Keeping the HVAC/R Support Network Safe and Compliant During the COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19: Business Continuity Planning, Series 3
The HVAC/R frontline is a demanding place to be during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of where you are working, each day on the frontline you are in an environment where every interaction is a potential opportunity to catch or spread the virus. Interactions with family, colleagues and friends can leave anyone vulnerable. We do so many things in this industry that require us to interact with one another: talk to site people or homeowners to find out what the problem is, write up quotes, buy supplies, make repairs, install equipment, take out equipment and then write up invoices and documentation for compliance.
Compliance is Still Required
The COVID-19 might be a pandemic, but it does not change any of the requirements to comply with Federal, State or Local regulations related to refrigerant use, leak rates, maintenance needs or leak inspections. Yes, the EPA and all the state governments expect you to comply, because the offices that oversee the regulations are not in charge of the legislation, they are there to execute the orders given to them by the legislature that governs them.
We have been speaking with regulatory agencies all over the US for the past few weeks to calibrate the needs and inquire about adjustments, they are all firmly letting us know that all regulations and their requirements remain firmly in place. A big concern would be to assume improperly that government agencies have relaxed requirements and later find out you were wrong – this is how violations happen and fines get issued.
I have heard rituals that involve people leaving delivery packages outside for 24 hours, after spraying them with disinfectant. Every day I speak to service people that are coming home, taking off their clothes and throwing them in the wash, before interacting with any family. Some are wearing masks, some not, but whatever you are doing, the etiquette of social distancing is becoming an increasingly important part of all of our lives.
Shelf Life of COVID-19
WebMD, the online medical reference website recently published a story about how long COVID-19 can live on various surfaces. The coronavirus can live for hours to days on surfaces like countertops and doorknobs. How long it survives depends on the material the surface is made from, here are the top 5 that caught my attention and seemed relevant for this industry:
To reduce your chance of catching or spreading the virus, they suggest you clean and disinfect all the surfaces and object with aa spray or a wipe. Although this is reasonable in a home, it’s not that easy in a business where lots of people are passing in and out. The fact that it can live on paper for up to 5 days, means that in this paper ridden industry every time we touch paper or share a document with an office we could potentially be spreading this virus.
Maintenance Needs Have Shifted
As the virus has spread, preventative maintenance routines have dropped off significantly. Everyone I speak to is avoiding unnecessary contact and focusing on keeping the machines running. The switch from routine maintenance to trouble ticket responses means that most maintenance events will include a refrigerant charge or responding to a leak or other issue that includes shutting something down or as the weather warms, starting something up. These are the types of events that need the most documentation and require the highest level of documentation.
Hospitals that need more air and place a higher demand on all systems running well. Grocery stores with empty shelves sending lots of cooling into the store and placing higher demand on refrigeration racks, and what about the AC system circulation being turned up to refresh the air so shoppers have cleaner air. The hotels that are shutting down, requiring systems to be cycled down or mothballed. Each situation has its own set of demands but all will increase the likelihood of leaks, gas usage, and service calls. This work requires special documentation and that means more paper and more opportunities to transmit the virus.
What Should You Be Doing?
Remember the 5 key events that you need to document to stay safe and compliant, and then follow our top 10 HVAC/R documentation practices outlined here. The 5 things you need to be attentive to are:
- Installs – you will need to record all the needed data about the appliance, and anything 5# an over should be documented. If you live in Southern California, it needs to be registered with the county. If you live in California (and soon other states), you might need to register it with state officials. Make sure the install data is complete and get the date right since the date sets the clock for the compliance tracking.
- Shutdowns or Mothballing – if you are shutting something down, then it is important for you to record what you do with the gas as well as all the operating parameters at time of shutdown ( we call these vital stats). Also when you go to start things up, you might need more refrigerant, and later the new additions will need to be documented properly. These additions will likely be related to a leak, and leaks can be harder to find on shutdown systems.
- Retrofits – usually part of planned maintenance. You might find yourself changing refrigerant since the gas you are using is obsolete, or it is just leaking too much (this is a story for a later date). *Special Note: There is a worst case scenario here. If you had a leaky system and you determined that the system needed a retrofit, and the retrofit was scheduled for any time during the virus, then you are obligated to retrofit as scheduled OR you must notify the EPA about the cause for the delay. Make absolutely sure to send the letter and call us if you need any help with this.
- Leak Inspections – a key component to any preventative maintenance program, and also a REQUIREMENT that must take place periodically. If you live in California, then the clock resets about every 90 days (not quarterly). The regulations remain in full effect during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, so be aware of which sites are on target and which are not. If you missed a leak inspection in March due to the change caused by COVID-19 and April is not looking any better, then you will need to communicate that to your client and let them make the decision about the best way to cope/plan for the repercussions.
- Service where refrigerant is needed or the AC/refrigeration circuit is opened – this is the most basic of needs and our best practices guide can act as a friendly reminder of the things you need to record. It is easy to forget when times are this stressful!
The Refrigerant Geeks Understand
There is a high likelihood that COVID-19 will result in deferred maintenance due to the limitations in resources (people and materials), unusual needs, and in some cases layoffs that were caused by the virus, are very high. The outcome will likely lead to higher leaks, poor performance, and in some cases early retirement of equipment due to failure.
In this industry, the business as usual process is to get an invoice paper and to document the activity, and then issue an invoice. Now, it doesn’t have to be that way because almost everyone has access to a smart phone and the smart phone can replace most if not all of the documentation process, relieving the need for potential virus ridden paperwork to travel between potentially contaminated people.
In a day and age where we are all being asked to “do what we can” to slow the spread of this virus, we need to remember that Paper Based Systems are in the Past and there is a better way to do our jobs that’s simple, easy and in most cases doesn’t require us to buy anything, all you need is a smart phone – nothing fancy just a phone that’s 2014 or later. If you don’t have a smart phone we can still help, click here and follow the directions.
The Refrigerant Geeks are Doers
From our earliest days, we have always believed that you do your job and don’t complain, you focus on the work and goal at hand. With that mindset, we are relaunching the ECOTEC program and launching a Digital Refrigerant Journal called Trakref Pro. Trakref Pro is free – no strings attached. You can look up more about the product on the web site, but here is what you need to know:
- Sign up with an email (its in the link).
- We will send you an excel sheet, enter the names of the locations where you work to the sheet.
- Send the sheet back to us via email and we will upload the locations to your Trakref Pro account.
- After the sites are all activated, we will send you your log in (usually takes 1-2 days).
The product will remain FREE until the virus is under control, and the sooner the better is what my accounting people are telling me. Each month on the first, if our kids are not in school then no bill for that month.
Every one of us will be impacted in some way by this awful virus. At Trakref, we are a team of dedicated, seasoned, and caring people. Many of us came from the field services industry, and we want to do our part. The app will help you cut down on the paperwork, reduce the potential for spreading the virus and together we hope to be a productive part of your teams success in slowing the spread of this COVID-19 pandemic.
Keep your HVAV/R support network safe and compliant with Trakref Pro: Digital Refrigerant Journal
The challenges of running a business in the HVAC/R industry are becoming more complex due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You need a solution that works as hard as you do to keep your network safe and compliant.
Written by Ted Atwood Ted is the President & CEO of Trakref, a cloud-based HVAC/R and refrigerant management software company that provides unprecedented solutions for commercial properties. He has spent more than 20 years in the HVAC/R industry, even owning and operating one of the nation’s largest refrigerant reclaim and recycling companies.