COVID-19 Field Work Procedure

Since the New Jersey government has formally announced a stay-at-home order on March 21, 2020 to curtail the spread of coronavirus, the Martin & Ottaway office doors have been closed. However, even as many other states continue to implement stay-at-home orders, as marine engineers, surveyors, naval architects, and appraisers, our doors are always open.

In a recent marine safety information bulletin, the USCG has designated us as essential personnel. As a result, and in keeping with the CDC guidelines of hygiene and social distance, we have implemented best-practices and procedures when traveling to and from surveys.

We post the list of procedures to keep in mind when doing a survey here, so that we can further the debate and potentially add ideas that may have been missed.

1. Before traveling to a vessel, verify with a vessel representative whether there are any personnel aboard who have tested positive for coronavirus or are exhibiting flu-like symptoms. If there are, you should inform your client of the issue. You should view this as similar to refusing to entering a tank before a marine chemist approves it.

2. Pack your own lunch and bring your own drink, and do not eat or drink aboard the vessel.

3. Do not bring your backpack aboard. Bring a separate small bag that only contains the essentials for the survey (even a shopping bag is fine).

4. Carry disinfectant, box of Lysol wipes, or equivalent alcohol-based wipes to keep driving position clean: sanitize car handles, controls, steering wheel, phone, keys, and wallet.

5. Keep hand sanitizer in the car to use when hand-washing is not possible.

6. Keep hand lotion in the car to avoid cracked skin. Cover skin if cut or cracked.

7.If traveling by plane, disinfect your immediate surroundings, including your seat, arm rests, and tray table. Although flight attendants are now being allowed to wear gloves and masks, it is prudent to avoid accepting food and drink aboard the plane.

8. Gloves by themselves are not a practical barrier device. Gloves as used in hospitals or contaminated zones are meant to leave the contaminant inside the contaminated zone. As such, the only real way to take advantage of gloves is to put on a fresh pair at the gangway to do a job, without taking them off, and then to leave them at the foot of the gangway. If you take them off inside the contaminated zone, the whole effect is gone. As long as your skin is intact, there is no real worry about contact with a virus contaminated surface as long as you wash your hands when you leave the contaminated zone.

9. Use work gloves to protect your hands from cuts, etc.

10. A properly fitted face mask has benefits if you can find one. Distance is the next best thing.

11. Maintain 6 feet of distance when possible and DO NOT shake anyone’s hand.

12. Avoid handling paperwork, documents, flash drives, or other files. If possible, ask the person who is assisting you to email the files.

13. Don’t bother asking for copies of documents. Simply take a photo.

14. Ask the crew to pull out a binder or drawing and to lay them out on a table for you to photograph or review. Avoid handling the documents yourself.

15. Only use your own pen and notebook, and do not let anybody use your pen. Technically, they are contaminated once used aboard the vessel.

16. If you can, wipe down chairs, desk, and tables on a ship where you are going to sit and interact with people.

17. Open and well-ventilated spaces are probably better than enclosed spaces occupied by people.

18. Politely decline if offered food or drink aboard the ship.

19. Avoid touching your face.

20. Wash or sanitize your hands at the first opportunity after you leave the ship, or after you have stowed everything that can be considered contaminated. This link explains when to wash your hands and how to wash them properly.

21. Keep things that could be contaminated like papers, coveralls, bags, and work gear in your car’s trunk.

22. Wear a protective mask if available. As coronavirus has a long incubation and potential transmission period, wearing a mask prevents inadvertently transmitting the virus if you are coughing or sneezing, or are a carrier and do not exhibit symptoms.

As we are constantly driving to and from surveys, it is best to think of your car as made up of various zones. Your driving area should be the cleanest zone and you should be diligently sanitizing that area, as this is where you spend the majority of your time. Sanitize door handles, steering wheel, and controls. Also sanitize your cell phone, pen, etc. before you bring them into your clean zone.

Almost certainly, it is impossible to fully conform to all of the guidelines, but it all comes down to reducing vectors; doing a little is actually better than doing nothing at all.

The key points to remember are to wash hands often, keep a safe distance from others, and avoid handling things offered by others.

The goal of these protocols is to keep the surveyor and other personnel they may interact with safe from contracting the virus. But, more importantly, it is to prevent them from becoming a potential carrier and spreading the virus inadvertently.

Be safe, be smart.