Tricks of the Trade

Safety tips for residential contractors working during a pandemic

Skilled trade workers have always played a vital role in maintaining the infrastructure of homes and businesses. The critical nature of skilled trade work was underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic that took the world by storm in 2020. In the United States, most states issued stay-at-home orders that limited the ability of certain business sectors to operate. Being deemed essential, the skilled trade industry was an exception to these limitations.

While other business sectors have shifted to remote work, this is not an option for skilled trade workers like HVAC contractors and plumbers. All business sectors have been forced to adapt to working during a pandemic, but plumbers and HVAC contractors who make residential service calls face unique challenges since the job requires entering customers’ homes. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, issued a guidance on returning to work, and the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC outlined safety steps to prevent getting sick. Residential service contractors can follow these do’s and don’ts based on OSHA and CDC guidelines to protect their health and the health of their crew and customers alike.

  • DO be transparent with your customers.

    Navigating how to run a residential service business during a pandemic is undoubtedly a challenge, but keeping an open line of communication with customers can make it easier. Acknowledging customer concerns and discussing a pandemic response plan are simple steps to take. Ray has taken extra precautions on service calls to mitigate customer concerns and be aware of potential risks of exposure.

    “We call the customer before we come and ask them about the situation in their home in terms of asking if anyone has tested positive or has been exposed to someone who tested positive. In certain cases we have carried in our own portable air purifier so we can plug it in and run it in the room we are working in,” Ray said.

    Shawn is also being cautious and communicating with customers.

    “We ask many questions about the situation in the home as well so we are protected. We have had a request that only one service technician be in the home at a time.”

    Pro tip: Smart home systems are beginning to incorporate the power of predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to self-diagnose HVAC system problems. Contractors can leverage these emerging AI technologies to know what’s broken prior to responding to a service call. This allows them to spend a shorter amount of time inside a customer’s home by spending less time diagnosing the problem. Learn more about AI smart home technology and what it means for contractors.

  • DON’T shake hands.

    Before the pandemic, it was commonplace for many types of professionals, including HVAC contractors and plumbers, to greet customers with a handshake. Now, keeping a distance of at least 6 feet between people is a best practice for minimizing the spread of COVID-19. Politely declining to shake hands and acknowledging social distancing being the reason will show customers their health and safety are being taken seriously. HVAC contractor Ray practices social distancing on the job.

    “We keep the 6-foot social distance and offer to go straight to the location of the system,” Ray said.

    Pro tip: Offering touchless payment is another way to maintain distance between trade professionals and their customers. Contractor management software solutions are designed to make it easy for trade professionals to offer touchless payment.

  • DO wear masks and PPE.

    The Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, recommends wearing masks and face coverings any time someone will be around other people. By wearing a mask on service calls, HVAC contractors can minimize the spread of germs while showing their customers they care about their safety. HVAC contractor Shawn emphasizes the impressions wearing a mask can make.

    “If a customer sees one of our employees not wearing a mask on the job they let us know,” Shawn said. “We will do whatever it takes to make them comfortable. We are very conscientious in our approach and we realize we are in someone’s home.”

    Ray also realizes the importance of following CDC guidelines. “We follow the CDC Guidelines to the letter. We all wear a mask, booties, and gloves if necessary and we offer touchless payments,” Ray said.

  • DO disinfect tools after every service call.

    According to the CDC, touch is one of the ways COVID-19 can be spread. Because it’s not possible to know whether or not the surfaces in a customer’s home are contaminated, it’s worth it for residential HVAC contractors and plumbers to clean any tools used on the job with a disinfectant cleaner in between service calls. Shawn has incorporated this step in his daily operations.

    “We show up in a mask and other PPE, and after the call we wipe down the tools and the truck before we go to the next call.”

    Using FDA-approved disinfectant surface wipes to thoroughly clean tools – especially tool handles – is a precaution residential trade professionals can take to protect their health and the health of customers.

    Pro tip: Keep hand sanitizer at the ready to kill germs on hands after touching surfaces in a customer’s home, and learn about the difference between cleaning and disinfecting.

  • DON’T come to work sick.

    OSHA recommends workers who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home and not go to work. Residential contractors are no exception to this recommendation and should be encouraged to stay home if feeling symptomatic.

    “If we have a positive test we call and let the customers know we will have to push the job out,” said Shawn.

    Before the pandemic, trade professionals would normally want to avoid inconveniencing their customers. Now it’s better to put the job on hold if someone is sick than go on calls and risk infecting a customer and their family.

Like other industries, the residential service industry has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Health and safety should always be a top priority for trade professionals, but the threat of COVID-19 has emphasized the need for a safety-first mentality on the job.