Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Coping with Allergies...Seasonal and Otherwise

Achoo!!!!  After a bumpy start to Spring, the trees and flowers are in bloom and lawn mowing has been added to the weekly chore list.  This is not news if you are an allergy sufferer. 

It is estimated that 50 million Americans suffer from some type of allergy.  This includes indoor/outdoor, insect and pet dander allergies.  Symptoms can include everything from a runny nose and sneezing to life threatening anaphylaxis.

Those in the p-h-c profession are not immune to allergies, in fact they are more susceptible.  Allergens are everywhere, but especially in attics, basements, crawl spaces and anywhere that is damp or wet.  Basically, everywhere a p-h-c professional works. 

If you are allergic to pet dander or insect stings, entering a customer's home or working on outside units can be tricky.  When the weather begins to warm up, bees, wasps and hornets begin to emerge from their winter slumber.  When the weather starts to cool off, they begin nesting for the winter.  At these two times, these insects can be especially hostile to visitors.  Their nesting spots can be right where you are working.

In the height of summer and dead of winter, indoor allergies are at their highest.  Pet dander, dust and mold levels are surprisingly high when windows and doors remained tightly closed for periods of time.  It is said that the levels of allergens in a home can be higher inside than outside during the summer.  If your customer has not changed the filters on their units or had the ducts cleaned, the levels could be even worse.

For adults, allergies is the 5th leading chronic disease resulting in more than 4 million lost work days annually, with a total cost of $700 million in lost productivity.  Allergies are not just a nuisance, but can pose a danger on the job.  Watery eyes and stuffy sinuses can cause blurred vision or dizziness.  These symptoms are not compatible with driving or operating machinery or power tools.  Insect stings can cause life-threatening anaphylaxis even in those who have not experience a reaction in the past.

If you find that a box of tissues is your newest accessory or that itchy, watery eyes make it difficult to find a shut-off valve, it is time to find relief.  Seasonal allergies can be easily treated with over the counter medications.  Many provide 24 hour relief, but should be taken at bedtime to eliminate any risk for drowsiness.  If you want to try a more natural approach, some people swear by local honey.  Just a tablespoon in hot tea or straight up seems to help.

Any allergic reaction that causes anaphylaxis needs to be treated with a prescription Epi-pen.  This includes insect and bee stings, latex and food allergies.  You can prevent potential insect or bee stings by being aware of your surrounding when outdoors or in crawl spaces and attics.  Bees love fragrance, so using fragrance free skincare products will help prevent bee stings.  Keeping a dryer sheet in your pocket is a trick the US Postal Service recommends to their employees. 

If you feel that the pretty flowers, customer's cat or buzzing bee are causing you to suffer, it is best to talk to your physician.  Effectively treated allergies will help you feel better and be more productive both on and off the job.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Preventing Leave Policy Abuse

Many businesses were forced to close for several days, CT-PHCC included, as a result of the blizzard on February 8, 2013.  While people were snowbound for several days, the storm did give people an excuse to call out of work, even if they were not truly snowbound.  Weather and sickness are the two biggest reasons for calling out of work.  Learn how to prevent abuse of your leave policy.

Prepared for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc.
You know the old phrase “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Let’s see how it helps us think through how to prevent employee leave abuse. Research tells us that the more invested an employee is in the company, the less sick leave abuse that occurs. Your ultimate goal is for your employees to be motivated to come to work and to produce, not to spend time scheming up their next excuse for calling in sick.

Investment Strategies
Investment is a two way street. In order for your employees to be invested, you need to make investments in them. There are lots of programs/events that help to make employees feel valued:
- Recognition and Reward Programs
- Employee Assistance Programs
- Giving Employee Perks (gym memberships, parking, etc.)
- Events (holiday parties, company picnics, etc

While programs come with various price tags, they are often worth it compared to lost productivity as a result of leave abuse. Before making any investment, check with your employees to understand what programs and events would be of greatest interest to them. Involving your people in the decisions you make about them, in and of itself, will go a long way.
Some of the most impactful strategies for raising the level of investment your employees will have in your company are less programmatic and more behavioral. You will enjoy significant gains from:
- Treating them with respect
- Being open, honest, and transparent in your communications
- Giving them on-going feedback
- “Walking your talk”

From a policy perspective, many companies have moved away from sick leave in favor of Paid Time off (PTO). Instead of having a separate sick bank, all time off is considered PTO and it is up to the employee to use their allotted time as they want and need to. Your people will enjoy the flexibility and you will enjoy the added control you have over leave abuse.

Sick Leave Policy
If you decide to stick with a sick leave policy, ensuring the following will result in less abuse of the policy.Your sick leave policy is clear and understood by all.
Your employees need to know:
- How many approved sick days they are allowed on an annual basis.
- How to report sick leave (how and when to call in).
- If medical excuses from a doctor are required and if so when.
- That sick days should not be used for personal days.
- That you will not tolerate abuse and what the consequences of abuse will be.
If you know sick leave abuse is happening, then take action.

It is important to know if abuse is happening and to treat abuse consistently. However, do not automatically assume an employee is being abusive with sick time. Talk to your employees and their supervisors to find out causes and possible interventions. If there has been a violation, take swift action. It will send the right message to all of your staff.

Time off is tracked fairly
Track all time off. A simple but effective method of tracking who is taking time off will help to ensure that everyone is fairly accounting for the time off they take. Look for clues that can indicate sick leave is being used for other purposes. Are there patterns in these requests off, such as every other Monday? Are there other patterns that can indicate a reason for the abuse?

If you want employees who are dedicated, treating them with respect, showing them you care about their well-being and having policies in place that are applied fairly, have long lasting effects on how they will treat their employer and the leave benefits offered to them.

This content was developed for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc. (www.tpo-inc.com). Please consult your HR professional or attorney for further advice, as laws may differ in each state. Laws continue to evolve; the information presented is as of November 2012. Any omission or inclusion of incorrect data is unintentional. Please note this article is not intended to provide legal advice or to substitute for supervisor employment law training.
The PHCC Educational Foundation, a partnership of contractors, manufacturers and wholesalers was founded in 1987 to serve the plumbing-heating-cooling industry by preparing contractors and their employees to meet the challenges of a constantly changing marketplace. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting the Foundation by making a contribution at http://www.phccfoundation.org.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Baby, It's Cold Outside...Winter Safety Tips

It is most definitely winter here in Connecticut.  Cold weather has settled in with the latest blanket of snow.  The cold weather does not only mean that there will be more "no heat" calls, it means that getting to those customers can be a challenge.  Safety is always important, even more so in the winter.  Here are a few safety tips to help keep you protected this winter.

1.  Dress properly for the weather.  Layers are always a good option.  Gloves will help keep your hands warm and hats help seal in body heat.  Warm socks in your boots will help keep your toes protected from frostbite.

2.  Make certain your vehicle is ready for winter.  Check tires treads, brakes and windshield washer fluid levels.  If your vehicle is in need of routine maintenance, do it before heading out on a snowy day.  Always keep your fuel tank filled to at least one-half.  The extra fuel will add weight, which can help on snowy days.  It will also allow you to keep the vehicle running and warm if you get stuck in traffic or a snow bank.

3.  Clear your vehicle of snow and ice before you drive away.  It is not only a traffic rule, but ensures that you will have full visibility while driving.

4.  Keep a small shovel and ice melt or kitty litter in your vehicle.  You never know when you might have to dig out of a parking spot or deal with ice on a customer's driveway or walkway.

5.  Use caution when parking and walking outside at a client's home.  If the driveway is not clear, parking on the street can be more dangerous than usual.  Driveways and walkways can get icy, even when cleared properly.  Be careful when you are carrying in your gear.  Take extra trips if needs so you do not slip and fall.

6.  Always use common sense during storms.  While your customer is important, your safety is more important.  If the roads are not cleared or there is snow or ice falling from the sky, think twice about rushing out to a call. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Goodbye 2012...Hello 2013

Now is the time that people begin to analyze all that has happened over the past 12 months.  The good, bad and ugly are dragged out of the closet for further inspection.  As a result of this review, resolutions are made for the coming year.

While all this reflection and goal setting is good, only about 5% of those resolutions are actually kept one month later.  There are many reasons why they don't stick.  The Internet is full of articles on the psychology of this matter.  To sum it up, people create a "false hope syndrome" by starting a new behavior on the first of the year.  By waiting for January 1st to reinvent yourself, you set yourself up for failure. 

Many of the resolutions that are made are not goals that simply appeared on December 31st.  If your resolution is to lose weight, you have probably been thinking about doing so for months, or even years.  The moment that you backslide on your resolution, the tendency is to admit defeat and vow to try again next year.

As you reflect on 2012, resolve to NOT make any resolutions for January 1, 2013.  While goal setting is necessary for personal and professional growth, don't wait until January 1st to to begin working on those goals.  Work on your goal when you are ready to tackle it....that can be any random day of the week, during any month of the year.

Once you begin working on your goal, do NOT become defeated if you are not perfect in achieving your goal.  Remember, Rome was not built in a day.  It takes at least 21-28 days to establish a new habit.  Keep at it.  Slow and steady always wins the race!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tis the Season...For Coughs and Colds

The holidays can bring longer hours, more stress and lots of good cheer.  The time between Thanksgiving and New Year's can be the most hectic time of the year.  When you mix more calls for service, holiday parties, family get-togethers and life in general, you begin to burn the candle at both ends.

Just as your professional and personal life are becoming chaotic, cold and flu season rears its ugly head.  Since you are likely to be with more people than usual, your vulnerability to catching a cold is heightened.  Here are a few tips to help keep you well through the holidays and beyond. 

1.  Though it may seem obvious, eating well and drinking plenty of water is a great way to stay healthy.  Only drink caffeine, soda and alcohol in moderation.

2.  Wash your hands!!!!  Yes, your mother was right.  Frequent hand washing with warm water and soap, especially before meals and after blowing your nose is scientifically-proven the most effective way to stay well.  Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in your truck and/or bag for times you are not near a sink.

3. Get enough sleep.  The average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep each night.  This allows the body to recover from the day and recharge for the next.  It gives the immune system time to fight any nasty bacteria or viruses you encountered throughout the day.

4.  Get a physical.  Routine check-ups with your primary care provider will help you maintain your health.  Any chronic conditions can be monitored and managed and new conditions can be diagnosed before they become an issue.

Your health is important to you, your family and your business.  Go wash your hands and grab a bottle of water!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Importance of Pulling Permits

Building permits are required for new buildings and substantial alterations to existing buildings in the state of Connecticut.  There are additional requirements in each city or town.  Some towns require building permits for air conditioning unit installations, specific plumbing work and sprinkler installations.  While pulling a permit can be a hassle, it is a step that should not be skipped.

Building permits are not simply a revenue source for local municipalities.  It is a safe guard for the homeowner...your customer.  Building permits ensure the customer that the project plan has been reviewed by an outside source.  Through this review it has been determined that the plan will be executed up to current building code.  It also ensures the homeowner that work will be inspected at certain milestones for larger scaled projects.

Yes, this process can be costly not only for the actual permit, but for the time it takes for inspections.  Yes, the homeowner may tell you that they don't think a permit is necessary.  A rule is a rule and these rules are put in place for very specific reasons.  In the end, it is worth the time, effort and expense.

Think of pulling building permits as a great customer service tool.  Put yourself in the shoes of the homeowner.  They hire you to install a new HVAC system in their home, which requires a building permit in their city.  You proceed to do the work without a permit for whatever reason.  The homeowner is very pleased until the City Assessor makes their rounds and sees an HVAC unit at a house that didn't have one in the past.  Now the homeowner receives a letter stating that no only their taxes are going up, but they are going to be fined for having work done without a permit.

Sounds far-fetched?  It happens more than you would think.  Had the permit been pulled, this change would have been noted at City Hall and the new assessment would have been recorded.  No fuss, no fines.  Since that didn't happen, you now have a homeowner that is likely angry with you for not pulling the permit.  Most likely you just lost a repeat customer.

While building permits can seen like a hassle to some, they are necessary.  Don't skip this important step.  It will benefit both you and your customer.    

Monday, November 26, 2012

Protect Your Family and Home: Hire a Professional Contractor

This week's post is an excerpt from a recent News Release from National PHCC.  The information is timely with so many people in New York and New Jersey still recovering from Hurricane Sandy.  However, these guidelines should be used whenever you hire someone to work on your home.

Tips to Help You Make the Right Choice

Finding a Contractor:

  • Check local licenses.  Many localities require that plumbing, heating and cooling contractors be licensed to ensure that all health, safety and building codes are followed.  If that's the case where you live, ask the contractor for his or her license number.
  • Confirm insurance credentials.  Ask to see the contractor's proof of liability and worker's compensation insurance.  This is to make sure you're not liable for accidents on your property.
  • Ask for references.  Ask the contractor for names of previous customers in the area.  Contact those people and ask their opinion of the work.
  • Check reputation.  Call you Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against the contractor.
  • Look for the PHCC logo.  PHCC members are professionals who are dedicated to using the latest technology, promoting energy and water conservation, and following all health and safety regulations. For a list of contractor members in your area visit phccweb.org.

Working with a Contractor:

  • Request an estimate.  To get an idea of the overall cost, ask for an estimate.  Choosing a contractor should be based on more than just the lowest estimate.  Quality of work and reliability count, too.
  • Ask about financing for system replacements.  You be able to lighten the financial burden of replacing water heaters, boiler and other plumbing or HVACR equipment.
  • Don't pay in cash.  It can be tempting to seek a quick fix, but make sure you have a paper trail for all transactions and services completed on your home - especially after a disaster.