders that they have proven systems in place to deliver clean and healthy environments that are safe for business.”

ISSA developed a 2 1/2-hour online accreditation course, launched about three weeks ago, for which over 12,000 signed up, but it wasn’t exactly what the market wanted, and the Star accreditation process was developed, Barrett said.

 As for IAVM, the group wanted a program that was suitable for venues large and small and specific versions have been tailored in response, with templates for each, Barrett said.

“IAVM was searching for resources and external partners to support our members with the recovery process, and ISSA is considered one of the leading trade association for the cleaning industry worldwide,” according to a statement from IAVM President and CEO Brad Mayne. “GBAC is a third-party entity which has a government affairs and regulatory team that works with federal, state and local regulators and policymakers to ensure that policies and regulations adopted allow the cleaning industry to be successful, while also providing their customers and the public with a cleaner and healthier environment. IAVM’s Events Industry Health & Safety Advisory Council has been working closely with GBAC and ISSA to provide guidelines and resources regarding deep cleaning, sanitizing, team training and venue certifications to our public assembly industry so that our member venues can safely reopen and recover.”

The 20 elements of the accreditation process range from standard operating procedures and risk assessment strategies to personal protective equipment, selection and use of chemicals, handling of hazardous waste as well as emergency preparedness and response measures, according to Barrett.

Facilities apply online at www,gbac.org and must provide documentation and supporting evidence before the GBAC Star Accreditation Council makes a determination.

The program was developed with an eye toward affordability, an important factor for revenue-challenged facilities, Barrett said. 

“We didn’t want price to be the reason (a facility) didn’t do this,” he said. A formula of 30 cents per seat per year with a cap of $15,000 for the largest venues is used to determine cost.

A final program element establishes a communication process for participants, who will receive information and updates at least every two weeks amid what’s sure to be a fluid and continuing situation as the pandemic creates “structural changes in the economy and in particular public gatherings,” Barrett said.

“This is going to be a hugely dynamic situation,” he said of the pandemic.

As for restoring the confidence of jittery event attendees, Barrett said “people are going to vote with their feet” and facilities and businesses will be faced with a choice of going it on their own, as in the case of Delta Air Lines’ Delta Clean program.

ASM Global recently announced its own facility environmental hygiene protocol, dubbed VenueShield, for the more than 325 facilities around the world that it manages “in response to evolving guest expectations, stemming from the coronavirus pandemic,” according to a late April news release.

Asked whether the GBAC Star accreditation and VenueShield were mutually exclusive, the facility management company responded: “ASM Global is gathering data and information from medical organizations, governmental agencies and several other sources in an effort to create VenueShield protocols for various facility types in its portfolio. VenueShield is willing to cooperate with any organization that furthers the mission of protecting its tenants, employees and guests.

While infectious disease outbreaks are nothing new — as evidenced by Legionnaires’ disease, various flu epidemics, sometimes deadly E.coli outbreaks and even Ebola — the current pandemic has focused global attention the issue, and facility sanitation, like never before.

“Cleaning used to be about pretty and nice-smelling,” Barrett said. “Everybody understands today that is not good enough.” 

“The public really wants to see a credible third-party designation,” he said. “That’s really the space we fit.” 

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated since it was originally posted.