The jobsite has definitely changed — workers are social distancing, projects are moving slower and the office has become more digitized (for starters) — but work continues. Everyone from construction contractors to landscape professionals are out there right now building and beautifying our communities while a pandemic looms. Safety is not a new thing for these trades, which has given them a head start, but new cleanliness and hygiene protocols are now in place to keep these workers, their families and their neighborhoods safe from sickness. A big focus for our readership has always been specifically machine safety, and now we’re adapting those best practices with a background of COVID-19 safety.
In this article, we will deal specifically with renting commercial equipment and tooling safely in today’s ultra-clean-conscience work environment. Like the trades they outfit, rental equipment companies across the country have stepped up their best practices to serve their customers with clean machines and services for ongoing projects. Leaders like Sunbelt Rentals (with more than 900 locations across the United States) have been busy for months preparing.
“Our COVID-19 response began in early March with the implementation of a COVID-19 Task Force,” says Katy Lovering, senior director of strategic initiatives at Sunbelt Rentals. “This Task Force is the central hub for communications, procedure and process changes, and Sunbelt Rentals’ overall COVID-19 response. For our team members, we focus a lot on communication. We believe that a connected and educated employee base will translate to a safer and improved customer experience through this time. Throughout March and April, we hosted regular company calls with our operational and sales leadership teams to provide updates on shelter-in-place orders, PPE and company policies and procedures. As an essential provider, it was critical that we kept our doors open and our teammates and customers safe. This did require some changes to our standard operations.”
Standards Have Changed
When you step onto an equipment rental lot these days (say, to borrow a compact track loader), you will immediately notice changes. For starters, you don’t even need to step on the lot, and if you do, bring your best COVID-19 etiquette and you’ll get the same in return.
“Social distancing practices and PPE guidelines are in place at all of our branch locations,” explained Taylor Abel, director safety at United Rentals, which boasts a 1,000-plus locations nationwide. “We have also implemented a contact-less drive-up option for our customers who want to pick up or drop off equipment at branch locations. Our customers have many options when it comes to getting the equipment they need without going inside a branch. They can order online, through our app or on the phone. Pull up and we’ll confirm the order and load/unload while they wait in their vehicle.”
That’s first-class service, but still, how do you know the equipment is safe? This is a product that is borrowed by multiple customers and crews. Isn’t that a risk? Educate yourself. Try asking how your rental company now cleans its equipment and keeps it clean during transport and drop-off. At United Rentals, its employees conduct a variety of safety and mechanical checks prior to the equipment being rented, now adding disinfecting to the process. In particular, United focuses on high-touch surface areas like controls, buttons, latches, knobs, grab handles, operator seats, seat belts and buckles.
“At the customer worksite, if we are dropping off equipment, our drivers now perform a ‘last touch’ precautionary disinfecting of the equipment,” says Abel. “We use EPA-approved disinfectant and spray or wipe the surfaces touched by the driver when delivering. We have also communicated to our employees on disinfecting equipment, practicing good personal hygiene and social distancing, plus the proper disposal of wipes, towels and any PPE they use in connecting with equipment delivery.”
Of course, COVID-19 etiquette goes both ways. For instance, Sunbelt Rentals categorizes its equipment cleaning processes under two umbrellas:
No Known Exposure. Sunbelt Rentals implements these universal precautions:
- Spray high-touch areas on equipment with bleach solution or other EPA-approved method. Use alcohol wipes for electronics and equipment screens.
- When returned, equipment goes directly to the washbay, noting cleaning with high-pressure wash with soap will work in place of bleach solution.
- Wear disposable gloves when cleaning surfaces. Gloves should be discarded after each cleaning.
Known Exposure at Customer Site. When a customer requests pickup or a service call:
- Equipment that needs service in a contaminated area must be sanitized and removed from contaminated area prior to service.
- Once equipment is sanitized by customer, prior to Sunbelt Rentals transportation or service, further cleaning by the Sunbelt Rentals team will occur using universal precautions.
- If the customer cannot provide proof that equipment has been sanitized, it must be quarantined at the customer location for a minimum of three days (or until decontamination is confirmed) during which time it will stay on rent to customer.
“Above all, we want our customers to feel safe and welcome when visiting a Sunbelt Rentals location,” says Lovering. “We are asking customers to stay in their vehicle for our contactless curbside rental experience. Customers can stay in their vehicle for our contactless curbside rental experience. We just ask that they practice social distancing and follow guidance given by our branch employees.”
“We know and understand that this is a strange time for all. We want our customers to know that we are a partner. We are in this with them. I’d tell our customers to rely on us to help however we can. That may mean a change to the way we need to do business with them in the short term or the long term. Let your sales rep or the branch you do business with know of any special requests or needs that you have. You may be surprised how Sunbelt Rentals can help.”Katy Lovering, senior director of strategic initiatives at Sunbelt
The Responsibility of the Renter
The most effective way for everyone to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic is personal hygiene and continued social distancing practices in public. So, like we mentioned above, if you can avoid it, maybe don’t spend a ton of time on the lot — if at all. Sunbelt Rentals is encouraging its customers to use its online rental reservation system when possible.
“We ask that they stay in their vehicle and let us load or unload all equipment or tools for them through our curbside service,” explains Todd Jenkins, safety, health and environment systems manager. “For customers that do enter our branches, we first ask that they respect social distancing while inside. We request through clearly posted signage that customers do not enter our location if any of the following apply: you have traveled to a CDC Level-3 country, have been on a cruise ship in the past 14 days or have experienced direct, prolonged exposure to COVID-19. Additionally, we ask that a face covering be worn at all times while in our facility.”
In return, the folks at Sunbelt Rentals are trying their best to keep renters safe, so reciprocal respect is imperative for this to all work. Here are some of the COVID-19 protocols Sunbelt Rentals has implemented at all its branches.
- Team members wear appropriate PPE (like disposable gloves and face coverings).
- Maintain social distancing at all times.
- There is surface cleaning of all likely-touched areas. Surfaces are cleaned using detergent/soap and water prior to sanitizing with diluted bleach solution (1/3 cup bleach per 1-gallon water), alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol or most common household disinfectants.
- Follow proper procedure to remove and dispose of gloves. Wash hands thoroughly after removing gloves.
- Team members self-check their temperature and symptoms before coming to work each day. Any team member with abnormal symptoms should remain home.
- Team members can log in to Sunbelt’s website to learn about topics such as: updates to policies and benefits, curbside service guidelines, expectations for employees and customers, PPE use (including face coverings), shelter-in-place and stay-at-home operations, safety videos developed for COVID-19 and tips for customer engagement.
Maybe Rent Some Equipment to Help with Your COVID-19 Preparedness
United Rentals notes that it is the largest equipment rental company in the world, so it has many different types of equipment that renters may need in responding to COVID-19. This includes, but is not limited to: portable sanitation products such as hand sanitizing and washing stands and portable restrooms and trailers; air quality and filtration products such as air scrubbers, air conditioning/heater units and HEPA vacuums; floor care products; temporary power and lighting; and HVAC equipment, heaters and traffic control offerings. For more information jump over to unitedrentals.com/covid19, noting UR does not sell or rent PPE designed to protect against COVID-19.
“In the current environment, it’s important for everyone to prioritize the safety of their employees and customers,” says Abel. “Companies should make sure to follow the latest information on COVID-19, including information from official government websites for emergency orders, guidance with respect to personal hygiene and general updates on the COVID-19 situation. The advice we’d offer to renters and contractors who are still working and renting during this pandemic includes that you should anticipate changes of government orders as the pandemic evolves. You should choose an equipment partner that puts safety first, offers the greatest range of equipment and superior service, and that works with you to quickly meet your needs and exceed your expectations.”
Sunbelt Rentals also offers a wide range of services that support COVID-19 response. Check out this landing page. At a high level, the company has an Emergency Response Team (ERT), which is part of a dedicated effort by Sunbelt to provide equipment and coordinated response assistance in times of crisis. The team is often deployed in response to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados or wildfires, but the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a similar recovery effort. The ERT is working in support of local and national government agencies, as well as first response contractors.
“We put our national muscle to work by providing resources for floor cleaning, air conditioning, dehumidifying and heating, air quality and air purification, temporary lighting and surveillance solutions, power generation and distribution, temporary flooring, barricades and traffic control signs,” says Jenkins.
Lucky for us, rental companies like Sunbelt Rentals and United Rentals are finding ways to continue to help contractors succeed and stay safe during this unique situation, and perhaps their greatest asset is, despite the situation, remembering that every customer is still unique too.
“We know and understand that this is a strange time for all,” says Lovering. “We want our customers to know that we are a partner. We are in this with them. I’d tell our customers to rely on us to help however we can. That may mean a change to the way we need to do business with them in the short term or the long term. Let your sales rep or the branch you do business with know of any special requests or needs that you have. You may be surprised how Sunbelt Rentals can help.”