Have HVAC employees? Here’s how to keep this high-risk group safe during the pandemic

By Pinnacle Assurance

We have heard a lot about the essential employees working selflessly throughout the COVID-19 outbreak to keep others safe, such as healthcare, grocery store and sanitation workers. You can add another group to that list — HVAC workers.

While HVAC employees are critical to fighting COVID-19 and helping Coloradans remain safe, they’re often overlooked as essential to the COVID-19 response. 

Prioritizing the health and safety of HVAC employees

Amid continued concerns about how COVID-19 circulates through the air indoors, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines encouraging businesses to consult HVAC professionals to improve ventilation in their buildings in an effort to reduce community transmission.

There are just over 7,600 HVAC and refrigeration maintenance workers in Colorado, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they skew older, putting them at greater risk for developing serious complications from COVID-19. The median age for HVAC technicians in the state is 50+.

“It’s important for employers and employees to pre-plan ways to keep HVAC employees safe,” says Corey Rupp, Senior Safety Consultant at Pinnacol. “Nearly every home or business has some sort of heating or air conditioning unit, and these systems require maintenance and repair. Many are going to need work done during the COVID climate, and HVAC employees will respond.”

Safety tips to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission for HVAC workers

The first thing HVAC employees should do daily is self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms, such as a fever. Anyone with symptoms should stay home. “You’re protecting not just yourself but your clients as well when you take these precautions in the HVAC industry,” Rupp says. “It takes all of us to help control the spread of COVID.”

Here are 10 additional steps you can advise your HVAC employees to take to mitigate their risk of contracting coronavirus: 

1. Ask if anyone at the service location is quarantining or has tested positive for COVID-19 within the past two weeks. 

If so, reschedule the visit.

2. Stay at least six feet from customers during the appointment and don’t shake hands when they arrive. 

3. Build or assemble materials off-site. 

Do as much as possible in advance, before entering the home or business.

4. Use personal protective equipment at all times, including fitted N-95 or higher respirators, eye protection and gloves. 

Rupp notes that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires a respiratory protection program when respirators are used.

5. Bring tools to the location instead of using the business’s or homeowner’s tools.

6. Dispose carefully of used filters. 

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) suggests workers spray filters with a 10% alcohol solution before removing. Don’t crush, tear or bend them. Put the filter in a trash bag, tie it closed, and throw it in a trash can.

7. Bring their own paper towels. 

Politely refuse hand towels offered by the business or homeowner.

8. Skip the paper invoicing, if possible. 

Try using electronic documents instead.

9. Sanitize shared work vehicles between uses. 

Wash their hands every time they get out of the car.

10. Remove their clothes and take a hot shower as soon as they return home from work. 

Also, wash work clothes separately in hot water.

Best practices regarding COVID-19 change frequently as our knowledge of the virus grows. 

Rupp says employers should check for updates regularly. Pinnacol’s COVID-19 resources include links to relevant pages for the state health department, CDC and OSHA.

Have questions about  implementing safety measures for HVAC workers? Contact a consultant at [email protected] for personal, expert assistance.

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