06 Apr How Natural Gas Utilities Perform Safe Home Visits
Posted on AGA’s (American Gas Association) True Blue Natural Gas Blog
America’s natural gas utilities do everything necessary to deliver essential energy to homes and critical businesses such as hospitals, senior centers and food distribution facilities. That is true every day, but as we experience today’s pandemic it is even more apparent how important this is.
In order to do that job and provide reliable energy, industry employees have to enter home and business for a variety of reasons: to light a pilot light for a new homeowner or to investigate a possible gas leak. In the rare event that there is an outage in an area, industry protocol requires a gas utility employee to enter the home to inspect it and relight the appliances.
Those needs continue to arise even under the strictest of quarantines, and as natural gas utility employees continue to serve the critical role of providing much needed energy, companies are putting additional safeguards in place to get the job done. A company may do a site visit in advance or assess the situation when they arrive onsite. Also, reports from any previous visit by the utility are used to gain information about how the job may be approached. Natural gas utilities may ask ahead of time if anyone in the home has tested positive for COVID-19 by asking, “Before I begin work inside your home, I’d like to ask you a question. Have you or anyone in your home been advised to stay at home by a health official for COVID-19 or experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness, like fever, cough or shortness of breath?” These answers are confidential, but are necessary to protect the utility employees, their coworkers, families and the rest of the community.
Based on that inquiry, the utility worker will follow procedures put in place to protect themselves and those in the home, or they may reach out to their supervisors for additional guidance. Utilities have identified three potential scenarios: 1) a home where there is no known illness, 2) the employee observes an unspecified illness, and 3) a person inside the home is known to have COVID-19. Utilities have procedures commensurate with each level. These procedures may require additional personnel to comply with the additional and necessary precautions.
Before entering the home, the utility employee will inform the customer(s) that they will need to keep a six-foot distance at all times and they may request that the customer open doors so that knobs won’t need to be touched. They may also explain to the customer the precautions that have been taken in advance of entering the home such as thoroughly washing their hands and the precautions they will take while in the home, such as wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).
Utilities are also issuing guidance on sanitation methods for housekeeping, tools, equipment, PPE and common touchpoints to help protect against the spread of COVID-19, such as:
- Tools and personal protective equipment such as wrenches, pliers, leak detectors, cell phones, hard hats and safety goggles/glasses, should be sanitized.
- In the cab of vehicles, sanitize door handles, seat belts, steering wheel, knobs and computer/Toughbook. Entering the cab should be the last step in the sanitation process to ensure cleanliness.
- Non-sanitized items, garbage and disposable PPE should be stored outside of the cab of the vehicle.
- Sanitize any items received from or used by customers or contractors.
- When sanitizing hard surfaces, follow product guidelines and allow enough time for disinfectant to work.
There are also guidelines for personal hygiene:
- Use “cough etiquette” – cover your mouth with your arm when coughing.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly before and after entering homes/businesses.
- Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Clean hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose; after using the restroom; before eating or preparing food; or after contact with animals or pets.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Attempt to maintain a 6-foot distance from others to limit exposure to germs/viruses as a result of sneezing or coughing.
Utility employee teams are constantly learning as this pandemic and customers sensitivity to contact with outside persons evolves. These lessons are being taken back to utility leadership and protocols are being constantly updated. They are also being shared with AGA so that the entire industry may benefit from this experience.
Throughout America, our homes are now also our offices, schools and gyms. You can rest assured that, because of the efforts of your local natural gas utility, you and your family will have the energy you need.