The Financial and Business Impact of COVID-19 on: The Cleaning, Restoration & Building Science Industries

Air Date: 3-27-2020|Episode 579

Guest Round Table Panel: 

  • Ed “The Restoration Lawyer” Cross, RIA Advocate
  • John Downey, CIRI Executive Director
  • Andy Ask, P.E., IAQA Past President
  • Richard “Rick” Sims, Johnson Air Conditioning

This week on IAQradio+’s on-going coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic we will cover the financial and business impact the international crisis has on the cleaning, restoration and building science disciplines affecting the IEQ community and the many related industries that fall under that broad umbrella! Lately the economic impact of the rapid global spread of the virus has dominated the 24 hour news cycle.


John Downey

Andy Ask

Ed Cross

Rick Sims

Although a diligent need to practice sound health and safety precautions for personal hygiene in conjunction with social distancing by limiting the size of group interaction, the heightened financial concerns affecting society have contributed to the anxiety of the world’s population.

In that context please join IAQradio+’s growing group of loyal listeners this week as Radio Joe,the Z-man and the Restoration Global Watchdog interview a guest panel from the cleaning, restoration and building science industries to discuss in a round table format the issues affecting their business operations and the financial impact to their collective constituencies.

Issues addressed will answer questions on how to manage the risk when dealing with infection control and cleaning projects against the spread of COVID-19, what types of contracts and “warranty” language should or should “not” be used with customers, what are the science based protocols that should be used and where do you find the best practice documents to help educate your staff and customers?

What is the thinking behind postponing or cancelling a conference, convention or symposium? What impact is considered when offering refunds or credits towards a future event and how have hotel contracts, event venues, travel cancellations and mandated restrictions by the government and company policy affected the decision making process?

After the angst of ones health and safety concerns are accepted, the impending impact of laying off employees or worker’s concerns about “catching the virus” due to their job can be as big an issue for companies to grapple with as the threat of getting sick!

Call in live this week as Joe, Cliff and Pete engage in a lively and honest conversation on how the industry is addressing the issues affecting us all beyond just the health concerns. The societal impact of how business can weather the COVID-19 storm and remain financially solvent will be discussed this week on IAQradio+.

Z-Man’s Blog:

Financial and Business Impact of Coronavirus

This episode included discussions with an esteemed panel of industry experts who addressed emerging issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic.

Andy Äsk and Rick Sims

The first guests were Andy Äsk and Rick Sims.  Andy Äsk is a well-known and highly respected independent HVAC consulting engineer, Past President of the Indoor Air Quality Association and a member of the IAQA Hall of Fame.

Rick Sims is large air conditioning and Florida certified mechanical contractor.A significant percentage of Southwest Florida’s population is comprised of wealthy older people. A big chunk of Rick’s business is air conditioning system maintenance. As this work is nonessential, Rick decided to cancel maintenance work as a safety precaution for both his staff and customers. Rick says there is noticeably less traffic and jests that police are less likely to pull over speeding vehicles due to health concerns.

Rick Sims and Andy Äsk have been attending Building Science Corporation’s Summer Camp for many years. For 20 years, Andy Äsk has held an educational building science meeting in southwest Florida. Rick and Andy partnered to raise the bar and push the envelope by hosting a large building science symposium in Florida on March 25-26, 2020. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus the 2020 event, the Andrew Äsk Building Science Symposium needed to be postponed until next year. While cancelling the event was disappointing, they needed to protect the people.

For Andy and Rick doing anything other than having hundreds of attendees at a live face-to-face event combined education with networking around great food, drink and entertainment; was not an option. They gave a shout out to Dave Mason (who sings and plays guitar) and Miguel Gonzalez from Tamlyn in Houston who sponsors T shirts for summer campers.

Trane, Mitsubishi and Ultra Airwere event sponsors.

Someone associated with the event has a sense of humor and posted a photo of Andy in a HazMat suit.

Andy Äsk- Admits that he not an expert in public health issues. He opines that there is no mechanical solution for stopping the airborne spread of viruses. While filters will not remove airborne viruses, filtration can remove droplets which contain viruses. He advises his local clients to keep things warm and dry, turn off the AC, open windows and spend some time in the sun. 50% RH is good for people and bad for critters.

Andy and Rick utilized the services of a professional event planner who minimized financial and other risks. The host venues were very cooperative with the decision to postpone the event. Andy Ask’s Building Science Symposium known as Spring Training Camp is postponed to March 24-25, 2021, and Radio Joe said, “IAQradio+ will be there to cover the event!”. For more information visit the website set up for Spring Training called Climate Zone One at: https://www.climatezoneone.com/

John Downey, Executive Director Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI)

CIRI provides objective scientific data to its members. Originally CIRI had planned to conduct a one-dayevent on March 31, 2020 with The Experience a bi-annual cleaning industry event in conjunction with their spring show being held in Cincinnati, OH. When the governor of Ohio made the decision to cancel events of over 250 people, CIRI made the bold decision to continue to move forward with their event in a live stream format. Three times over the last two weeks the event changed, from a live meeting with online streaming, to an online streamed event with all speakers gathered together in a studio, and finally due to mandatory closure of nonessential businesses to an online meeting with all of the speakers participating remotely. While the risks upon reliance on technology are present the potential rewards can be large, currently 20 times more participants are registered than were originally anticipated. Participation from the Jan-San industry is low, likely due to other recent online offerings of varying quality. Participation from the cleaning and restoration industry is high many of whom responded to an IICRC Eblast:https://www.ciriscience.org/2020-CIRI-Cleaning-Science-Symposium.php

COVID-19 has brought carpet cleaning to a standstill. Many of those holding the mop don’t know how to properly clean. There is a need for cleaning firms to step up their game and become the first responders of clean and sanitary!

Ed Cross, Esq.“The Restoration Lawyer”

Restoration contractors have a vital role in protecting public health, particularly in this type of crisis. They are doing their best to mitigate potential harm.

Aside from the obvious health benefits, cleaning buildings during a pandemic is good for the public image of a business and it boostsemployee morale.  It also provides comfort, and reduces fear and anxiety.

Worker safety is always the number one priority.  Do not rush into this work without the proper training, proper insurance and strong contracts that address the unique legal issues presented by the coronavirus.  Restorers would benefit from direct consultations with hygienists and environmental professionals to thoughtfully formulate a work strategy and to review the intended methods to respond to the virus, and to learn the limitations of the products and equipment to be used.

Legal challenges:

  • Predicts that there will be a hurricane of litigation related to the virus, particularly in areas such as insurance bad faith when carriers wrongfully deny coverage. It will be difficult to meet the legal burden of proof required to establish that COVID-19 was contracted as a result of one particular exposure because there will not likely be any good evidence of exposure, and because the virus is highly contagious and is widespread.
  • Regardless of whether a property has deferred maintenance, he advises contractors to encourage their customers to hire anindependentCIH or environmental professional to prepare a protocol for the restorer to follow.
  • Does your insurance coverage include or exclude pathogenic viruses? Contractors applying for or renewing their liability insurance policies should take care to disclose the possibility of coronavirus claims, and if they intend to dispatch employees to buildings with confirmed cases of COVID-19. Insurance applications allow the applicant to choose different options to describe the menu of services they provide to customers.
  • Applicants should be over-inclusive in this process. Checking the “water damage” box on the application is probably insufficient. Insurance carriers may deny coverage if the nature of the work and the exposure was not adequately disclosed so as to give the carrier a fair opportunity to make underwriting decisions.  In other words, the amount of the insurance premium depends on the number and severity of the risks.
  • Worker’s Compensation is generally an employee’s exclusive remedy against the employer for injury or illness claims that arise out of the employment in the absence of fraud by the employer. It is a good practice to document that employees were briefed on potential work hazards.
  • Provide proper PPE and document their training in their personnel files.
  • Importance of good training (e.g., OSHA’s 40-hour Hazwoper) and documenting it!
  • Protect work areas against cross contamination during service.
  • Recommends services of a local labor attorney. Pay workers more for hard, dirty and hazardous jobs.
  • Some—but not all—environmental professionals use ATP testing as a surrogate to assess the thoroughness of the work.
  • Video document projects.

Contractual recommendations for restoration contractors include:

  • Warn customer in writing of dangers.
  • Language in standard insurance restoration contracts “return property to pre-loss condition” may be problematic if the work is intended to address the coronavirus. Given the current limitations in testing methods, it may be difficult to prove that the property was returned to pre-loss condition. Thus, the contract should be clear that the customer is buying a process, rather than a specific result.  This is akin to pest control contracting, where the client is paying for a process and the application of a product, with no guarantee that target organisms will be terminated.
  • The contract would ideally specify the work to be performed, the areas where the work will be performed, and provide a list the products that will be used.
  • Advises contractors to disclose less costly alternatives, e.g. closing the building for a number of days to allow the virus to deactivate naturally. This alternative is risky without input from a qualified environmental consultant.
  • Fair releases and Indemnification against reintroduction of the pathogen.
  • Restorers and-their liability insurance carriers would benefit from a contractual term that shortens the statutory deadline to file claim.
  • Force majeure clauses are contract provisions that excuse a party’s inability to perform its obligations under the contract ifunforeseeable event prevents such performance. The chaos of a pandemic justifies the use of this type of clause in a contract for services intended to address the coronavirus. The clause originated under French law, with the literal translation of the phrase “force majeure” being “superior force”.https://www.whiteandwilliams.com/resources-alerts-Drafting-and-Enforcing-Force-Majeure-Clauses-in-the-Wake-of-COVID-19-Details-Matter.html

Restoration Global Watchdog: Pete Consigli

  • In Broward County, Florida (Fort Lauderdale); fire and water damage restoration contractorsare declared by the County Commissioner as an“Essential Business Service”.
  • Only California and New Jersey by mandate of the office of the Governor list restoration contractors as an “EssentialBusiness”.
  • ISSA has a prepared and continually updates a state by state “Essential Business” document. It can be accessed at: https://www.issa.com/wp-content/uploads/Essential-Services-Nationally-and-by-State-Summary.pdf
  • Emphasized the importance of good basic cleaning techniques and use of sound engineering controls on surface cleaning COVID-19 projects.
  • Under promise, over deliver.
  • Contractors need to be careful how they use language: applied disinfectant rather than
  • Refrain from simple verbiage like “clean the wall” but rather specify the process; “wash the wall to prepare surface to paint”. These are age old principals Marty King taught fire restorers than can be applied to COVID-19 surface cleaning of high touch point projects!
  • For restoration contractors, risk management is fluid and a moving target.
  • Restorers should disclose the type of work they do on their insurance applications and update it accordingly. Consult with an attorney on risk management issues before a claim or lawsuit!
  • From experience feels that employees are most likely than customers to sue or file a claim for perceived wrong doing against restoration contractors.
  • Contractors may intentionally misclassify or omit worker job functions to save money on workmen’s comp. This can come back and bite when an injury occurs from a lack of coverage or the levy of fines and penalties.

Z-Man signing off

Trivia:

Name the genus to which COVID-19coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 belongs?

Answer:

Beta coronavirus

Jim Cala, CIH NC DOT

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