Over the last few weeks, the situation regarding COVID-19 has escalated. How is the plumbing & heating industry dealing with the coronavirus pandemic?
There is currently no specific treatment for coronavirus, so if you are showing any of the symptoms, you will need to stay in isolation, away from other people, until you have recovered.
The latest advice is that you should stay at home for 14 days if you have either a high temperature or a new, continuous cough.
While those who work in offices or similar environments can work from home, tradespeople obviously have to be out and about to continue working, which can pose problems. How has the industry reacted to the situation?
Wednesday 1 April
Martin Lewis tweets…
CONFIRMED: The ability to carry over unused annual leave for up to 2yrs due to working during Covid-19 is for all workers not just key workers…
'Yes it’s for everyone; technically any firm affected by Covid, but there aren’t many people that doesn’t apply to right now.'
— Martin Lewis (@MartinSLewis) April 1, 2020
Open for business
Pump Technology Ltd says it is open for business and still has huge stocks of domestic, commercial, wastewater pumping, sewage or drainage pumps that it can dispatch, even with some staff now working from home.
National Pet Month
It's #NationalPetMonth! 🗓🐾
We want you to show us your #stayathomesidekicks and we will share our favourites!
— HIP Magazine (@HIPMagazine) April 1, 2020
The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) and Unite the Union have agreed a temporary solution to cover wages paid to operatives in the building engineering sector during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Workers are normally guaranteed wages equivalent to 37.5 hours in any normal week under the terms of the HVAC National Agreement, which is co-signed by BESA on behalf of employers and Unite, which represents the workforce.
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to wholesale closures of sites and dramatically reduced workloads. As a result, the two parties have agreed temporary arrangements in line with the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This will allow BESA employers, who use the National Agreement, to agree alternative arrangements with their staff to cover this unprecedented period.
This temporary arrangement will be in place for an initial period of 12 weeks.
GROHE suspends production
GROHE has suspended production at its manufacturing site in Portugal until 12 April and is now running adjusted production schedules at its German sites. A further GROHE manufacturing site in Thailand is still operational but following strict health and safety procedures.
Learning from home
— Tony Sandon (@TonySandonCCN) April 1, 2020
Tuesday 31 March
HVAC not the problem
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems must be allowed to play their important role in helping essential services deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the UK’s F Gas register REFCOM.
It refuted rumours that air conditioning and ventilation could help to spread the virus adding that these were completely unfounded and not backed up by any scientific evidence.
Speaking on a webinar hosted by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), Head of REFCOM Graeme Fox, said cooling and ventilation systems were not the problem, but rather they were part of the solution.
Teaching the level 3 Gas course online brings its own challenges but great to still teach and keep these students busy. @norwichcollege @ApprenticeCCN @Apprenticeships @phpi @HIPMagazine @GasSafeRegister @SafetySuperhero @ pic.twitter.com/J2tEyuqZPn
— Tony Sandon (@TonySandonCCN) March 31, 2020
Monday 30 March
The Mental Health Foundation has compiled advice to help you, your friends and your family to look after your mental health.
Pimlico pledges free emergency work for NHS staff in London
Through Pimlico’s 24-hour Emergency Response Service, the company has already completed boiler repairs and electrical work for a number of NHS staff, predominately out-of-hours, to fit in with health workers’ shift patterns.
Founder Charlie Mullins OBE said: “I am keen to do what we can to help our NHS heroes by taking away some of the stress of dealing with a home emergency. We have already helped a number of NHS staff since we introduced the free service who have been extremely grateful for all the support they are receiving from the public and businesses.
“I am also immensely proud of our emergency response team who are ensuring we can respond to call-outs from NHS staff at any time of the day or night as quickly as possible. It is heartening to see how businesses and individuals are coming together to help each other and in particular those at the front line of defeating the virus.”
CIPHE welcomes government support scheme
CIPHE has welcomed the measures announced by the government last week to support self-employed workers.
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced a unique set of measures last week. The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme will provide direct cash grants of 80% of profits, up to £2,500 per month for at least three months.
The scheme will be open to those with a trading profit of less than £50,000 in 2018-19 or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19. To qualify, more than half of your income in these periods must come from self-employment.
Kevin Wellman, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE), said: “We are delighted that the Government has listened to our recommendations, put forward via the Construction Industry Council (CIC). The bodies involved in the CIC have worked tirelessly to put the health, wellbeing and financial security of those in the construction industry at the forefront of the Government’s Covid-19 response.”
Thursday 26 March
Can copper destroy COVID-19?
SANHA and Copper Alliance say that surfaces with a certain copper content kill bacteria and viruses in sometimes as little as 90 minutes.
By contrast, researchers at the National Institutes of Health virology laboratory in Montana found that SARS-CoV2, the strain that causes COVID-19, survived the longest—up to three days—on plastic and stainless steel, suggesting that surfaces in hospitals or steel poles on public transit could be places where people pick up the illness. Just a single droplet from a cough or sneeze can carry an infectious dose of a virus.
SANHA said: “Nobody knows (if copper have helped prevent the current situation) for certain. However, its properties are unmistakable, and judging by the effects COVID-19 has on not only human health but also on the economy, any ostensibly higher up-front cost pales to nothing.
“Drinking water is another hygienically critical area. While water as such does not transmit coronaviruses and much of the piping is hardly ever touched, having unlimited, completely maintenance-free piping and fittings with anti-microbial properties that are simultaneously ideally suited for contact with water sounds like an excellent idea to many.”
A study from 2015 found that a different coronavirus (229E) could still infect a human lung cell after five days of being on materials like Teflon, ceramic, glass, silicone rubber, and stainless steel. But on copper alloys, the coronavirus was rapidly inactivated.
Rhiannon shares her latest plumbing diary and discusses finishing college for the foreseeable future due to coronavirus – click here to read it now.
Building services firms are helping to save lives, says BEIS
The building engineering industry is providing a critical service by ensuring buildings can continue to operate as normal and support essential operations such as the NHS and food suppliers in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The important status of engineers who maintain the reliability of heating, hot water, ventilation, electrical and building management systems during the coronavirus crisis was confirmed by a BEIS official during a webinar hosted by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).
BEIS confirmed that building maintenance should continue as normal, subject to compliance with Public Health England guidance, the government’s social distancing policy and the site operating guidance published by the Construction Leadership Council.
Wolseley shares branch opening hours
Wolseley has a dedicated web page updating users about branch opening times and temporary closures due to the coronavirus.
Wednesday 25 March
Working during the Coronavirus crisis quiz
Try our quiz, based on the latest advice from the HHIC. Full advice and much more information here.
Grant UK shares FAQs
We asked plumbers to share the things they’ve been doing now they have a bit more time on their hands – and they didn’t disappoint! Take a look at our #SelfIsolationInspiration and get involved yourself on social media.
Selco closes branches
Branches of Selco Builders Warehouse will close for the next three weeks due to the COVID-19 situation.
Chief Executive Howard Luft said the welfare of customers, colleagues and suppliers was paramount. He added: “We are living in unprecedented times and I’m certain this is the right and responsible decision for everyone connected with Selco.”
Any customers with outstanding delivery or Click & Collect orders will be contacted by their local branch.
Tuesday 24 March
Ideal Boilers has announced it is shutting down business until further notice.
Important Notice; Due to the recent government announcement, we have made the decision to close the business apart from essential services until further notice.
We are here to support you in any way we can.
— Ideal Boilers (@IdealBoilers) March 24, 2020
CIPHE is calling on the Government to help protect the livelihoods of the self-employed.
CEO Kevin Wellman said: “There are approximately 200,000 individuals engaged in the UK plumbing and heating industry, with 85% of those operating as sole traders or in companies of five individuals or fewer. The new restrictions effectively cease everyday plumbing and heating works.
“While we recognise the grave importance of social distancing and stopping the spread of coronavirus, there is also an urgent need to protect the livelihoods of those not covered by the Government’s packages seemingly so far aimed at larger businesses.
“Sole traders are the lifeblood of our industry and will be at the forefront of emergency works to protect the safety, health and welfare of the public. Those who do engage in emergency works risk the health of themselves and their families to keep the vulnerable safe.
“In many instances they are unsung heroes who support the mantra ‘Prevention is better than cure’. There will come a time when the country recovers from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and will look to members of the plumbing and heating industry for services and support.
“Without extending support for them with immediate effect, the Government risks finding they are no longer there.”
Emergency callouts can still be undertaken, but anything which can be put off should be, says Michael Gove.
Michael Gove clarifies that plumbers can continue to provide services for emergency callouts where there are safety concerns. Construction workers can work onsite but must follow social distancing rules. Plumbers are Key Workers for emergency work. pic.twitter.com/M6VNKfmM4a
— APHC (@APHC_UK) March 24, 2020
Over nine in 10 engineering services businesses (93 per cent) say they are ‘concerned or very concerned’ about the impact of coronavirus on their business over the next six months, according to initial responses to a major new ECA / BESA / SELECT engineering services survey.
Following last night’s updated guidelines issued by the Prime Minister, Selco Builders Warehouse has closed its branches today and is seeking clarification to find out whether it will be allowed to continue to operate during this period.
We are seeking clarification from the government as to whether we can continue to operate in a safe and responsible manner over the coming days and weeks. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause. Please visit our website for full update https://t.co/z2izKf7fER
(2 of 2)
— Selco Builders Warehouse (@SelcoBW) March 24, 2020
Wolseley and Graham have taken the same measure.
Following last night’s update from Boris Johnson, we are assessing what this means for our branches, given they help to keep essential services, such as supermarkets, homes and hospitals going. In the meantime, our trade counter doors will not be open today. (1/2)
— Wolseley UK (@WolseleyUK) March 24, 2020
2/3 This is while we seek urgent clarification from the UK Government about how we can operate our business within the Government guidelines.
We will be providing a further update on this situation by 5pm on Tuesday 24th March (Today).
— Graham Merchant (@Graham_Merchant) March 24, 2020
Specflue has also closed its doors.
Following government guidelines Specflue is closed.
Our customer services team will be in contact with all customers who have outstanding deliveries planned to advise of the implications to their specific orders. Our phone lines will remain open should you need to contact us. pic.twitter.com/lGO1Nc7ifW
— Specflue (@specflue) March 24, 2020
Monday 23 March
The Heating and Hotwater Industry Council (HHIC) has issued some advice to heating engineers on working during the Coronavirus crisis. They are:
- When discussing an appointment with your customer, ask if they or any occupants are self-isolating, displaying any symptoms of COVID19, and/or have received a positive diagnosis
- Where the householders are not self-isolating, displaying any symptoms, and have not been diagnosed with COVID19, 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/
- If householders are, then there is a need to 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 persons currently identified as most at risk, such as the over-70s, and/or with 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 to your customers what you will be doing, and why, and that you will need to maintain a safe distance from them (2m or six steps away is current Government advice), including when waiting for the customer to open the door
- Do not shake hands with the customer or other occupants
- Ask if the occupants can stay in another room, away from the work area(s) while the work proceeds, and with permission ventilate the work area where appropriate, e.g. by opening a window
- Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, at the start of the job and after (also during the work). It is recommended to carry your own hand-towel with your equipment. Wash/replace hand-towel at end of each day/shift
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% 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 everything is 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, whilst trying not to cross-contaminate onto existing clothes or persons
- Do not touch your face
- Ensure you then clean/wash your hands, and where possible/appropriate any reusable PPE (e.g. safety glasses), using soap and water, or use suitable hand sanitizer 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
HIP has launched the #SelfIsolationInspiration challenge – here’s The Peaky Plumber’s attempt. Get involved on social media!
It's the HIP #SelfIsolationInspiration challenge!
We want to spread positivity, so we want you to show us what you're doing that you were putting off or didn't have time to do before!
🗣Tell or show us what you've done
👉Nominate 3 others to do the same!
📱Tag us and use the # pic.twitter.com/hTIAPkVWob
— HIP Magazine (@HIPMagazine) March 20, 2020
Roman Showers says it has introduced a number of measures to protect its staff, customers and business partners. They are:
- All company travel prohibited, all company events cancelled, and all face-to-face meetings postponed until further notice.
- Business development and all communication via phone calls, email and Skype.
- All employees who fall in the ‘high risk’ category working from home.
- Boosted hygiene measures at all locations, including the disinfection of most transited and high-touch areas.
- Implemented a no shaking hands policy where all employees have been instructed not to physically contact with colleagues and business partners.
- Employees are being encouraged to take routine precautions as recommended by Health Authorities.
- All Roman locations are being closely monitored so all required actions can be taken to protect the community.
- All government guidelines are being followed and adhered to regarding a self-isolation policy for any employee that has been in contact or is showing symptoms of COVID-19.
Friday 20th March
The government has classified plumbing and heating workers working in utilities, communication and financial services as key workers. As such, the children of these workers will be prioritised for education provision.
The government’s advice states that parents whose work is critical to the COVID-19 response include those in working in the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors, including sewerage.
The government’s advice stresses that every child who can be safely cared for at home should be, but that key workers who cannot keep their child safe at home will be prioritised for education provision.
John Thompson, CEO of APHC, said: “If plumbers and heating engineers weren’t allowed into properties or attend sites to fix breakages this could have led to there being dangerous heating systems and unsafe drinking water and sanitation facilities.”
“Plumbing and heating employers are able to inform their employees that their role as a plumbing and heating engineer is necessary for the continuation of this essential public service and therefore are eligible for education provision.
“If your or your employees’ school is closed then you can contact your local authority, who will seek to redirect you to a local school in your area.”
Continuing to work in the current environment means that plumbing and heating engineers may come into contact with people who have the COVID-19 virus. To help mitigate the potential risk of COVID-19, APHC has developed a number of recommended procedures.
APHC members can access the COVID-19 procedural guides and templates from the members’ area of the APHC website at www.aphc.co.uk/members. APHC members who require specific advice can call 0121 711 5030.
The government’s ‘Guidance for schools, colleges and local authorities on maintaining educational provision’ can be read here.
Thursday 19th March
Wolseley has incorporated additional measures to minimise risk and protect our customers, colleagues and suppliers.
- Providing all branches with enhanced cleaning packs to maintain good hygiene standards across our network, paying particular attention to counter-tops, touch screens, door handles and fleet vehicles.
- They want to assure customers they have significant stock to cope with any potential impact on supply chain.
- Any planned events have been put on hold for now and they are encouraging colleagues not to travel, to avoid face to face meetings with customers and suppliers and for field-based roles to work from home where possible.
- They are asking all customers and colleagues to practice social distancing and to maintain high levels of hand hygiene at all times.
They added: “Please rest assured, we are working tirelessly to keep our colleague safe and our branches operating as normal where-ever possible to support your business.”
PHEX Tottenham has been postponed.
⚠️ It is with a heavy heart that we have taken the decision to postpone PHEX Tottenham 2020 due to COVID-19.
The safety of our exhibitors, visitors, sponsors, suppliers and in-house team are our main priority during this time.
Full statement: https://t.co/f1pesqiCp8 pic.twitter.com/XkZghwiBgb
— PHEX (@PhexShow) March 19, 2020
Please see the announcement from our Managing Director regarding COVID-19. pic.twitter.com/goLMBY7SWX
— Mira Showers (@mirashowers) March 19, 2020
CIPHE has put together some practical advice and information for plumbers.
*** Official Covid-19 advice for plumbing and heating engineers from the CIPHE ***
— TheCIPHE (@CIPHE) March 19, 2020
Wednesday 18th March
Installer, which was due to take place in Coventry in May, has been postponed until December.
In light of the mounting severity and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, we are postponing Installer2020, which was scheduled to take place May 12-14.
Installer2020 will now take place at The Ricoh Arena, Coventry, from December 1-3, 2020.
— Installer2020 (@Installer_Show) March 18, 2020
The BMA’s committee meetings scheduled for March, April and May will take place virtually but not in person. The association’s secretariat are now all working from home but are contactable on the usual office number 01782 631619 and via email.
Tuesday 17th March
A survey has been launched by BESA, ECA and SELECT to get an early picture of the effect of Coronavirus on the engineering services sector and its supply chain.
The survey can be completed here: www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/2CWB95Z
ESA Director of CSR Paul Reeve said: “Coronavirus is a fast-moving situation with significant social and economic implications. It is vital we understand the key problems being faced by companies and how to both represent and practically support our industry in what is fast becoming a changeable and challenging near future.”
The survey, which is completely confidential, should take around three minutes to complete. The initial deadline for responses is Friday 27th March at 4pm.
The survey comes as Build UK and CECA have stated that construction ‘sites may have to close’ due to coronavirus. The two bodies will be asking the Government to ‘identify safety critical work on the infrastructure network that is essential and must be continued’.
ECA is monitoring the situation closely and has created an employer advice portal at www.eca.co.uk/coronavirus. All updates and advice about the Coronavirus from BESA are available at https://www.thebesa.com/
Elsewhere, Hep20 says it’s open as usual.
See below for our update regarding Coronavirus. If you have any questions, please drop us a message. pic.twitter.com/qssNUEmo41
— Hep2O Plumbing (@Hep2O) March 17, 2020
Monday 16th March
Big Wipes says it has received many enquiries, with its product being used by many tradespeople on the job – here’s what they had to say.
As we are being inundated with queries in respect of #coronavirus, please see a summary below or follow the link to our website https://t.co/EWTkrNIQo4. Using Big Wipes will NOT kill the corona virus but your clean hands will help you avoid catching and spreading it. pic.twitter.com/T48C60dl2k
— BigWipes (@BigWipes) March 11, 2020
Heating engineer Keith Harrison, among others, is urging customers not to organise tradespeople coming into their homes while they are isolating.
Posted this on my Facebook business page just as a heads up to any of my customers, more than welcome to use it if it’s of any use to anyone 👌🏻 pic.twitter.com/Mw8i3L4BpQ
— Keith Harrison (@HarrisonHeating) March 11, 2020
I hope nobody deceives a trade by claiming to be virus free to get a job done. Our next call could be to a vulnerable person and we could unknowingly pass it on.
We have a duty of care to our customers but they need to be up front with us too.#coronavirus @bbc5live @StephenNolan
— P B Plumber (@pbplumber) March 15, 2020
The safety of our customers & employees is our highest priority.
If you need to book an engineer, please advise the call agent if you or anyone else in the property are under any restrictions due to the coronavirus. We can arrange an engineer visit when your isolation period ends pic.twitter.com/99HL4LjuJw
— Baxi (@baxiboilers) March 12, 2020
I’ve just cancelled all non emergency jobs to anyone who’s travelled recently or feels in well . I’m absolutely terrified of passing something to an elderly client
— rhino (@rhino845) March 14, 2020
Industry bodies, like The British Institute of Kitchen, Bedroom & Bathroom Installation (BiKBBI), are making preparations to ensure a ‘seamless’ service should the Government escalate its plans to deal with the virus.
— Official BiKBBI 🇬🇧 (@officialbikbbi) March 16, 2020
DEPHER is still providing its discounted service to the elderly and vulnerable.
Due to the corona virus we have decided to stay available for the community until the panic is over.
The elderly and disabled will still continue to receive their massive discounts.
Any families that do require our services please contact us.
We will sup…https://t.co/75NZXWa2fp
— D.e.p.h.e.r Community CIC (@Depheruk) March 15, 2020
And the Rainy Day Trust is offering its support for tradespeople throughout the period.
The @RAINYDAYTRUST will be running normally throughout to support people working in the #HomeImprovement industry inc #DIY, tradesmen, #housewares, #buildersmerchants – the benefit of being a small and agile #charity. Ring 0203 192 0486 for help @TradesTalk @BHETA_trade https://t.co/TNCJT3ajg1
— Rainy Day Trust (@RAINYDAYTRUST) March 13, 2020
But ultimately, morale is high among the trades!
Plumbers wont be affected by the COVIDー19 because we have super power immune systems
— A L E X X (@xgasgirlx) March 15, 2020
If we are all quarantined, that Fray Bentos pie and tin of marrowfat peas we've had in the back of the cupboard since moving here in 2002 might finally get eaten. #CoronavirusPandemic #COVID_19uk #QuarantineAndChill pic.twitter.com/5AMVtpJvUy
— Peak Heating (@ThePeakyPlumber) March 14, 2020
If you are a contracted worker you will be entitled to statutory sick pay from day one of your self-isolation instead of day four – and you can self-certify for the first seven days without the need for a medical note.
If you are self-employed you will be eligible to apply for Universal Credit for the period of your self-isolation.
The government has put measures in place to support small and medium-sized businesses during the pandemic – find out more here.
For up-to-date information about the coronavirus, including how to avoid catching it or spreading it, head to the NHS website here.