Latest Updates on COVID-19 Situation and the Propane Industry

March 26, 2020

Temporary Propane Installations for COVID-19 Response
As more states begin to address the impacts of the advancing COVID-19 disease, NPGA has been made aware of temporary facilities being erected to prepare for the increased testing, hospitalization and quarantine rates that are anticipated. As a result, these temporary facilities are installing propane tanks to fuel space heating and possibly other types of equipment.
Please note that from a code perspective, NFPA 58 provides the necessary requirements to make these types of installations safely. The code defines “Temporary Service” as an installation made for not more than 12 consecutive months at a given location. The 2020 edition of NFPA 58 addresses the installation of portable storage containers for temporary use (Section 6.8.5). The code also provides requirements for the temporary use of skid tanks (6.6.2) and porta-pacs (6.6.3).
Typical ASME containers are also allowed to be used for temporary installations as long as they comply with the requirements for appropriate separation distances from buildings. Also, the separation requirements for relief valve discharges, fill valves and fixed maximum liquid level gauges from sources of ignition will come into play as well as the requirements for regulator vent discharges.
Propane has a role to play in all emergency situations and its safe use will be especially important as communities respond to the COVID-19 outbreak by providing safe, isolated care facilities for people infected by the virus. Please contact Bruce Swiecicki with questions or for additional information.
Department of Transportation: Enforcement Discretion and Regulatory Guidance
In response to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the need for expedient transportation of supplies and services, the federal government has published several guidance documents and enforcement discretion notices. The guidance and discretion documents are summarized below with hyperlinks to the official publications. Requirements for commercial driver licenses (CDL) and hazardous materials endorsements (HME) are also regulated at the state level, and companies should review policy decisions at the state level, as well.
  • Directs employers to “make a reasonable effort” to comply with DOT training and testing requirements and, if unable to comply, employers must document why the requirements were not met.
  • Maintains that training and testing requirements must still be met in order for employees to exercise related functions, “If employers are unable to conduct DOT drug and alcohol testing due to the unavailability of testing resources, the underlying modal regulations continue to apply.”
  • Ordinarily, failure of states to comply with CDL regulations results in withholding of federal highway funds. The FMCSA notice waives this provision for state licensing agencies that choose to extend CDLs and/or extend medical certification requirements.
  • Extends validity of intra- and interstate CDLs until June 30, 2020 as well as waives the requirement for a medical examination and certification with proof of valid medical certificate that expired on or after March 1, 2020.
  • Identifies federal CDL regulations that FMCSA will not take enforcement discretion on until June 30, 2020.
  • Answers common questions for drivers and motor carriers, including document verification and electronic logging device records.
  • Questions and answers on TSA procedures for obtaining and renewing hazardous materials endorsements, which are also subject to determinations by state authorities.
  • For 90 days, PHMSA will not take enforcement action on the federal requirement to conduct refresher training for hazardous material employees. PHMSA emphasizes that employers may still utilize web based, remote, or on the job training to satisfy the refresher training requirement. See DOT: Guidance on Compliance with DOT Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulations.
NPGA continues to seek clarity on other regulatory requirements, including CDL endorsements, requalification deadlines, etc. Information will continue to be accessible through the NPGA Member Dashboard. Please direct any regulatory questions to Sarah Reboli, NPGA Deputy Counsel, Regulatory Affairs.

 

COVID Suggestions from MPGA

March 13, 2020

As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Michigan Propane Gas Association wants to continually share ideas and tips on how you might handle the situation.  Our goal is not to add to the hysteria or suggest a reason to panic; instead, the MPGA simply offers the following as reasonable guidance for your operations during this challenging time. These are only suggestions and you can decide if or how they may benefit your business.

How are You Handling Consumer Interaction?

  • Close access to your retail operations and lobby access to customers.  This protects your employees as much as it protects your customers.
  • While the propane industry by its very nature is more isolationist than other energy providers, perhaps you could encourage your drivers to limit interaction with customers.
  • Similarly, perhaps it is worth notifying your customers that your drivers will limit customer interaction more than they normally would interact with them during this challenging time.
  • Consider limiting exposure of your employees 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.
  • While the requirements to leave a delivery ticket have not been suspended, they are not likely to be enforced either.  To protect your drivers and limit exposure, consider announcing to all of your customers that you are suspending the practice of leaving behind delivery tickets until after the pandemic subsides.  This protects you, your employees and your customers from exposures.
  • Consider a “curbside service” for cylinder refills.  Allow your customers to remain in their vehicles while their cylinders are filled and payment is made.  Remember to wipe down all cylinder surfaces wherever practical!
  • If you do not already have one, perhaps you could adopt a payment drop box to limit exposure to those customers that pay bills in person.
  • Encourage more customers to pay bills via credit card or online payments to limit exposure and lines in your office.

Contact Your Liability Carrier

  • The MPGA has learned that some liability carriers are suspending requirements that safety checks be performed inside of customer homes during the pandemic.  If you have not done so already, contact your liability carrier to discuss this option as a way to limit employee exposures.

Low Income Assistance May Be Impacted

  • As the COVID situation intensifies, the MPGA would like to warn you that low income assistance is likely to be impacted. The approval and payment processes are likely to be among those affected if/when work stoppages or employee absenteeism occurs. Already, many of the low income assistance organizations are making changes to how they approve vouchers, qualify applicants and issue payments.
  • The MPGA would like to ask all members to show more grace and understanding as all Michigan households grapple with this situation. Low income and elderly customers are likely to face extra hurdles than other households.
  • If you haven’t done so already, the MPGA asks all members to think about how your company will address low income customer situations on a case-by-case basis if/when payment assistance is impacted by COVID.

Employee Situations

  • Obviously the flu has already impacted many MPGA members since the 2019-20 heating season started. Should employee absenteeism increase as a result of COVID, are you ready?
  • If/when schools or daycares close as a result of COVID, are you and your employees prepared with those effects as you provide heat and energy to your customers?
  • Medical: Most medical carriers are waiving deductibles and coinsurance for COVID-19 testing. No wage reimbursement is available under a medical policy.
  • Disability: COVID-19 would be treated as a sickness under short term disability after the elimination period has been fulfilled which is typically between 7 and 14 days depending on the policy. This is subject to each specific carrier.
  • Business Interruption: This type of coverage could be available under a business owners’ policy or as an endorsement on your commercial property policy to protect against business income losses. You will need to contact your Property and Casualty agent or the carrier directly to see if you have this coverage, and if so, is a forced business closure a covered circumstance.
  • Unemployment: Unemployment benefits have been extended in Michigan. Click here to learn more.

Schedule and Event Updates

  • The NPGA Southeastern Convention & International Propane Expo in Nashville, TN in April has been CANCELLED.
  • The MPGA Board of Directors meeting scheduled for May has been CANCELLED.  The MPGA Board of Directors may meet via digital format.  Stay tuned for more information.
  • The Michigan Propane Safety Awareness Day events at the State Capitol have been POSTPONED.  The MPGA is looking to host this event in September.
  • All Michigan CETP classes scheduled in April have been RESCHEDULED.  Those who registered for these courses will be notified of the new dates for the courses.
  • The Great Lakes Propane Conference schedule for July in Grand Rapids, MI REMAINS IN PLACE as planned at this time.  The MPGA will inform you if things change.

NPGA Resources to Address COVID-19

There is now a new section on NPGA’s website with COVID-19 response documents. To access the documents, click here to login, then look for “COVID-19 Documents” under “Benefits and Services.”The documents include language that can be made specific to a company should an employee contract COVID-19, language that can be made specific to a company on general COVID-19 prevention practices, the OSHA bulletin on worker safety regarding COVID-19, a FAQ for COVID employee/employer questions, a summary of marketer common practices,  as well as template language for state associations or others who are announcing the cancelation of meetings or events. Please note we plan to update these materials as needed. And as this situation evolves, we also appreciate any feedback on what you or your members need.