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The Plumbing Industry’s Common SenseStandard of Care

Oct. 4, 2013
Is there a standard of care in the plumbing industry? We learn at our mother’s knee (and my mother was no exception): “Wipe your feet or take off your shoes!” She had worked hard to keep our home clean.

Is there a standard of care in the plumbing industry? We learn at our mother’s knee (and my mother was no exception): “Wipe your feet or take off your shoes!” She had worked hard to keep our home clean. My Pop-Pop owned and operated a Westinghouse appliance store in St. Claire, Pa. — in the very heart of the anthracite coal regions — where dirt and true grit coexisted. The majority of folks living there were what we’d refer to today as poor, yet their homes were spotlessly clean. Go out on a service call with Pop-Pop and fail to clean up after your work and he’d be on you like white on rice! His standard of care was leaving the jobsite cleaner than you found it and, by God, you’d better not track in dirt, all tools had to be resting on the roll-out pad, and no swearing! Grandsons got no break for skipping by those rules within a customer’s business or home. It also made no difference, to him, if the space was hidden behind or under an appliance: “Clean up those dust bunnies while you’re there, and the loose change gets turned over to the owner.” Leave old parts behind? Not if you valued your hide!

Over the years we learned standards of care as suited by our employers, or demanded by our clients, which at a bare minimum can be condensed to a common sense standard-of-care that includes the following:

·      A reasonable standard-of-care: Do we need to put down drop-cloths, a runner to protect floors as we haul out demolition items and move in products, cover walls, remove furniture, etc., for its protection, and so on? In 1979 after I’d ventured out on my own, I was handed a huge whopping increase in my liability insurance once the agent reviewed my ledger and saw the dollar volume of work being performed. I squawked loudly and voiced my extreme displeasure because I had no claims. A week later, I was replacing old boxed-in cast iron radiators in the basement of a very historic public museum that fed into ducts rising to the formal visitor’s area of that stately set of rooms where antique wallpaper, paintings, lace curtains, and velvet furniture, all dating to the civil war era, resided. They wanted a furnace and I was happy to oblige. Gravity hot air to forced air and two centuries of extremely fine dust had been content to cling onto the existing ducts till my hurricane blew by. The dust was so fine, it took three days before it began to settle out of its air suspension. I received a call from the director who told me their board was having an emergency meeting and I was the subject! I asked him to please go back into that meeting and tell them I accepted full responsibility and would have my insurance company get in touch with them the next morning. I ate crow. Had I thought to protect that museum by placing MERV-10, or better, air filters over the registers, I’d have saved myself some gray hairs and I could have continued to give my insurance agent a rough ride.

·      Identify safety hazards: While you indentify safety hazards also figure out what’s required to protect workers, customers and property. Asbestos, carbon monoxide, or mercury anyone?

·      Coordinate with owners: Establish who is responsible for what, such as moving breakables, clearing out personal items, access and hours of work.A new water-service installation in one of the oldest homes in our area required the use of a pneumatic jack-hammer through the floor and then the 4-ft. thick foundation wall (no wonder it stood the test of time)! Antiques hung on every wall and lots of museum-quality furniture needed to be relocated. Our contract clearly stated this was the owners’ responsibility and upon arrival, we asked if that had been done, with emphasis regarding wall-hung breakables on walls in adjoing rooms/floors. “Yes, you are free to begin.” Need I say what happened? No insurance claim because it was clearly spelled out in writing, signed by the customers, and they accepted the responsibility. However, we once had to replace a $400 “antique” lampshade that fell off of a table while we were retrofitting ductwork into an older home.

Then there are personal items like closets full of clothing and shoes. Make sure everyone is on the same page and knows who is responsible to move the items, and don’t start the work until that’s done. Get it in writing!

·      Safety items: Ensure items needed to grant personal safety and level-of-care expected are on hand prior to starting work. Booties, dust masks, safety glasses, hearing protection, drop cloths, hall and stairway runners, broom, dustpan, shop-vac, etc.  

·      Basic standards of care: Isolate work areas, if required, and ventilate as needed. If you have been through the EPA lead training program, you were taught basic standards of care contained in this document, and, if you haven’t been through the training, you need to be aware that a written standard of care exists: http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/steps.pdf. Even though this was written for the lead abatement program, it provides a good set of guidelines for a common sense approach to working within our customers’ buildings.

·      Clean, clean, clean: Leave the jobsite cleaner than it was and haul away all debris (includes parts replaced) for proper disposal or recycling. Every time I’m tempted to leave a part behind or ignore the other trade’s mess they left behind, I hear Pop-Pop’s voice!

·      Emergency procedures: Know, in advance, expected procedures for emergencies and implement them as needed.Establish a set of protocols: do your employees know who to call first? Does that mean you? If so, know what is required and make sure your employees know the chain of command. Break a CFL or mercury bulb from a thermostat or control? The EPA has a published Pre Demolition document regarding removal of devices containing mercury: www.epa.gov/hg/pdfs/EPA-905-F-11-008.pdf Additional information about mercury is available via the link within this document.

·      Always communicate: Maintain communication with owners, and warn as necessary about hazards, damaged items or restrictions to areas where clean up is required.Little Johnny might love Bob the Builder, but having him venture into a work area where line voltage wiring, or other hazards exist, will result in your fanny being exposed to liability no matter how much the parent condoned his inquisitive venture into your work-zone. 

All Dave Yates material in print and on Contractor's Website is protected by Copyright 2013. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must first have the expressed written permission of Dave Yates and Contractor magazine. Please contact via email at: [email protected].   

About the Author

Dave Yates

Dave Yates material in print and on Contractor’s Website is protected by Copyright 2017. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must first have the expressed written permission of Dave Yates and Contractor magazine.

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