7 April 2020

Plumbing services to continue through public health crisis

| Karyn Starmer
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O'Neill and Brown Plumbing Services

O’Neill and Brown Plumbing Services, Canberra’s largest and oldest plumbing service. Photo: Supplied.

As many businesses shut down, plumbers will continue to provide essential services to the ACT community during the coronavirus health emergency.

“Our members provide a service essential to public health,” the Executive Officer of Master Plumbers ACT, Leigh Watson says.

“The last thing that someone in isolation needs at this time is to live with a blocked toilet or burst water main. At a time like this, the provision of timely and efficient responses to plumbing emergencies is more critical than ever.

“Of course, plumbers need to take measures at this time to protect the health and safety of both themselves and their customers, but this is nothing new to them. Every day, plumbers need to work on sanitary drainage systems that contain faecal matter and a host of dangerous pathogens. They will treat this situation the same as any other safety risk.”

Ms Watson said Master Plumbers Association members are implementing additional hygiene practices and cleaning routines to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission, including wiping down equipment and surfaces with antibacterial supplies and ensuring their staff keep the required physical distance from customers.

Ms Watson said they are also recommending members ask customers to let them know if they are self-isolating or may possibly be infected, so they can then ensure they take specific precautions with safety equipment such as full shielding Perspex face protection and disposable gloves.

“There may be the occasional situation where a plumber is not prepared to go into a home or business that puts them at risk, but people can call the Master Plumbers Association who will find a plumber who will be able to attend.”

O’Neill & Brown Plumbing Services National Manager Damien Holder says they are continuing to provide a 24/7 service and have implemented a full range of processes for working at premises where people are in self-isolation or are sick with the coronavirus for the protection of the public and technicians while assisting with plumbing emergencies.

“We are operating in a fast-changing environment and we are regularly monitoring the health regulations and requirements to ensure compliance at all times,” Mr Holder said.

“Our COVID-19 protocols apply from the initial phone call when we work out how we can enter the premises with minimal contact. Our technicians will also wear full PPE (personal protection equipment) for the safety of our customers and our staff.

“We can then fix the problem, whether it be a sewer overflow, burst water pipe, a gas leak or no water. If the work is identified to take more than 15 minutes, our technicians will isolate the issue and make safe. We will then discuss how we can complete the works at a later date,” Mr Holder said.

Water Tight Canberra owner Tom Martin says plumbers are an essential emergency service that looks after the systems that protect the community from disease.

“From the sewer network to hot water to gas, everything we do is integral to the health, comfort and hygiene of our community. Plumbers are stepping up to ensure the community and our technicians are protected.”

Water Tight

Tom Wright with some of the Water Tight Canberra crew. Canberra’s recent National Telstra Small Business award winner. Image: Region Media.

Mr Martin says sourcing the extra PPE is proving a challenge following the panic buying.

“Our technicians normally use sanitiser and other PPE items and it is not something we have ever had to stock up on. With the nationwide shortages, we have certainly had to be resourceful to ensure the safety of our customers and staff.”

The recent panic buying that stripped the shelves of toilet paper has created its own plumbing situation.

Leigh Watson from Master Plumbers ACT says, “It is well documented that many people are now resorting to using things like wipes and paper towels which block toilets. Our members are already reporting increased calls to clear blockages. It’s a no brainer that the community would become a very unhealthy place if such toilet blockages were not cleared”.

Icon Water Operations Manager, Rob Allen said Icon Water had seen an increase in blockages in the system.

“We are also seeing an increase in the material that’s hitting the screens at the sewerage treatment plant including wet wipes, paper towel and tissues. These items are not designed to break down easily.

“We’ve got crews clearing the sewer mains and pipes 24/7 now and it’s no surprise this has coincided with the lack of toilet paper in supermarkets. It’s really important that residents are only flushing the three Ps – pee, poo and (toilet) paper” Mr Allen said.


Blockages in icon treatment plant and pump stations due to wet wipes. Photo: Icon Water.

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