Coronavirus Safety for Plumbing, HVAC, and Construction

Amid the ongoing spread of Coronavirus through our community and country, the safety and welfare of workers and customers in the plumbing, HVAC, and construction industries should be an immediate priority. We have taken immediate steps to ensure our residential and civil workers are safe, but there is still a lot to learn. So we’ve compiled a list of industry-specific best practices and resources to follow over the next several weeks and months.

The following information has been taken or adapted from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). All sources are cited whenever possible.

Wash your hands often. 

This is a common refrain from WHO and the CDC, and we’d all be smart to follow it. Since this is one of the most important steps to prevent spreading the virus, we’ve copied the instructions word-for-word from the CDC’s website:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

Keep sanitizer and disinfectant wipes on hand. Can’t get them? Be resourceful.

There is a national shortage of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Fortunately, we have secured an order of disinfectant wipes that we will make available to all of our plumbers and service technicians. We advise all companies and trades professionals to do the same, if possible.

Hand sanitizer is a different story. Since this product is largely unavailable, you should be prepared to make your own. We have ordered the ingredients to make large batches of hand sanitizer for use in our office and in the field, using instructions provided by WHO.

Avoid physical contact with customers and coworkers. 

According to WHO, you should avoid shaking hands with customers and coworkers. This can feel strange and impolite in an industry like residential plumbing and HVAC, where neighborly behavior is a big part of customer service. However, respiratory viruses like COVID-19 are highly contractable through skin-to-skin contact. All it takes touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with an unwashed hand to be infected.

The alternative: Wave, nod, bow . . . in short, be neighborly from a distance!

Clean and disinfect your tools and materials. 

The CDC says coronavirus may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials. While it appears that infection is more likely person-to-person, they still recommend cleaning and disinfecting oft-used surfaces. This includes tools and materials that you handle often. Clean them first to remove dirt and lower germ count, then follow up with a chemical disinfectant to kill the remaining germs.

Rubber gloves — or any gloves for that matter — do not prevent Coronavirus infection. 

According to WHO, you can still pick up COVID-19 contamination on rubber gloves. How? While gloves might protect your hands, the virus can still transfer from your gloves to your skin if you touch your face — which can lead to infection.

The alternative: Wash your hands regularly.

Screen potentially infected customers by asking the “Big Three” questions.

In order to protect residential plumbers and service technicians from contracting and spreading the virus, we are asking customers the following questions to better ensure visiting their homes are safe:

  1. Have you or anyone in your house traveled out of state in the last 14 days?
  2. Have you or anyone in your household recently experience a fever, runny nose, sore throat, or cough?
  3. Have you or anyone you have been in recent contact with tested positive for COVID-19?

If customers answer Yes to any of these questions, service may be denied and delayed for a minimum of two weeks — as determined by the service technician.

N95 masks are in high demand. Be mindful of how you use them.

Masks and the construction industry

Independent of Coronavirus concerns, construction workers must follow safety protocol regarding respiratory protection. OSHA requires respiratory protection on all job sites with harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, or vapors. This means wearing a N95 filtering facepiece respirator at minimum, used in (we quote OSHA exactly) “the context of a comprehensive, written respiratory protection program that includes fit-testing, training, and medical exams.”

However, health professionals also depend on N95 respirators for safely treating patients infected with COVID-19 — and there is a shortage in supply. This has put the construction industry in a position to help. The Trump administration has requested construction companies donate their excess masks to hospital and healthcare providers in need. So if your construction company has a surplus of masks, we recommend you donate them to a healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Masks and Coronavirus

Considering the shortage of masks, it’s important to clarify the use of masks and their protection against Coronavirus. Regarding the most appropriate times to use a mask, here is a list from WHO, taken verbatim:

  • If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.

Whether or not you are required to do it, ensure your respiratory safety by conducting a user seal check on your mask.

Take note of the following list of symptoms in order to recognize them for yourself, your coworkers, and your customers.

Unsure of what symptoms to look for? Refer to this list, based on a report from the World Heath Organization, which outlines the most common symptoms of Coronavirus. These symptoms are listed in descending order of the most relevant indicators that you, a coworker, or a customer may be infected.

  • Fever (88%)
  • Dry cough (68%)
  • Fatigue (38%)
  • Phlegm (33%)
  • Shortness of breath (19%)
  • Muscle or joint pain (15%)
  • Sore throat (14%)
  • Headache (14%)
  • Chills (11%)
  • Vomiting (5%)
  • Stuffed nose (5%)
  • Diarrhea (4%)

Have more questions? Refer to these resources.

OSHA: Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19

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