CDC Guidance for Critical Workers Potentially Exposed to COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) recently published new guidance tailored to critical workers, as defined in Guidance on Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The CDC guidance recommends practices for critical infrastructure employers and employees with potential exposure to COVID-19, but who do not themselves have COVID-19 symptoms. The CDC defines potential exposure: being a household contact or having close contact within 6 feet of an individual with confirmed or suspected COVID-19; the timeframe for having contact with an individual includes the period of time of 48 hours before the individual became symptomatic.
The CDC guidance does not apply to all workers in the propane industry. Companies should carefully review the guidance to understand when the recommended practices are permissible so as to avoid violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, which generally prohibits medical examines like taking employees’ temperatures.
The intent of the guidance is to permit critical infrastructure workers to continue essential functions following potential exposure to COVID-19 with additional precautions to protect workers and the community.

FMCSA Extends Hours of Service Waiver

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) extended the expiration date for its nationwide emergency declaration to May 15, 2020.  The declaration waives hours of service requirements for motor carriers providing direct assistance in support of emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks, including transportation to meet immediate needs for fuel.  FMCSA also amended the scope of the declaration to include liquefied gases used for refrigeration and cooling systems.
The updated FMCSA Emergency Declaration waives hours of service requirements for the transportation of essential supplies.  FMCSA specifically identifies the relief services eligible for the hours of service waiver:
  1. Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19;
  2. Supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants;
  3. Food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores;
  4. Immediate precursor raw materials — such as paper, plastic or alcohol — that are required and to be used for the manufacture of items in categories (1), (2) or (3);
  5. Fuel;
  6. Liquefied gases to be used in refrigeration or cooling systems;
  7. Equipment, supplies and persons necessary to establish and manage temporary housing, quarantine, and isolation facilities related to COVID-19;
  8. Persons designated by Federal, State or local authorities for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes;
  9. Persons necessary to provide other medical or emergency services, the supply of which may be affected by the COVID-19 response.
The FMCSA Declaration specifically states that “Direct assistance does not include routine commercial deliveries, including mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of this emergency declaration.”
Please review the NPGA Hours of Service webpage for updates to the list of state and federal declarations. Hours of service waivers are also accessible via PLAN. Guidance on emergency declarations and waivers by the National Association of State Energy Officials is available here. Please direct any questions to or share new information with Sarah Reboli, NPGA Deputy Counsel, Regulatory Affairs.

Below are links to member state Executive Orders that may impact you, your employees and your businesses. The PPGA encourages members to take time to review the orders that are in place for your specific state.

Washington, Hawaii and Oregon Issue Stay at Home Orders

Propane industry NOT included in the order

Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Hawaii Governor David Ige have all issued a stay at home orders in each state.

Washington Stay at Home Order

Governor Jay Inslee has issued an order that that all non-essential workers should remain in their homes beginning tomorrow, March 25th, through April 8th. To review the Washington Stay at Home Order, please click here. Additionally, a list of essential businesses can be found here.

Please be advised, the Washington propane industry has been deemed an essential service. This means that Washington retail propane operations and operations of those in the propane supply chain that make it possible for the propane industry to provide its services REMAIN ESSENTIAL to the state of Washington. Likewise, this means that the PPGA and its members should continue to provide its services and propane fuel to those that rely on propane for their homes and businesses.

Please take note that essential businesses in Washington are prohibited from operating under this Proclamation unless they establish and implement social distancing and sanitation measures established by the United States Department of Labor’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 at https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf and the Washington State Department of Health Workplace and Employer Resources & Recommendations at https://www.doh.wa.gov/Coronavirus/workplace. Violating these provisions of the order may result in an essential business being closed.

Oregon Stay at Home Order

On March 23, 2020, Governor Kate Brown issued a stay at home order for many businesses. Businesses that were ordered closed are not businesses in the propane retail sector or manufacturers or distributors supplying the propane industry. To view the Oregon Order please click here. For propane businesses that remain open there are other aspects of the order that you must abide by including:

  • Work in offices is prohibited if telework is possible
  • Businesses must designate an employee or officer to establish social distancing policies

This order is in effect until terminated by the Governor.

Hawaii State at Home Order

Governor David Ige has issued has issued an order that that all non-essential workers should remain in their homes beginning tomorrow, March 25th, through April 30th. To review the Hawaii Stay at Home Order, please click here. Similar to Washington, be advised, the Hawaii propane industry has been deemed an essential service. This means that Hawaii retail propane operations and operations of those in the propane supply chain that make it possible for the propane industry to provide its services REMAIN ESSENTIAL to the state of Hawaii. Likewise, this means that the PPGA and its members should continue to provide its services and propane fuel to those that rely on propane for their homes and businesses.

All essential businesses and operations identified in the order shall exercise the following social distancing requirements to the fullest extent possible:

  1. Six-foot distances. All persons shall maintain a minimum of six-feet of physical separation from all other persons to the fullest extent possible. Essential businesses and operations shall designate with signage, tape, or by other means six-foot spacing for employees and customers in line to maintain appropriate distance.
  2. Hand sanitizer and sanitizing products. Essential businesses and operations shall make hand sanitizer and sanitizing products readily available for employees and customers.
  3. Separate operating hours for high risk populations. Essential businesses and operations shall implement separate operating hours for elderly and high risk customers. High risk persons, including those who are sick, are urged to stay in their residence to the extent possible except as necessary to seek medical care.
  4. Online and remote access. Essential businesses and operations shall post online whether a facility is open and how best to reach the facility and continue services by phone or remotely.

Moving Froward

The PPGA continues to recommend that ALL PPGA members in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington take the precautions to maintain social distancing, practicing the highest standards of hygiene, and frequently wash hands and surfaces at your workplaces. The PPGA also recommends members make adjustments to limit contact with your customers during home deliveries and at your retail operations. The PPGA recommends any members with showrooms discontinue those operations. The PPGA recommends members utilize more drop box payments and credit card payments to limit customer interaction. The PPGA also encourages all members to encourage your employees that are sick to remain at home. Above all, be smart with how you conduct yourselves, your employees and your operations during this crisis.

Each operation should fully review the list of work functions, though, including those not specifically listed under the Energy or Transportation sector headings. For example, the financing sector heading includes many administrative functions that companies may utilize. Operations should also be sure that each employee who is working under these orders, fits within the guidance rather than assume that the company’s business generally fits within the guidance so all employees fit. That would not be correct. There may be some employees that aren’t covered by the guidance.

Stay tuned for more information from the PPGA as it becomes available.

Your Propane Business and COVID-19

As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue, the PPGA would like to share a few important thoughts. Our goal is not to add to the hysteria or suggest a reason to panic, but to offer reasonable guidance for your business operations during this challenging time. These are only suggestions and you can decide if or how they may benefit your company.

Consumer Interaction

The propane industry by nature tends to have minimal interactions with customers as drivers and techs perform their functions in a controlled environment. Still, you may want to discuss with field personnel their interaction with customers. Understandably, people may be more wary of contact with others.

Similarly, you may want to consider notifying your customers that your drivers are being asked to limit customer interaction. Let them know you appreciate their faith and trust in you, and that in return your employees are keeping an eye on customer safety from all angles.

Consider limiting employee exposure to customer homes in non-emergency situations. When in-home customer assistance is needed, remind your employees to limit customer exposure and practice sound hygiene to limit liability and exposures.

If you do not already have one, consider a payment drop box to limit exposure to those customers that pay bills in person. It’s true that customers and staff often enjoy good relationships and the opportunity to visit over the counter, but some may feel more comfortable with a hands-off option.

Encourage more customers to pay bills via credit card or online payments to limit exposure and lines in your office. It might be time to review your credit card processing supplier and shop for lower fees as this option is increasing in demand while interest rates drop.

Impact on Low-Income Customers

COVID-19 will impact the lives of everyone to some degree. Low-income customers, however, will have fewer options if employment and benefits are interrupted.

Wage-earners whose place of employment is closed or families that lose daycare and have to miss work to stay home will feel immediate financial strain. The processing of low income assistance payments may be impacted if/when state work stoppages or employee absenteeism occurs. Homebound residents may also go through product a little faster than expected, so keeping an eye on tank levels even as the winter fades may be a good idea. Anticipate these customer needs and work with them to have a plan. We’re all in this together.

Employee Situations

Beyond your company’s previous experience with flu or other seasonal illness outbreaks, COVID-19 may present a new challenge for your workforce. How will you handle employee absenteeism should it strike several members of your workforce for extended periods? Treatment for diagnosed or suspected outbreaks could idle an employee for two weeks or more. If schools or daycares close or remain closed as a result of COVID-19, how will your employees and their families juggle the demands of in-home care with the needs of supplying propane to your customers?

There may be no “right” answers to these questions but it’s important to ask them before the moment comes. Please consider how your company and its employees will respond to the potential workforce impacts of a COVID-19 outbreak.