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Operating Safely Across the Globe

Health & Wellness |  12.15.2020
In the last nine months, the way we live, work, and gather has been completely altered. As states, cities, and companies plan for how to gradually resume operations, we recognize that Aramark has a unique role to play in helping our clients safely reopen. We spoke to Allan Fernandes, Vice President, Global Safety & Risk Control, about what people will expect from the transition back into workplaces, educational institutions, hospitals, and sports arenas and our measures to ensure the safety of our employees, clients, and customers.

Q: What does safety mean to Aramark, especially in the face of a worldwide pandemic?

Safety means protecting our most valuable asset: the hundreds of thousands of people who work for us around the globe and the customers that we serve. Safety is the common thread throughout our business operations. We truly believe that those who do it well will thrive in the months to come.

Q: What prepares the team for an event like the coronavirus outbreak?

Needless to say, this is an event that people didn’t plan for.

In my 13 years with Aramark, it's been my job to think about what might go wrong. My team and I have managed risk for large-scale events such as the Olympics and the Super Bowl, and we were in Chile when the big earthquake hit in 2010. We also have institutional knowledge from working through the Ebola and H1N1 outbreaks.

Our Global Safety & Risk Team supports our global coronavirus response committee with representatives from legal, human resources, finance, operations, IT, and other business functions. When our colleagues in China shared early lessons back in January 2020, we knew there would soon be an increased focus on disinfecting, cleaning, and sanitizing. We immediately started creating new tools, processes, and continuity plans, and adapting our supply chain.

Q: Supply shortages were a hallmark early on in the crisis. How did you solve for that?

Early on in the pandemic, there were marketplace shortages of proper chemicals, personal protective equipment (PPE), and other critical supplies. In February, we decided to build up strategic inventories on behalf of our clients—everything from safety equipment for our employees to healthcare-grade disinfecting wipes that provide both a clean environment and peace of mind.

Fast-forward to today, and we have a significant inventory of gowns and face masks on hand, including N95 masks. We’ve sourced sanitizers, knowing they would be in high demand, and have been providing them to schools that have returned to in-person learning.

As we started to reopen some higher education dining locations, we included partitions for added protection. 

 Q: What will be on consumers' minds when they return to work, school, and play—and need to eat?

For months now, we have been tracking and responding to consumer research conducted by food industry market research firm Datassential and Aramark’s own proprietary consumer insights panel. We know consumers will initially order more to-go meals—with a preference for mobile ordering and cashless payments to limit the number of touchpoints. They'll be drawn to foods that are convenient and pre-packaged, and we've retooled our menus to meet these needs.

In higher education, meanwhile, there is a strong desire to return to as normal an environment as possible. Students want to live on campus and participate in the meal plan, safely. We can offer expanded dining hours, touchless ordering and payment, and on-campus food delivery to address those needs.

Where our locations have already reopened, consumer response to the safety and cleaning protocols has been overwhelmingly positive. Above all, empathy must come first—not just for consumers, but for our partners and employees too. To reassure and build trust, we must communicate all that we’re doing around safety.

"The social currency of the near future is going to be showing that you care. It will have a direct impact on everything from business performance to customer satisfaction to safety."
- Allan Fernandes, Vice President, Global Safety & Risk Control

Q: What is Aramark's Target Zero goal, and how does it apply now? 

Our global vision has always been to create a zero-harm culture—no harm to our people, to our consumers, or to the environment. Target Zero has been a journey, and our COVID-19 response is the latest phase.

We have a longstanding framework called Aramark SAFE (Safety Assurance in Food and Environments) to identify, evaluate, and manage risk throughout the organization. We've been adapting our service model for the new risks posed by the pandemic.

Building on our efforts to date, in May we announced EverSafeTM, a holistic platform to support the safe reopening and sustainable management of our client locations around the globe. This is a partnership with another Philadelphia-based company, Jefferson Health. We developed EverSafe based on guidelines from leading health organizations and leveraging research around transitioning back to the workplace, educational institutions, hospitals, and sports arenas. It is really an evolution of our promise to provide the most hygienic and safe environments for our employees, clients, customers, and guests.

Q: How are you engaging Aramark associates?

We strongly believe in open, frequent, and honest communications. Without employee engagement, our Target Zero vision will never be achieved. We set up a special inbox and have established a centralized team that manages employee inquiries quickly and effectively.

In addition, our associate training materials include bite-sized videos, quizzes, role-play exercises, and other media. When you engage folks in out-of-the-box ways, they are more likely to retain and use the knowledge.

Engaging employees’ families and loved ones can help reduce the spread of the virus. For example, we shipped care kits to families of our team members in South America to reinforce social distancing, handwashing, and other safety practices being followed in the workplace. Our frontline workers are the heroes, so if we can make their lives both safer and easier, then we've done our job.

We're also addressing their emotional needs and developed guidance on how to deal with mental and psychological stress.

It's very easy to inundate teams with checklists, but it's equally critical that we bring them back to work in the proper frame of mind.

Q: What is involved with the safe reopening of a client location?

We have the benefit of learning from our operations across the globe, as China and Korea were the first to reopen. Numbers are trending positively in Chile, Mexico, and Argentina as well. Overall, our reopening protocols have been very well received.

An example from when we reopened in Chile of no contact solutions put in place to protect Aramark employees and customers alike. 

As for the U.S., the initial planning phase was completed in the spring, and we’ve reopened some locations. We have new checklists, documentations, and trainings in several different languages. Of course, there’s a major focus on hand and respiratory hygiene. We have new cleaning protocols, café floorplans, signage, touchless dispensing stations, you name it. By minimizing these uncertainties, we can provide peace of mind for our clients. 

We share our reopening plans, partners share theirs, and we align for business continuity. Many want to know about disinfecting products because there are so many purported silver bullets out there, like fogging machines. We confer with the EPA and CDC to determine their actual efficacy, then advise clients to ensure that we're using the best products on the market.

It’s worth noting that our services often extend well beyond food. Again, we can source key supplies for our clients, in part because our uniforms business redeployed production lines in the spring to make facial coverings and other personal protective equipment (PPE). We have also helped many companies deep-clean and upgrade their facilities. Whether it's the immediate treatment of an active COVID-19 space with advanced disinfection techniques or ensuring that building systems work properly and address new CDC guidelines, we help our clients fully prepare for reopening

Across our locations, we follow CDC guidelines when it comes to sanitation and disinfection procedures.

Q: What's next?

We shouldn't assume the return to normal will be linear. My team has long anticipated there will be a rebound in virus cases as we head into winter—and public health data is already bearing that out. So, the next question becomes: How do we, together with our clients, stay agile enough to pivot, operationally and psychologically?

We strive for continuous improvement, so we are better prepared when the next wave does come. We also believe in taking a global approach—while I may sit in the U.S., my team’s work must apply to and be understood in all these other countries, to be truly effective.

The social currency of the near future is going to be showing that you care. It will have a direct impact on everything from business performance to customer satisfaction to safety.

We thank Allan for providing his critical insights at this important time. Learn more about Aramark’s COVID-19 response.