Customers Will Be Counting on You as Things Return to Normal

Your job was always important, but now even more people will be relying on you as things return to the new normal following COVID-19

I truly hope that by the time this article is printed, our nation, our world, has found its way through the COVID-19 pandemic and we are moving as swiftly as possible back to the new normal.

By the time this is published and you have had a chance to read it, my bets are you’ve probably heard and seen things that you never would have imagined in your lifetime. I know I have. Today my family and I celebrated the Easter vigil sitting on the couch together watching a “virtual” mass. It’s definitely something I will never forget.

There are so many thoughts going through my head right now about our trade and the incredible, essential people working in it. I’m thinking of the risks that come with the job. I’m thinking of the incredible need for plumbers and plumbing right now. I’m thinking of how, in the blink of an eye, the world realized the importance of something that is, or at least was, taken for granted — the ability to wash hands. I’m thinking about your safety and hoping each and every one of you is on high alert.

But something else is creeping into my mind as I write this article: What’s next? Now what? COVID-19 reared its ugly head, and we kept working. We didn’t back down. Those of us who were allowed to went on working. Hell, we’ve been working the front lines of providing safe potable water for hand washing for decades now. We’ve opened drainlines and been exposed to fecal matter and a host of dangerous pathogens almost every day. Have we done it without losses? No, unfortunately we’re not bulletproof, nor are we virusproof.

We’ve lost some of our brothers and sisters of the plumbing trade to this and other viruses over the years. They’ve paid the ultimate price for doing what we do, and because of them, we need to remind ourselves that we must remain vigilant in remembering our own safety.

I am going to guess that by now businesses, schools and other facilities that were closed during the pandemic are beginning to open. Life is about to get back to normal. But is it? Plumbing systems have sat stagnant for months. Water distribution systems have not been in use, and now another potential attack is lurking in our plumbing. Legionella and other biofilm-associated bacteria may be ganging up and preparing an attack on the public. When water is stagnant, hot-water temperatures can decrease to the Legionella growth range (77-108 degrees F, 25-42 degrees C). Stagnant water can also lead to low or undetectable levels of disinfectant, such as chlorine. 

Based on the information I gathered from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease. The CDC also reported that about 15 out of every 100 people who get Legionnaires’ disease die from the infection. That means that typically 1,200 to 2,700 people will die each year from this disease. Those numbers represent a “normal” year. The year 2020, I hope, will never be looked at as a normal year.

I think it’s easy to see that our work as plumbers is never done and the next “battle,” if you will, is just about to begin. It’s time to tool up and take our game up a notch in the plumbing industry. I’m hoping by the time you read this that we have been, or are already, in the process of working with our local municipalities to counter the effects of what could be another terrible situation for the public. The CDC has published a document entitled “Guidance for Building Water Systems.” The document lays out eight steps to take before a business or building reopens.

Every single step outlined in one shape, form or another calls upon the plumbing industry to again help protect the public:

  • Develop a comprehensive water management program for your water system and all devices that use water.
  • Ensure your water heater is properly maintained and the temperature is correctly set.
  • Flush your water system.
  • Clean decorative water features, such as fountains.
  • Ensure hot tubs/spas are safe to use.
  • Ensure cooling towers are clean and maintained.
  • Ensure safety equipment including fire sprinkler systems, eyewash stations and safety showers are clean and well maintained.
  • Maintain your water system.

I encourage you to check out the steps above and stay abreast of best practices related to these plumbing-related issues.

Stay informed and continue to follow plumbing organizations like www.iapmo.org that are posting the latest information and resources available to our industry on issues like Legionella and COVID-19. Now more than ever, you need to be diligent about your continuing education. Seek out the courses and certifications that will ensure you have the tools you need to remain successful and safe. I highly recommend you research the ASSE International’s Series 12000 standard; this is a Professional Qualifications Standard for Infection Control Risk Assessment for All Building Systems. The standard sets the minimum criteria for the training and certification of pipe trades craftspeople, and other construction and maintenance personnel, on how to safely work in an environment with potentially deadly diseases that may be present within work sites

I’ll leave you with this. On March 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security made it clear in a memorandum that individuals who represent the water and wastewater sector are essential. I’ll expand on that statement to say each of you is essential, not only today and tomorrow, but forever.

Stay safe.  

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Randy Lorge is a third-generation plumber and the director of workforce training and development for the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO). Lorge is also a member of the planning team for the International Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Foundation (IWSH). This 501(c)(3) foundation has completed water and sanitation projects for those less fortunate in India, South Africa, Indonesia and, more recently, the United States. He enjoys time with his family and spending as much time as possible in his deer stand. To contact Lorge, email editor@plumbermag.com.



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