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040720 Man Fixing Vehicle Engine

Technicians considered essential during pandemic

April 7, 2020
“You need technicians just as much as you need drivers to make sure the truck is moving,” says Robert Braswell, executive director for TMC.

By Emily Markham, assistant editor, Vehicle Repair Group

During an emergency situation such as a global pandemic, people rely on essential business operations to keep the country going. In an announcement made by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), maintenance and repair technicians supporting or enabling transportation functions are among those considered as essential workers.

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, the transportation industry has been working in overdrive. Based on the FTR COVID-19 Impact Heatmap, truck spot rates have been moderately to significantly above what is normal for the economy at this time of the year. FTR is an industry source for freight transportation forecasting for the shipping, trucking, rail, intermodal, equipment, and financial communities.

Due to the increased mileage fleets are putting on to ensure supplies are reaching other essential businesses as well as consumers, there is a greater chance of wear and tear on vehicles. In order to avoid unnecessary downtime, fleets must be vigilant about not only preventive maintenance but also keeping their maintenance staff safe and healthy in the face of the virus.

Why are technicians essential?

Some may be confused as to why technicians are considered essential. After all, with (almost) everyone stuck at home, who’s going in to have their oil changed? They haven't thought about the fact that to keep the supply flow moving, commercial fleets must stay operational, meaning technicians have to be available to perform maintenance and repairs when necessary.

“Without the technicians making sure the vehicles are ready for service and [are] in proper and safe order, the drivers can't make their deliveries,” says Robert Braswell, executive director for the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC). “Trucks provide all the essential services to all the different industries that are affected by [coronavirus] – all the things that make civilized life possible. You need technicians just as much as you need drivers to make sure the truck is moving.”

How are repair shops being affected by the virus?

Like all essential workers, maintenance and repair technicians are putting themselves at risk for infection each day they go into work. This is on top of the risks already involved in their day-to-day jobs.

“It's a little different than working in an office when you're working as a diesel technician or a commercial vehicle technician,” Braswell says. “There's a little element of risk to start with, add [COVID-19] to that, and it can make it for quite a stressful situation.”

In an effort to keep the technicians healthy, fleets and third-party repair shops are changing the way they operate.

“Although [repair shops] can remain open as they are considered an essential business, we’re finding that some of the brick and mortar shops are closed or forced to modify their hours of operation,” says Demetra Markopoulos, director of fleet services at RepairSmith, a Daimler-backed mobile vehicle maintenance and repair company.

This has caused the repair shops to get a bit creative. In an article released by the Heavy Duty Repair Forum, the organization shares how many heavy duty collision repair shops are doing their part to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The article explains that to abide by social distancing practices, some shops are creating shifts where a few workers go in earlier and others come in later to minimize the number of people in the shop at one time. Additionally, shops are staggering breaks and lunches for employees.

Braswell also notes that some shops are operating in only every other bay. Though these practices are necessary for the workers’ safety, it does limit how much work can be done, which in turn can impact shop revenue and vehicle downtime. 

In terms of maintenance and repairs being done, vehicles essential for making critical deliveries are being prioritized over other work. As for preventive maintenance, it’s likely the frequency will change due to the increase in mileage on the vehicles, Braswell notes.  

Cleaning procedures for…

Technicians

Technicians keep fleets operational, therefore technicians must be kept safe and healthy. Many fleets and repair shops have added additional cleaning and safety procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“No-contact procedures can be implemented to increase safety, such as arranging a contact-free key exchange and accepting payment online or via a phone call,” Markopoulos says. “Wearing protective gloves and disinfecting high-touch surfaces are [also] important measures to implement to ensure safety.”

RepairSmith is practicing ‘no-contact vehicle repairs,’ which help to eliminate exposure to the virus. Markopoulos lists the extra steps their technicians are taking in order to remain safe, including:

  • Avoiding direct contact during appointments, including shaking hands.
  • Disinfecting high-touch areas in vehicles such as the steering wheel, door handles, door panels, and keys.
  • Disinfecting all credit card readers and any other items that are considered high-contact.
  • Disinfecting all equipment and tools as well as any high-touch areas in the repair vans.
  • Any technicians who are exhibiting cold, flu, or flu-like symptoms are required to stay home.

The HD Repair Forum offers another precaution shops may want to consider – providing employees with a space to change and asking them to leave work clothes and boots at the shop in order to reduce bringing any illness in or out of the shop.

Tools and equipment

As for the tools and equipment, it is important for technicians to know the difference between cleaning and disinfecting.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.”

On the other hand, “Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.”

When using cleaning and disinfecting products on electronic equipment, the CDC advises following the manufacturer’s instructions. If no instructions are provided, the CDC recommends the use of alcohol-based wipes or spray containing at least 70 percent alcohol in order to disinfect touch screens. Be sure to let the surfaces thoroughly dry before use.  

Aside from cleaning/disinfecting tools and equipment, vehicles should also be wiped down before and after any maintenance or repairs. As Markopoulus advised, any high-touch areas inside and outside the vehicle should be disinfected. For greater instruction on proper in-cab cleaning/disinfecting, Braswell notes that TMC Recommended Practice (RP) 443 though initially created to address issues such as bedbugs, can also apply to preventing the spread of viruses like COIVD-19. Proposals have been made for additions to RP 443 in order to give more detail on cleaning and disinfecting for viruses. 

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