The heating and plumbing industry carry out essential front-line work to maintain the supply of heating and hot water to UK homes, schools, hospitals and businesses. It cannot simply cease to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, says the HHIC.
Therefore, HHIC has identified a number of actions that front-line engineers – who are currently still operating – can take to help protect themselves and their customers. These are based on government recommendations, which can change frequently.
• When discussing an appointment with your customer/s, ask if they or any occupants are self-isolating, displaying any symptoms of COVID-19, and/or have received a positive diagnosis
• Where the householders are not self-isolating, displaying any symptoms, and have not been diagnosed, there is no reason not to undertake the planned work, while exercising general best practice in line with the latest government guidance for the public: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public
• If householders are self-isolating, you must consider the nature of the work, and also the vulnerability of the householders. Additional precautions should be taken if the work is to proceed, which could include additional PPE, such as disposable overalls, disposable gloves, eye protection, and suitable face mask*
• Government guidance is continually evolving, but be especially vigilant of those who are most at risk, such as the over-70s, and those who have underlying health issues
• As well as protecting yourself, and householders, you should also consider the welfare of any colleagues, especially if they fall into one of the vulnerable categories.
Practical steps to take when working in the field
• On the day of the work, call ahead to your customer to ask if they or any occupants have signs of the virus, have been diagnosed, or are self-isolating, and to check that they are comfortable with your visit to take place
• Explain what you will be doing, and why, and that you will need to maintain a safe distance from them (2m or 6 steps away is current government advice), including when you’re waiting for the customer to open the door
• Do not shake hands
• Ask the occupants to stay in another room, away from the work area(s) while the work proceeds. With permission ventilate the work area where appropriate, eg, by opening a window
• Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds at the start of the job and afterwards (also during the work). It is recommended to carry your own hand-towel with your equipment. Wash and replace your hand-towel at end of each day or shift
• Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol if soap and water are not available
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
• Wear suitable work gloves
• If you feel unsafe or at risk at any point, undertake a personal risk assessment and leave the premises if necessary. You can re-plan for a future date if appropriate, after ensuring that everything has been made safe
• Customer/engineer signature – is this required by the work? Can it be avoided, or an electronic copy can be sent on the day, or at a later date (use and/or sharing of pens, tablets or mobile phones may pose a risk of contamination/infection)
• Wipe down any operational rubber gloves, tools and instruments used within the premises
• Remove and place into a plastic bag any wipes, disposable gloves and overalls used, while trying not to cross-contaminate on to existing clothes or people
• Do not touch your face
• Ensure you then clean/wash your hands, and where possible/appropriate any reusable PPE (such as safety glasses), using soap and water, or use suitable hand sanitiser on hands before moving to your next job
• At the end of each day, and following the appropriate local waste regulations, dispose of any bagged waste in line with any existing business process and/or government guidance.
Update 24 March 2020:
*HHIC’s Technical team advised the following when we asked about the most suitable form of mask to use: “We are not sure this recommendation exists for Coronavirus protection in the way it does for known hazards such as asbestos. And although there seem to be mixed views, it seems logical that a mask of some description provides a better level of protection. The FFP3 mask is the best disposable mask available and would offer a comparatively good level of protection, based on what we know.”
Note: this guidance is to assist the business/individual. It does not form an official process.