COVID-19 Resources for Contractors (PDF)

COVID-19 – be the best that we can be!

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It’s becoming a different world for HVAC and plumbing technicians as they go into people’s homes to service equipment.

By Glenn Mellors

That sounds like an enlistment advertisement for the U.S. Marines. But that’s how we need to think as we go in and out of people’s homes providing essential heating, cooling and hot water to our clients.

Some of you may deem annual equipment maintenances as essential to the safe and efficient operation of the home’s comfort system. We are not going to discuss mechanical issues, tricks and short cuts, but rather how we can be the best that we can be in doing our part in reducing the spread of bacteria and viruses.

COVID-19 may be the catalyst to prompt these discussions, but there have been other diseases that have passed our way and I cannot say with confidence that we always do our part in controlling the spread of viruses. So, I guess what we are talking about is looking at our world going forward and not just a snapshot of today.

The transmission – most viruses are spread through human contact, our breath primarily, which is known as droplet contamination. As we exhale, viruses and bacteria are carried in the air attached to vapour droplets. They can be absorbed by inhaling the vapour, allowing the germs access to our mucus membranes.  This is where the easiest transmission occurs. Coughing, sneezing and just talking can propel these germs a few feet away toward the person being infected.

What we are finding out now is that the vapour droplets can land on other surfaces and have an active transmission time of varying lengths. This is based on the type of virus. It is important to note that wiping an area with the intent to clean or disinfect a potentially contaminated area takes more than just a few seconds. Dwell time, as it is known, is the amount of time a cleaning product may need to sit in order to have an active kill rate before it is removed by washing, rinsing or wiping.  Products commercially sold typically require 15-30 seconds of dwell time to perform a 100 percent kill rate.

Understanding the issue

Try this simple and fun test:

To better understand how we participate in the active transmission of germs from one place to another, we are going to ask you to participate in a test within your own business setting without anyone watching or listening. There is no pass or failing grade. All you have to risk is to get a little dusty and dirty. The upside is you will come away from this experiment with a tremendous amount of new knowledge for the safety of yourself, your family and your clients.

You will need the following:

  • You, dressed for work, with or without personal protection equipment (PPE)
  • Your truck
  • Your normal tools and paperwork
  • Cellphone
  • Smokes if you have them
  • Some sort of aluminum pie plate
  • Lots of chalk dust (blue line chalk works great or crush up a piece of sidewalk chalk)
  • Clip board, if you use one

Let’s go to work! Your assignment starts in your truck and finishes in your truck. Wherever you choose to perform this experiment, home or shop, it must have a furnace or A/C.

Follow these steps:

  • Park at the jobsite.
  • Your task is to perform a full maintenance on the equipment.
  • Enter the facility/home as you normally would.
  • Gloves are optional; if you haven’t been wearing them, then don’t.
  • Place the pie plate beside the piece of equipment – i.e.: furnace or A/C. Pour a generous amount of chalk dust onto the pie plate.
  • Spread your hands open like a star and touch each finger in the chalk, yes, all ten of them. The chalk will simulate bacteria, virus or germs.
  • Now, each time you touch anything in the house that is not yours, return to the plate of chalk and reload your fingertips before touching something else in the client’s home/facility.
  • Go about completing the job doing what you would normally do while including the chalk.
  • Once completed, do up the paperwork, collect the revenue (practice as if it is cash).
  • Put all tools away and drive to a coffee shop or take your usual coffee break.
  • Have your coffee, smoke and whatever else you do.
  • Drive back to shop, get out and stand in front of a mirror.

When you look in the mirror, if you are like everyone that has tried this, you will see chalk on several areas of your body.  I have watched people touch their eyes, nose and mouth as well as answer their cell phone which puts chalk all over their cheek. Lips are blue, from smoking or holding a pen or flashlight in their mouth. Clothing is covered, breast pocket area looks like a war zone as well as pant pockets and the zipper of the fly area and you can imagine what else.

Now let’s go back to the truck and look at the seat, steering wheel, door handles and anywhere else your fingers go daily. Look at your cellphone, now that’s gross! Open the toolbox, lots of blue dust there and finally, the cash and paperwork you are about pass along, yes, it is covered too.

And finally, the day is over, and you return to the safe haven of your own home, greeted by your spouse, your kids, your pets…

Now if this experiment doesn’t make you aware of how we do our job is spreading germs, nothing will!

So, what should we do?

Personal hot spots

Well congratulations, you just did a huge part by educating yourself and identifying areas that are your personal hot spots.  You have also realized that going from one house to another without a complete inventory of PPE to wear is irresponsible.

It would also be irresponsible to tell you what PPE you require; however, the experiment did that for you.  Everywhere you see blue is an indicator that you need to cover it, wash it, disinfect it or replace it before you enter a new location, albeit a job site or at home with your loved ones.

Follow these simple rules:

  • If it’s not yours don’t touch it, don’t taste it i.e. pens, penlights etc.
  • Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water often.
  • Don’t touch your face/mouth/eyes/nose/ears.
  • Don’t shake hands or touch others in any way.
  • Avoid touching and paying with cash.
  • Wipe down electronics at breakfast lunch and supper.
  • Put all used PPE in a plastic waste bag (carry bags in trucks).
  • Remove work clothes, shower and launder clothing as soon as you enter your home BEFORE greeting your family.

Follow the steps that are outlined, and you are on your way to becoming the “best that you can be!”

Play safe and know that everyone appreciates your efforts in keeping us safe, comfortable and healthy during this unprecedented time of pandemic as well as moving forward in the future!

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