ASHI Washington Chapter is happy to share the following content with its Members. This content has been republished to our newsletter with permission from its Author. This information is not intended as medical advice.
Why is ASHI Western Washington Chapter issuing this guidance?
New concerns and public health advisories about COVID-19, commonly referred to as Coronavirus, has prompted home inspectors to respond with guidance for members, clients, and affiliates. This guidance is intended to help home inspectors understand the potential impact on the home inspection processes in Washington state.
Right now, Washington state, Kirkland, Seattle, and surrounding areas, are located in a highly impacted area with media attention due to the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and reported deaths. Due to this unique and urgent front-line position, home inspectors located in Washington state have an immediate opportunity to demonstrate vigilance as we serve the community while visiting homes and interacting with clients. We can also play an important role in educating our customers and realtors, limiting transmission and contact, reporting transmission, and providing businesses guidance for inspectors and clients.
Links to updated local information:
Links to COVID-19 and the current impact on businesses in the United States:
Coronavirus – Protective Measures:
Daily updates about the global impact of COVID-19 are also available from the World Health Organization
Local agencies are taking proactive steps to protect the health of our community. For local information check with your local health departments.
The CDC is responding to the outbreak of a respiratory illness caused by a novel Coronavirus. While the outbreak started in Wuhan, China, a growing number of cases have been identified in several other countries, including the United States.
What is the risk of exposure to COVID-19?
The CDC reports most people in the United States do not have an immediate risk of exposure to the virus. However, the situation is rapidly evolving, and the CDC will update its risk assessment as needed. For the CDC’s latest updates, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/Coronavirus/2019-ncov/
How do we operate our businesses in light of the concerns about COVID-19 in the United States?
We will face questions and challenges to ensure the security and safety of our employees, clients, and others we do business with as news of COVID-19 cases grow across North America. It’s important to communicate common-sense awareness of the situation and put in place practices to be sure we are considerate and aware of others.
How do we prevent discriminatory practices during this outbreak?
COVID-19 infections are now in many countries and in different populations. When an infectious disease, such as Coronavirus, is associated with a specific population or nationality, fear and anxiety may lead to social stigma and potential discrimination. Home Inspectors must be mindful of obligations under the Uniform Regulation of Business and Profession Act (RCW 18.235) and the Fair Housing Act. As a collective group of professionals, we must be sure not to discriminate against any particular segment of the population. While the Coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, China, that does not provide a basis for treating Chinese persons or persons of Asian descent differently. As cases of COVID-19 spreads, that same rule will apply to any impacted segment or group.
Read more information on these verified websites for information.
- Coronavirus – What is it?
- Coronavirus – Q&A:
- Heat Map of the Outbreak:
- Avoid Social Media as your primary source of information unless they are verified health organizations, news outlets or medical professionals.
What issues does Coronavirus present to the Home Inspection industry?
- The need to follow safety processes for home and property visits to protect all parties.
- Home inspectors are in contact with clients, agents, the surfaces of the home itself, and are in the field meeting people. We must use precautions to protect our customers during the process.
- We have a responsibility to assist the rest of the community in limiting the transmission of the virus between individuals.
- Home Inspection business could decline in the face of using new processes, so using thoughtful, simple precautions, and workarounds can potentially keep us functioning normally to serve the community.
- The oral report and conversations face to face are usually engaged at close contact. Consider avoiding close contact, by having meetings outdoors or on the porch with about 6 feet of separation. Consider more pre and post-inspection consults over the phone to limit contact.
Are Home Inspectors classified by OSHA as elevated exposure risk?
- While American workers are not considered at significant risk of infections, inspectors working with sewer scope services, and those encountering wastewater in the crawlspace or other drainpipe plumbing areas are potentially at higher risk in areas in the U.S. where cases are known to have occurred.
- Those inspectors having visited another country conducting similar work are also at higher risk.
- For more information, visit: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/
What other precautions can we take?
Stay Home if you (or a family member) are sick. What preventative measures can be taken to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading Coronavirus? The same preventative measures recommended to prevent influenza are also effective in reducing the risk of contracting or spreading Coronavirus. These measures include:
- If you have symptoms of acute respiratory illness (cough, shortness of breath, etc.), the CDC recommends staying home and not coming to work until you are free of any symptoms for at least 24 hours.
- Should you develop symptoms of acute respiratory illness while at work, you should go home immediately.
- If a family member or someone else you live with is sick or has symptoms of acute respiratory illness, you should work from home until they are free of any symptoms for at least 24 hours.
- Be sure to communicate with your supervisor if you need to take time off or work from home.
- Be prepared to work from home, including access to a laptop, power cord, phone, and other work resources.
- Don’t go out on an Inspection if ill, or book an Inspector who is ill.
Practice respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene.
- Wash your hands – OFTEN! Sing Happy Birthday as you wash your hands to monitor how much time you need to scrub them and don’t forget between your fingers.
- Clean your hands often with alcohol-based hand sanitizer and/or anti-bacterial soap and water.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces in your workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs, computers.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, throw the tissue in the trash, and sanitize/wash your hands.
Take steps before traveling.
As of March 4, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued Level 3 Travel Warnings for all of China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran, and a Level 2 Travel Warning for Japan. However, the situation is rapidly evolving.
See the CDC’s website for up-to-date information about travel warnings. (https://www.cdc.gov/Coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html)
- Check yourself for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before starting travel.
- Minimize travel when possible. Instead of air travel, consider traveling by car.
- If you become sick while traveling, notify your supervisor and promptly contact your healthcare provider.
- If you have any concerns about travel, be sure to discuss them with your supervisor as early as possible.
- Communication is key. Modifying communication techniques will be important when visiting properties.
- Do not rely solely on email for communication for your clients and associates. Schedule meetings where you ensure everyone is aligned and unified on the same message and safety process to keep your contacts safe and answer questions of clarification and concern.
- During your meetings, discuss and implement additional ideas from your teams or collaborators on how to hold accountability to safety precautions.
Follow Safety Processes for Home and Property Visits
- Before entering a customer’s property, communicate to all parties that you do not currently have any respiratory issue, and ask if you should be aware of anyone at the property who has fallen ill recently, or if they’ve been traveling.
- Instead of shaking hands with a customer, break the ice and say hello by elbow tapping, or a smile.
- Utilize shoe covers to prevent tracking in contaminants.
- Face masks should only be used for those who feel sick unless their use is specifically requested by the customer. Wearing face masks does not prevent you from catching any virus and could also cause unnecessary concern for the customer.
- Provide a Homeowner with information about what we are doing to protect their home.
- Allow them to ask any questions regarding the virus and answer according to the most recent information available.
When inspecting the home, what precautions should an inspector take to protect himself or herself?
- Follow the safety process mentioned in the previous section.
- While many homes are empty and “clean” when inspected, it is expected all homes could potentially harbor infectious diseases. Viruses, including COVID-19, could potentially be on any surface in the home. A greater risk of exposure is possible when moving is in process, or when homes are occupied.
- It is advisable, although not required, to wear eye protection and gloves, in bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchens, near leaking plumbing in crawlspaces, or in high occupancy rooms. Shortages of PPE could present challenges in following these practices.
- Consider carrying liquid soap or hand sanitizer with you and frequently wash hands in between inspecting each room. When running water to test for leaks, take the opportunity to disinfect when practical.
I typically meet clients at the beginning or end of inspections. Can I refuse to meet potential clients to see homes?
- No. However, suggest following basic universal precautions as those recommended by state and federal agencies for reducing transmission and also asking questions.
- To avoid potential discriminatory business practices, be sure to ask all clients the same screening questions based on current, factual information from public health authorities.
Should I visit clients, realtors and or potential clients at offices, open houses, or walkthroughs, of the agents to whom we seek referral?
- Speak openly and honestly with the agent or potential client attending an open house or when visiting the realtor office. Assess the risk based on your specific location and direct your clients to local and state health authorities for specific information about the severity of the risk in your area.
- You could also propose alternative communication options about the report and consultation. For example, consult electronically before and after the inspection and reporting. Make in-person visits or chats briefly during a marketing visit or during the inspection review.
- Comply with requests from sellers and agents to disinfect hands upon entering the home, and or help provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers at the entryway for your agents and clients.
What precautions should home inspectors be taking in offices?
- Home Inspectors should use the best judgment when formulating a plan. First, home inspectors should implement a mandatory “stay-home” policy for any staff member exhibiting any sign of illness, also consider imposing a mandatory remote work policy for employees.
- While many inspectors are independent operators and do not have employees, similar considerations should be taken when visiting realtor offices, or when in client meetings.
- Additionally, taking measures such as holding virtual meetings or potentially postponing or canceling inspections or events to take to limit close contact between individuals.
- Be sure to monitor updates from the CDC, as well as your state and local health authorities for additional information and guidance on holding meetings or events.
- Recognize the situation is rapidly evolving, do not panic, stay educated, and stay focused on putting procedures and policies in place to keep your employees informed. Continue to communicate safety and any new information to limit business disruptions.
What can we do when interacting with others?
- If an employee or customer expresses concern about COVID-19, show concern and implements safety precautions when needed while doing so in a calm way that does not induce fear.
- Let others know what precautions you are taking. Ensure you are equipped to answer calls and questions regarding COVID-19 and take note of any new information or concerns raised by the customer.
- Ensure you and your other inspectors are equipped with hygienic products and cleaning equipment, and is readily available, to make the customer comfortable. Be aware customers may be averse to physical contact under the circumstances and respect their personal space.
- Communicating how Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is used by inspectors could be important. Inspectors sometimes use PPE for attics and crawlspaces. Explain to clients home inspectors use PPE for limiting particle exposure. Inform clients we use masks routinely but are not specific to COVID-19 protection. This could be important in reducing anxiety about the inspection process.
- Consider the customers and realtors precautions they take while on-premises. Ensure all onsite employees and contractors are advised of and complying with customer’s preferences and confirm all job sites are appropriately sanitized and cleaned.
Meet the Editor:
Christopher S. Boyce
Kirkland, WA 98034
WA State License # 2488