Safe Practices in the Pandemic

Companies as different as Mirabito Energy Products, Paraco Gas Corp., and Townsend Energy & Insurance have in common that they are taking similar steps to manage operations and people amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic. As experts gain more understanding of the virus, and communicate their findings to the public, fuel marketers can adjust and refine their health and safety protocols accordingly.

“We’re trying to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees, but we’re also trying to make sure that our customers and consumers are comfortable with us being in their homes,” says Matt Meehan, executive vice president of operations for Mirabito Energy Products, based in Binghamton, N.Y. “And we want to make sure that the employee is comfortable going into a home. It’s definitely been a bit of a roller coaster.”

Mirabito furloughed some employees including service techs, drivers, and customer service reps a few months back. “I’m happy to say that every single one of those people is back,” Meehan says. The fuel oil and propane operations of the company employ more than 80 techs, and more than 100 drivers during the winter peak, Meehan says. The company operates 115 fuel delivery trucks and approximately 80 service trucks. The company’s core operating area is the central part of New York state, but extends into Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont.

Masked Men: Sean Neal (left) and Neil Terrell of Mirabito Energy Products. Photo courtesy of Mirabito Energy Products.

At this point in the pandemic, the basics of safe operations seem well-known, but fuel marketers such as Townsend Energy & Insurance, based in Danvers, Massachusetts, are keeping the fundamentals front and center.

“We want you to know that during these challenging times our highest priority is the health and safety of our customers, employees, and the communities we serve,” Townsend Energy notified customers via email and its website. “Since the arrival of the COVID-19/Coronavirus, our company has implemented significant measures, as provided by [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], to provide a safe and healthy environment for our customers and employees. You can rest assured we remain fully operational and continue to service our customers on an uninterrupted basis.” The notification listed points for customers to be aware of “as we continue to be vigilant with our COVID-19 protocols:

“At the time a service appointment is being made, or if we need to access your property/home for a fuel or service-related visit, we will be asking you some health screening questions. Additionally, we will inquire about any travel by family members living in your home or employees working in your business.

“When our employees enter your home or business, they will be wearing a face covering, gloves and will maintain at least a 6-foot social distancing practice.

“Our vehicles, offices, individual work areas and facilities are sanitized regularly

“A daily health screening process is in place for our employees, and we strongly advise them to stay at home if they are experiencing any symptoms of the virus. There is also a mandatory testing and quarantine protocol in place for any of our employees that have traveled recently.”

Paraco Gas Corp., based in Rye Brook, N.Y., says it implemented strict policies and equipment at the onset of COVID-19 and continues to uphold those health and safety standards. This includes providing all frontline employees with PPE [personal protective equipment] such as gloves and masks; sanitizing hands, vehicles and all equipment regularly; staggering start times for field employees; providing the ability to clock in-and-out on a mobile app so employees can practice social distancing and reduce multiple contacts with the time clocks; and an initiative to eliminate as much use and touching of hardcopy paper as possible.

Paraco says it issued personal protective equipment, such as the masks these employees are wearing. Photo provided by Paraco Gas Corp.

For its fuel marketer members, the National Energy and Fuel Institute provides continuous support and information. In a recent announcement NEFI alerted members:

“It is imperative that your company take precautions to protect the health and safety of your employees and customers. As individual states and localities confront new surges in COVID-19 cases, they may update guidelines for daily work activities and interfacing with customers.”

The group strongly recommended consulting the CDC website and adopting all state reopening guidelines.

“Remember most labor practices are based on state laws and regulations,” NEFI stated. “Many of these laws, rules, and best practices are now evolving rapidly. What may have been appropriate earlier in the pandemic may not be appropriate now.” — Stephen Bennett

Home Page Photo: Pioneer Valley Oil delivering to a house in Massachusetts, November 2020. Photo by Dave Campbell.

Editor’s Note: Additional reporting on a webinar on pandemic practices is forthcoming on www.fueloilnews.com and in the January issue of Fuel Oil News. The webinar, “Managing Through a COVID-19 Winter,” featured presentations by Phil Baratz, president of Angus Energy, Steve Abbate, managing director of Cetane Associates, Marty Kirshner, director of client service at Gray, Gray and Gray, and Richard Goldberg, president of Warm Thoughts Communications.

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