Safe Plumbing, Hand Hygiene and Worker Safety Crucial During COVID-19 Crisis

Coronavirus has not been detected in drinking water supplies, and Americans can continue to use and drink water from the tap as usual, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Tap water is also safe to use for hand washing, a primary defense against the spread of the virus. Read more about what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is doing to protect our water resources during the coronavirus crisis.

While water supplies remain safe, the virus is presenting unprecedented challenges to the plumbing manufacturing industry, as companies work to protect the health of workers, manage global and regional supply chains, and comply with advisories while maintaining viable business operations and services.

Medical experts advise mask wearing, social distancing and frequent hand washing, as well as vaccination when it comes available

Mask wearing, social distancing, and frequent hand washing are the best ways to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 infections. These precautions are being followed by workers within the plumbing manufacturing industry. Vaccines have begun to be distributed, with the highest priority being given to health care workers and nursing home residents and staff, to be followed by non-health care essential workers, individuals with medical conditions at high risk for severe COVID-19, and adults 65 years old and older.

In March 2020, Congress and the Trump administration agreed upon bipartisan COVID-19 relief legislation and economic stimulus legislation. In December 2020, additional stimulus legislation was passed. President Joe Biden is encouraging mask wearing, physical distancing, vaccinations, and getting children back to school safety. He also will ask Congress to provide additional COVID relief and economic stimulus as Americans continue to cope with hardships caused by the pandemic.

Protecting the health of workers

For employers, protecting the health of workers means requiring mask wearing and physical distancing, monitoring workers for COVID-19 symptoms, referring them for testing when appropriate, and facilitating work from home to protect employees from potential exposure. Workers who cannot work from home must distance themselves as much as possible from other employees and stay at home if any symptoms of illness occur.

Employers have been urged to provide more leeway than usual to sick employees, to assure clean and disinfected working conditions, and to postpone large group meetings and events or make them virtual. See these resources for businesses and employers from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Most Americans mindful about hand washing

PMI member Bradley Corporation has been conducting annual surveys about the hand washing habits of Americans for the past 11 years. With hand hygiene an important defense against the spread of COVID-19, Bradley’s most recent survey results are particularly timely. The results show that Americans are far more meticulous about handwashing since the COVID-19 outbreak. 78% of those surveyed are washing their hands six or more times a day, and 20% are handwashing 16 or more times a day, with 84% washing their hands for 20 seconds or more. In addition, 88% say that are likely to maintain these handwashing habits after the pandemic is over. The survey also shows many Americans were mindful, particularly when sick, about the importance of hand washing and infection control, even before the coronavirus pandemic happened. For example:

  • Even before COVID-19 hit the United States, 60% of Americans were extremely or quite concerned about catching the flu, compared to just 32% who felt that way four years ago. Among all age groups, Millennials expressed the most trepidation about getting sick.  
  • 97% of Americans believe it’s important to wash up after using a public restroom. However, hand washing doesn’t happen all the time. Respondents said they washed their hands 86% of the time after using a public restroom.
  • 89% of Americans in the workforce said they consciously take steps to avoid the germs of sick co-workers or colleagues.
  • In response to flu outbreaks, 79% of Americans said they wash their hands more frequently, more thoroughly or longer after using a public restroom.
  • At home, if someone is sick or if a cold or flu virus is going around, Americans kick into action. 65% wipe down bathroom and kitchen surfaces. 47% wipe door knobs and handles. 46% wash sheets and/or towels.
  • When they are sick, 54% of Americans said they simply wave hello to greet people, 48% avoid shaking hands and 18% use a fist or elbow bump.
  • 50% of Americans said news coverage of cold and flu outbreaks has an impact on their hand washing behavior.

Read more.

Plumbers must take precautions

Plumbing manufacturers make toilets, faucets, showerheads and urinals; the makers of these products don’t do the installing – that’s a plumber’s job. PMI member IAPMO recently issued valuable advice to these important partners in safe, responsible plumbing.

“Understanding Coronavirus Exposure for Plumbing Professionals” advises plumbers that the coronavirus can be spread through building sanitary draining systems. "Considering the potential to come into contact with water and aerosols that contain the coronavirus when working on sanitary systems or sewers, it is highly recommended that plumbers wear proper personal protective equipment, including a full face shield that is worn over safety glasses, and gloves," writes IAPMO's Peter DeMarco, executive vice president of advocacy and research. IAPMO’s advisory references OSHA standards for construction and plumbing worker protection. Read more.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security identified plumbers and others working to assure safe plumbing and sanitation as “essential critical infrastructure workers” in its updated Coronavirus Guidance for America. The National Association of Manufacturers is continually updating a summary of state and county declarations and resources to stop the spread of COVID-19, help manufacturers understand the implications of these orders, and emphasize the essential role manufacturers play in leading the response against coronavirus.

Toilet paper demand creates interest in bidet seats; don’t flush wipes

While purchasing large quantities of toilet paper is not advised, the hoarding of toilet paper by some during the coronavirus crisis has created interest in purchasing personal hygiene devices commonly known as bidet seats, products manufactured by some PMI members. Popular in Europe, these devices rinse your bottom with water. To find manufacturers who make these personal hygiene devices, choose “bidet seats” under the “plumbing fixtures/components” category of the safeplumbing.org product finder. For those of you using disinfectant wipes, do not flush them down the toilet, even though they may be labeled as “flushable.” These wipes can jam up your pipes. Place these wipes in the trash instead.

More helpful resources

PMI has gathered these additional information sources, which may be helpful during the coronavirus pandemic. Keep up to date by visiting these pages routinely and paying attention to new alerts.

CDC Resources for Workplaces and Businesses

CDC COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Toolkit for Essential Workers

COVID-19 Projections – Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington

Department of Homeland Security – Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce Guidance 2.0

Department of Labor – COVID-19 and the American Workplace

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – How to Help

How Plumbers Can Stay Safe During COVID-19 Pandemic – from PlumbingInformer.com

IMA Business Coronavirus Alert Center

ITR Economics Video, “Clarity in the Aftermath of Dual Black Swans.”

Morningstar Report: COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution and Herd Immunity to End Pandemic

OSHA – Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19

Public Safety Canada - Guidance on Essential Services and Functions in Canada