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.

Federal and state governments work to contain virus and provide aid to healthcare workers, families and businesses

To contain the spread of the virus, state and local authorities have issued everything from shelter-in-place orders to advisories, with urban areas enacting stricter precautions due to the density of these populations. Authorities and manufacturers are responding to urgent calls from healthcare organizations for more COVID-19 tests, face masks and respirators as they prepare for an expected influx of COVID-19 patients.

President Donald Trump signed bipartisan COVID-19 relief legislation providing provisions for free COVID-19 testing and paid emergency sick leave. He also signed bipartisan economic stimulus legislation to calm fears about a falling stock market, expected job losses and hardship for small businesses.

Protecting the health of workers

For employers, protecting the health of workers means 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 and World Health Organization.

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 survey 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 White House 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.

Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce Guidance 2.0

Department of Labor

OSHA

National Conference of State Legislators State Action on Coronavirus

Coronavirus Guidelines from PHCC—National Association

Alert Center: Coronavirus – IMA Business

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)