Commercial HVAC Service and Repair – Technician Safety
By Madeline Meacham, Safety Coordinator
Safety is a Priority
Safety is the number one priority for our field technicians. Not only are we making sure that we are safe, but also ensuring the safety of our fellow co-workers, customers and the general public. Each job/task requires attention to detail and careful planning to ensure it is completed safely. One of our common service and repair calls is for commercial HVAC units, which can pose many hazards, but our techs are ready for the challenge.
Prepare for Safety
Before a technician even arrives on site for a service call, they are preparing to be safe. Getting the right personal protective equipment (PPE) to start the day always helps, but it could be specific to the building, weather or other undetermined factors. A lot of commercial HVAC service and repair work is done on the roof of a building and the technicians must evaluate the type of roofing material they will encounter. Some roofs are made of tar, rock or sometimes a slick PVC membrane. To combat this, technicians wear appropriate footwear that is oil, slip and puncture-resistant shoes with a reinforced toe. Not only could the roof be hazardous, but also the walk through the parking lot or the interior of the building could be slippery or oily. If possible, taking a peek at the surface of the roof and pathway beforehand can help them prepare successfully. Additionally, looking at the forecast for the day to ensure they are prepared for rain, wind or cold/hot temperatures.
Ladders and Rooftops
Next, the technician must consider the type, height, and material of the ladder needed for the job. Most technicians carry a small 4-6-foot ladder in their van and an additional 15-25-foot ladder at all times. If the technician finds that these are not adequate or pose a safety hazard, they stop work and call their manager for assistance. Safe ladder use starts with an inspection, ensuring the ladder does not have excessive wear and tear, damage or debris/residue that could make the steps slippery. Wearing gloves with a nice grip can go a long way in preventing a fall when climbing as well. Finally, making sure the ladder is secured, tied off or stabilized by a second person ensures that if conditions are windy or the ladder becomes off-balance, the technician avoids a potential serious injury or fatality.
Our technicians work in rain or shine and in hot/cold temperatures. To ensure they are not putting their bodies at risk, preparation is key. During the winter months, techs need to be aware of ice, extremely low temperatures, and freezing winds. Their PPE may include, a hat, gloves, hand warmers, layers of warm clothing, thick socks and appropriate footwear. During the summer months, extra care should be taken to stay hydrated, protect skin and eyes from UV rays and have cooldown options if overheated. The roofs can be upwards of 20-30 degrees hotter than the outside temperature so having effective cooling options is crucial. Since technicians may be on a roof for an extended period of time, taking a personal water bottle up with them can provide much-needed hydration or can be used to cool themselves off in an emergency. Additionally, bringing a wet towel or gel-based rag up with them could be used around their neck to greatly reduce their inner body temperature.
Ergonomics and Back Safety
Back injuries and musculoskeletal injuries are very common in every industry and commercial HVAC repair and servicing are no exception. Many times, the technician is climbing a ladder with tools that they need to service or repair a unit. To ensure that the technician is maintaining a 3-point contact at all times can be tricky. Our techs will usually use their tool bag as a backpack enabling them to climb with their arms free. Anything over 30-40 lbs. should be pulled up by a rope instead of being carried. If an item is large/bulky or extra heavy, our technicians can utilize special lift equipment or get the help of another company, to lift equipment safely. If the technician cannot do their job safely, they will always tell their manager.
Commercial HVAC units can pose threats to the health of our technicians during cleaning or servicing. Many of the chemicals used are irritants or have strong fumes or vapors. While most of the time they are used with adequate ventilation, protection is still needed. Technicians wear eye/face protection as well as chemical-resistant gloves when using any chemical. Along with PPE, proper use can also limit exposure such as ensuring that chemicals are never sprayed directly at anyone and taking into consideration windy conditions that may cause the substance to blowback. If for any reason chemicals must be used indoors or in a confined space, technicians can abate the hazard with positive airflow, ventilation and in some cases an appropriate respirator. If there is any question about the safety of chemical use, technicians are to stop work and call their manager.
Responsibility to Care
Our commitment to safety means that sometimes we have to make a difficult call about completing a job. If a technician observes or is exposed to unsafe conditions at a customer site, they stop and say something to their manager. Our technicians care about their safety but more importantly, they care about the customer and their employees enough to mention a concern, for the well-being of everyone. If we see that a previous repair company took a shortcut or created a safety hazard, we will alert the customer and ensure that it is corrected so that we do not compromise the safety of anyone.