COVID-19 Resources for Contractors (PDF)

Contractors struggle though pandemic

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Plumber Robert Szachury, right, dons a full protective suit and breathing mask in preparation to enter a sewage tank to change out a pump as the vacuum truck operator stands by.

By Leah Den Hartogh

Contractors are taking a hard hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. Most contractors are trying to continue operations while keeping employees and customers safe.

In Calgary, Pete the Plumber has been operating at normal capacity with a limited amount of slowdown. “Plumbing doesn’t stop because we need the toilets, sewers, and main drain working. Whether you are still sick, bathing, on self-containment, they still need to be kept clean. We are an essential service and I don’t think anybody would disagree with that,” said Pete Archdekin, co-owner of Pete the Plumber.

“Just follow the rules when they’re being offered. Be careful, clean, and look after yourself,” said Kevin Henn, director of Plumbing Medic Ltd., Beaverton, Ont. He has increased the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by his employees and is making sure that every worker is using hand sanitizer. Business has slowed and hours are down, but all staff are still working.

Pete the Plumber runs a showroom that has been closed during the pandemic. The dispatchers have been isolated to minimize contact with others

So far, at press time, business was fairly normal. Non-urgent jobs have been put on hold to protect the staff. Workers have been provided with gloves and masks, and in certain cases, they are provided with tear-away coveralls.

“We don’t want waste that’s infected to splash up on us right now. We’ve got all the guys a can of wipes and a can of disinfectant hand cleaner. The last thing I want is one of my guys down because if a truck is not moving, it’s not good for anybody,” explains Archdekin.

Once or twice a day, Archdekin will visit to drop off paperwork. Otherwise, they have been trying to keep dispatchers away from those that are still on the job site. In addition, the trades have been told not to congregate.

There is still concern about whether his company will be forced to shut down in the future and whether or not calls will keep coming in. “We will get over this. We will get on the mend. I am worried about the long-term effect this will have on us as a country. In the long run, I think that the whole group of people needing my company’s services will shrink because they won’t have the money to spend on renovations.

“I’m optimistic, we’re Canadian and we’ll bounce back. We’re the toughest nation in the world,” he added.

Plumbers have been advised to expect the COVID-19 virus is present in all drainage systems.

Better than normal

While most companies are experiencing a slowdown due to the virus, some are thriving. Turbo Plumbing and Heating in Pemberton, B.C. has seen a 50 percent increase and is now at the point where it might soon have to turn work away. In addition, they have not seen any shortage of material for their work.

“Quotes are being sent out like Pez dispensers,” said Robert Szachury, owner and chief plumbing/gas fitter. Since many buildings have little to no public traffic during the pandemic, it has become an opportune timing for hotels and other businesses to have work done. Jobs can be completed quicker. There is little concern about disrupting the building since it is mostly empty. They have been able to “hyper accelerate” the work, reports Szachury.

For the most part, he hasn’t seen much change in the community and noted that he still sees people walking hand-in-hand around neighbourhoods. There hasn’t been much change in policy either as his business booms. They will grant employees leave if they are concerned about the virus.

The company understands that it is are an oddity with everything that is going on, added Szachury.

Everything is new

Canadians are struggling with the COVID-19 crisis, not just because of the danger, but because nobody has experienced anything like it in their lifetime. At press time, worldwide, there were over two million cases and over 140,000 deaths from the deadly virus. In Canada, there were 30,000 cases with over 1,200 deaths. Across the country, Canadians witness what is happening in countries like the United States, Spain, or Italy as a warning for what it could look like soon enough if we don’t come together to beat this virus.

Almost everyone is feeling the effects. Workers are being laid off. Businesses are being forced to close or severely restrict operations.

The plumbing and HVAC/R industry has largely been deemed essential by most provinces. Many contractors continue to provide essential repairs. New construction is allowed to continue in some provinces. In Ontario, for example, new residential construction has been told to close, but projects deemed critical have been allowed to continue. Employers are required to take every reasonable precaution to keep their employees safe.

The British Columbia government defines essential services as daily services essential to “preserving life, health, public safety, and basic societal functioning.” Alberta and Manitoba have also declared the construction industry an essential service.

The Quebec government has ordered the closing of all non-essential stores and services as of March 25. Construction has been deemed non-essential, but electricians, plumbers and other trades and support industries like equipment rental are considered essential for emergency service and repair.

Saskatchewan also released a comprehensive list of essential services allowed to continue operating, which includes construction. The province has also limited the size of public and private gatherings to a maximum of 10 people. All changes are effective as of March 26.

It is unclear when this will all come to an end. Some experts have said that this is likely to go for another few months. Hopefully, businesses will be able to ride this storm out.

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