Facilities management (FM) is a broad church for warehouses but security surely forms a large part of it because warehouses are under potential attack from many sources, human, animal and natural. Security could also said to include good housekeeping through adequate cleanliness to reduce the risk of infestation, as well as accidents. Ignoring these issues by skimping on maintenance budgets only invites bigger bills down the line or worse.

The changing nature of some warehouses, like the switch to JIT deliveries, puts even greater pressure on management to ensure all facilities are managed well, while certain storage operations, like food and pharma, will put more emphasis on pest control. Now while it is true that working warehouses harder means more expense, any improvements to warehouse maintenance and security need not mean higher running costs in the long term. It may well be, though, that when planning a new warehouse that due consideration of all these FM cost suggests that the alternative option of a third party, shared user warehouse would be a more sensible choice.

Part of any good FM regime must be adequate, regular maintenance. This is particularly important over fire hazards because every warehouse manager’s worst nightmare is fire and half of all warehouse fires are considered maliciously caused. In large warehouses where sprinkler systems are mandatory it is critical that they are properly maintained because there have been costly occasions when sprinklers failed to operate, or operated when they should not. This happened in both ways to the MoD Donnington stores back in the 1980s which at the time was Britain’s most costly fire exceeding over £160 million. Not long after, ensconced in their new replacement warehouse, one of the high bay chambers was flooded out by the sprinklers when it should not have activated.

FM costs come in many guises, especially if there is maintenance neglect. They can include poor floors that lead to high costs for forklift truck maintenance and productivity, racking repairs, product damage, accidents and fires. Badly cracked floors with severely crumbling joints can also be home to many pest infestations all over the premises but there is now a more efficient and environmentally-friendly approach for rodents like that from Mitie which delivers an ‘intelligent pest management’ that monitors and pre-empts activity patterns so that rodenticide can be targeted, if required.

Crime is a growing problem, forcing warehouse operators to make security an even bigger priority. Employing security staff is costly, but CCTV and intruder alarms are affordable, especially if they are shared by other businesses on industrial estates.

To return to the fire hazard risk, extra care will be needed if the stored products are particularly high risk, like butane gas cylinders. The sensible approach here would be to isolate high risk products with high grade fire walls. Commodity fire hazard tests will help classify the risks.

As a mind concentrator, insurance may pay for a destroyed warehouse and its contents but it is unlikely to compensate for a tarnished business reputation. For a company offering JIT services, a serious fire could be terminal and it seems that most single site businesses that have one can be expected to shut down within 18 months.