COVID-19: The road to recovery

The challenges for the industry going into the COVID-19 lockdown were complex enough but the work to achieve some sort of normality since has been just as difficult.

The lockdown has kept the CIPHE team busy with the primary objectives of keeping members up to date and getting the right advice out as quickly as possible.

Returning to work

The CIPHE has also made the most of video technology to reach out to members. As well as regular email updates, with support from Installer magazine and contributed to by our Industrial Associate member Purmo Group, the CIPHE hosted a webinar on returning to work and potential legacy issues that may be faced.

Not only that, the institute teamed up with BEAMA, CORGI, HHIC and the NHIC to produce an animation on safe working practice to help communicate that the plumbing and heating industry could be restarted and consumer confidence could be rebuilt. This was backed up by a workplace risk assessment detailing issues such as PPE standards which was emailed out to members.

Providing guidance

At the same time, the senior team has been responding to inquiries from Whitehall civil servants trying to set official guidance for the industry.

Richard Soper, CIPHE development director, explains: “Those in government are not expected to know all of the key issues. They’re not as close to the coalface. So, I do believe that we have a role to play in terms of government involvement either at a local basis or in Westminster. We’ve got a very close working relationship with the government.”

Proof of just how close came with a request to share the back-to-work guidance across Whitehall.

“Our risk mitigation paper went to a number of government departments and was well received. As a result of our work, we’re now part of the official ‘feedback loop,’” says Kevin Wellman, CIPHE chief executive officer. “As just another example, the Financial Conduct Authority asked us how members are doing and any problems they are experiencing. It’s been a good way of establishing relationships that we can call on in the future.”

Requests for advice have also come from the All Party Parliamentary Water Group, insurance underwriters, the water industry and public health engineers.

Hong Kong Branch successes

It’s not just the UK that has benefitted from the expertise of members. Hong Kong has had a very low number of cases, largely because public health measures from the SARS outbreak were reintroduced.

The Hong Kong branch has created a technical paper and held a webinar on household drainage systems and cross-contamination (read a condensed version of the paper here). The webinar attracted 900 requests and details of the drainage system design they recommend will come later in the year.

Legal help

Free legal advice, a member benefit provided by Law Express, has also proved invaluable. Jilly Sainsbury-Bow, client director at Law Express says: “Many small firms don’t have a HR department. We’ve been trying to get information out about furloughing and there’s been a good take-up.”

Getting the industry back to work has been the other main concern. There was an early win after members in Wales contacted the CIPHE because they hadn’t been classified as essential workers and couldn’t work. The Welsh government accepted the CIPHE’s intervention and installers were able to resume business.

Re-opening buildings across the country meant the CIPHE turning around advice for Public Health England on how to avoid the spread of legionella bacteria.

So what happens next?

Wellman says: “Now that we are getting closer to normality, we are getting more enquiries asking for advice on how to respond. There has been some support for self-employed people but we are telling the government they can go further.”

During the early stages of the outbreak, demand for PPE brought back concerns over whether supplies actually met UK standards. The Institute will be returning to work on outlawing CE-marked products – equipment or products made outside the European Economic Area which is supposed to meet UK standards. A significant amount sourced during the lockdown has not been compliant.

And with unemployment set to rise, another familiar issue of unqualified traders is also returning: poorly experienced people entering the industry using redundancy money to set up in business. Wellman says: “They have qualifications that aren’t recognised and limited experience. Homeowners who have been furloughed could be tempted to turn to them with disastrous consequences.”

The challenges are far from over.

He sums up: “Whilst I am delighted with the CIPHE’s recognised role with government, the support, the collaboration we’ve been involved in, we must make the most of the opportunity of talking to our MPs about good plumbing and heating. That will help make the industry a better place.”

Practical resources

The CIPHE has created resources to help members tackle some of the issues highlighted in our manifesto – many more relevant than ever post-lockdown.

Safe Working Practices

Members should take steps to protect their health and that of their customers. A guidance document, a template risk assessment and a two-minute animation are all available at

Mitigating the Risk of Building Water Systems

This guidance leads members through procedures for the flushing and recommissioning of building water supply systems after disuse:

Legionella risk assessing in domestic properties

This comprehensive 64-page CIPHE insight guide will soon be available to members and non-members. It’s been created to run alongside CIPHE certified training to become competent in an assessment of the risks of legionella pneumophila and other water-borne health risks that will be launched later this year.

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