As provincial governments implement economic re-launch strategies throughout the country, businesses are starting to reopen and restart their services. For some home service businesses, they have operated throughout the pandemic as an essential service. For others, they are just starting operations again after this long period of lockdown.
Jurisdictions have set out restrictions and public health guidelines for operating during the pandemic. These guidelines are put in place to help reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. In addition to these government restrictions, your home services business needs to develop and implement your policies and procedures. Because you work in and near customer’s homes, you need to ensure you and your employees are being as precautious as possible.
RenovationFind developed this toolkit to help you create those policies and procedures. Public health and safety should be a top priority. Finding a new way to operate your business safely is essential as we navigate these unprecedented times.
1. Create a pandemic safety plan
The first place to start is to create a plan for safe operations. This plan needs to include how you will bring back workers and in what timeframe. Identify what parts of your service can be done remotely or virtually to reduce contact with employees and customers. For example, you can offer virtual consultations on your home renovations.
Create a policy for the worksite, including best practices for hand hygiene, cleaning and sanitation, social distancing, and personal protective equipment (PPE) if necessary. Consider doing regular screening for your employees, and have a policy on what to do if an employee or customer experiences COVID-19 symptoms or become infected with the disease.
Keeping the worksite safe
Your COVID-19 policies and procedures need to focus on keeping the worksite safe and preventing the spread of the virus. If your renovation company works in or near customers’ homes, you need to implement specific safety procedures to reduce transmission. This policy should include:
(i) Hand hygiene and sanitation
Provide hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content on site. Workers should sanitize their hands before and after entering a customer’s home or property. They should also sanitize before and after breaks and after handling shared tools and equipment. You should check Health Canada’s list of approved hand sanitizers as Health Canada has recently recalled a handful of hand sanitzers.
If possible, provide a hand washing station on site along with an illustration on ‘how to handwash’ using WHO technique . Workers should wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Hand washing should occur when workers have visibly dirty hands, after using the washroom, and after running any off-site errands. If washing hands isn’t possible, use the alcohol-based hand sanitizer in these instances. Clean and sanitize hands before and after using gloves.
(ii) Practice proper respiratory etiquette and wear a mask
Instruct employees on practicing proper respiratory etiquette. Always cough or sneeze into a tissue or bent elbow. Throw used tissues into a lined garbage bin and wash and sanitize hands afterward.
For employees working in a team or entering a customer’s home, they should wear a mask. Masks are essential when social distancing is challenging or not possible. Non-medical face masks are shown to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 from the person wearing the mask. Because some people with the virus can be asymptomatic, wearing a mask is a good idea and shows the customer you are taking precautions to keep them safe. Remember that masks must only be taken on and off with clean hands and disposed of properly in a lined garbage bin. Non-medical masks are for single use only.
(iii) Provide an onsite bathroom for workers
In the past, homeowners might have let home service contractors and workers use their bathrooms. For some companies, visits to the homeowner’s property might be short enough that using the bathroom is not necessary. For longer jobs, consider renting a portable washroom to have onsite for your employees. Instruct employees on proper hygiene and sanitation for shared bathroom facilities. Wipe down the porta-potty with a disinfectant before and after each use. High-touch surfaces like toilet seats, door handles, hand sanitizer dispensers, and faucets need sanitizing before and after every use.
Post signage in your construction bathroom, providing instructions for safe use and sanitation to help your employees stay on top of it. Make sure adequate soap, paper towels, and hand sanitizer is provided.
(iv) Practice physical distancing
On the jobsite
Distancing between workers: Social distancing must be practiced between employees, other tradespeople, and between employees and the customer. A minimum distance of 2 metres (6 feet) must always be kept between individuals. You might have to limit the number of workers on the site at one time to help maintain social distancing. Its also advised that only one tradesperson or contractor is permitted on the work site at a time.
Distancing from customers: If possible, organize a dedicated entrance to the work site for your employees that is separate from the homeowners. Communicate with the homeowner, so they know when and where a worker will be present, so they know not to enter that area until the work is complete, and cleaning and sanitizing has occured. If necessary, install a physical barrier like a plastic tarp to block off the work area.
In the office or showroom
Distanced workspaces: For your office staff, make sure there is enough space between workstations. You should implement policies and provide instructions for safe washroom use, including regular cleaning and sanitation of the washrooms. Your washrooms should also have posted instructions on proper hand hygiene for employees and customers. If you have a shared kitchen, post signage about social distancing, hand washing, and sanitizing shared surfaces in the kitchen.
Floor markers or ‘by-appointment’ visits from customers: If you have customers come into the office or showroom, put placement of reference markers on the floor. Floor markers will help people keep the 2-metre distance. Another option is to only allow customers in your office or showroom on a by-appointment basis. Having one customer at a time will ensure social distancing measures are taken and will provide you with a better opportunity to focus on that customer and better serve them. This effort will show that their safety is important to you and that you are focused on meeting their needs.
Curbside pickup and delivery: If you sell products, implement online purchasing, delivery, or curbside pickup. If you do not have the resources to offer products online, let customers know you can take orders over the phone, and you will accept payment via e-transfer. Then provide curbside pickup or delivery to reduce interaction in your place of business.
Virtual meetings with employees and customers: To practice social distancing in the office, do not hold in-person team meetings. Instead, have them virtually using video conferencing software like Google Hangouts or Zoom. You can also use video conferencing and other technology for providing estimates, client consultations, and safety briefs. Utilize the technology we have available to us to minimize face-to-face encounters with both employees and customers.
(v) Cleaning and disinfecting the worksite
Clean AND disinfect: Cleaning and disinfecting are not the same so it is important to understand the difference to ensure your worksite is safe. The worksite and office should be cleaned and disinfected regularly. Cleaning refers to removing visible dirt and grime with soap and water. It doesn’t kill germs, but without cleaning first, disinfecting will not be effective. The “wipe-twice” method works best for cleaning and disinfecting. Wipe once with a regular cleaner to remove visible soil, then wipe again with an approved disinfectant to ensure the surface is free of germs.
Areas to clean and disinfect: High traffic and high touched areas must be disinfected often. It is important to have a policy surrounding the frequency and solutions used to clean and disinfect your worksite. Disinfect areas like work surfaces, doors and handles, washrooms, office kitchens, light switches, faucets and taps, railings, elevator buttons, counters, and desks. Its also essential to clean and disinfect tools and equipment, especially if they are shared. That includes all equipment handles, materials, hand tools, control panels on machinery, frequently touched surfaces of shared work vehicles.
Cleaning products to use: Disinfectants that are effective against COVID-19 will have a Drug Identification Number (DIN) and will claim to be effective against viruses. If you can’t find a proper disinfectant, you can do a DIY solution by combining 4 teaspoons of unscented household bleach solution to 4 cups of water. It is important to note that when using bleach, the surface needs to stay wet for a few minutes before rinsed and wiped away. Make sure you and your employees read and follow instructions for the specific disinfectant you are using. Use disposable towels and wipes for cleaning and disinfecting, then dispose of them properly in a lined garbage bin. You can view a list of approved hard-surface disinfectants with evidence against COVID-19 approved by Health Canada.
(vi) Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
If required by your local jurisdiction and industry, use and provide full PPE for your employees. As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to assess any existing and potential hazards related to exposure and transmission of COVID-19. PPE is required when you cannot isolate the risk of transmission from a pathogen or sick person through physical distancing, changing policies and procedures for employees, and providing means for hand hygiene, cleaning, and sanitization.
For example, if your plumbing company is providing emergency services to a long-term care facility that is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, PPE might be required. Check your local jurisdiction’s rules and guidelines around PPE on a case-to-case basis. If full PPE is not required, health officials still recommend wearing non-medical masks when working closely with others and customers.
2. Monitoring employees’ health
Fast response to potential COVID-19 symptoms and positive cases are critical for preventing the spread of the disease. You need to have a plan of action for if a worker develops symptoms, is exposed to someone confirmed to be infected by COVID-19, or test positive for the disease.
You should have a daily check-in with your employees, screening for symptoms related to COVID-19, including fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, or shortness of breath. If they have any of these symptoms, no matter how mild, they must not come to work.
(i) What to do if someone gets sick?
Team members must monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19. Employees experiencing symptoms must stay home from work and self-isolate for 14-days from the onset of symptoms or until they go away – whichever is longer. Symptoms include runny nose, sore throat, fever, difficulty breathing, and coughing. If the worker comes down with symptoms while they are at work, they need to leave the premises immediately. The premises, including any tools or equipment that worker may have used, need to be cleaned and disinfected right away.
As an employer, you need to record the names of all people who may have come into contact with the sick worker on the job, and with anyone they may have been in contact with 48 hours before feeling symptoms. If that employee tests positive for COVID-19, those people will be contacted by your health services agency. During their isolation, sick employees should be tested for COVID-19, and receive a negative test result, before returning to work.
(ii) What if someone tests positive for COVID-19?
If you or an employee has tested positive with COVID-19, they must isolate for ten days from the start of symptoms, or until the symptoms go away, whichever takes longer. You must record everyone the infected person has been in contact with, as the government health services agency will likely be in touch with your business to let you know what the next steps are for tracing the virus within your organization. They might need to know the names of other workers and customers that may have been exposed, up to 2 weeks before the individual coming down with the virus.
If a worker has someone in their household who is infected with COVID-19, or they believe they have come in contact with an infected individual, they must not come to work and self-isolate for 14-days.
Review your sick-leave policy
You will have to review your sick-leave policy and ensure it’s compliant with current public health guidance. Any worker who is sick should not feel pressure to come to work, in any circumstance. Employees who are isolating because of COVID-19 do not require a medical note to stay home. Sick leave should also be permitted if they must stay home to care for a dependent who is isolating.
3. Communicate your COVID-19 safety plan
Once your plan is in place, you must ensure everyone it impacts receives communication and instructions on it. That will include your employees, other businesses, and services you work with, relevant associations, and your customers.
Everyone should know the safety precautions you are taking
(i) Communicate with customers
Your customers need to know what steps you are taking to prevent the risk of spreading COVID-19. You should have your COVID-19 response posted directly on the homepage of your website, so customers can quickly access your new policies and procedures. Customers will feel more comfortable hiring a home service company that has prepared a response and implemented a health and safety plan.
As time goes on, any changes you’ve made to your operating procedures due to COVID-19 should be posted on your website. You should also post it on your Google My Business profile, social media profiles, and any other online platform a customer might be inquiring about your business and services. As things change, update all of these platforms, and send an email notification to your customer list informing them of the latest changes.
(ii) Communicate with your workers and sub-trades
All of your employees need to be aware of public health requirements and your company’s new policies and procedures while operating during the public health emergency. If you hire sub-contractors, you need to inform them of your policies and procedures.
Everything within your COVID-19 response plan needs to be adequately communicated to them, including rules for hand hygiene, social distancing, remote working, cleaning, and disinfecting. As things change, make sure everyone on your team is informed of those changes.
4. Stay up-to-date with the latest pandemic developments
Public health requirements are continually changing, and are expected to change continuously, as we navigate through the pandemic. Stay updated with the latest developments, and encourage your employees to do the same. As things change, communicate with your workers on things they can do on the job and outside of work to mitigate the risk of transmitting the virus. Make them aware of physical health, mental health, and financial resources they can access through these challenging times.
RenovationFind is here to support you
RenovationFind works exclusively with home service companies, trades, and contractors. We have reviewed many COVID-19 response plans for operating safely during the pandemic. If you need assistance in developing your plan for safe operations, let us know. We are happy to help or connect you with another business that can provide advice. We can also assist you with your digital marketing strategy, and help you gain exposure and increase your business during these challenging times. Contact us.
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