Masks, sanitizing and vetting: How coronavirus changed home and auto repairs

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Business hasn’t slowed during the coronavirus pandemic for Igal Moshkovich.

In fact, the Toronto-based appliance repair technician says calls for service have only grown.

“People are staying at home,” he told Global News. “There’s more laundry, more cooking. They’re using more appliances, so some things have broken down and they need service.”

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Moshkovich, who runs Speedy Appliance Repair, has seen not only a change in demand but also a change in workflow.

His employees are required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when attending a home, including medical-grade masks and gloves. It’s something they didn’t have to do before this year.

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“It’s very hard to breathe with the masks while we’re working. It’s hot and difficult, but we do it,” he said. “We need to.”


Moshkovich’s business is one of many across Canada tweaking their process and protocols while providing at-home services to Canadians.

Whether it be fixing appliances, cleaning services or auto repair, things look different than they once did.

“When you open your door for us, we ask you to step back and stay six feet away. We ask you to keep your distance from us when we’re in your house,” Moshkovich said.

“We ask them to wear masks if they have masks… It is what it is.”

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Maintenance and cleaning services were deemed essential for most provinces when the pandemic first triggered a countrywide emergency order to lock down. The need and desire to stay inside and away from others stalled business for some industries temporarily, but as provincial leaders work to reboot the economy, new health and safety protocols are being ironed out as service providers ramp up again.

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The same guidelines apply in many ways: maintain physical distancing, wash your hands regularly, wear a mask while in public spaces and stay home and away from others if you’re sick.

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In Alberta, one auto repair shop has taken things a step further. Glen Meadows Auto Service in Calgary is offering “no human contact service.”

“We can pick up your vehicle, drop it off, we can arrange for payment online, over the phone,” said owner Jordy Poffenroth.

“We clean all the keys, sterilize them, the steering wheels. Everything that we touch is sterilized and wiped down.”

Poffenroth said the shop’s style of service is aimed at keeping up with the ever-changing complexities of COVID-19 and what it takes to stay safe.

“We’re trying to do our part to give people another option to get their vehicles serviced without putting themselves or others in danger,” he said.

At TireWorx, also in Calgary, the seasonal switch from winter to summer tires has kept them in demand. Rob Trung described being “scared” for a while since fewer and fewer people were driving their vehicles.

READ MORE: Too fast, too soon? How we’ll know whether Ontario reopened at the right time

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Recently, as the weather’s changed, he’s seen an influx of calls. Just like the weather, the shop’s protocols have changed, too.

“Dramatically,” said Trung. “We sanitize everything that we touch both to protect our customers and staff. We use plastic wrap for steering wheels and seat covers. We make sure that there’s as little contact as possible.”

Employee rights

The best line of defence for at-home service providers and technicians is vetting the customers, according to Lior Samfiru, the founder of the labour and employment law practice at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP.

“The employer has an obligation to keep the employee safe, even in a situation where they go into someone’s house,” he said. “Asking questions, while not a perfect system because you’re depending on individuals to give you accurate information, is needed.”

Should an employee feel certain safety precautions aren’t being met — whether it be properly vetting a customer or providing adequate protective gear — the employee has the right to refuse the service, he added.

“If the employee has any reason to believe what they’ve been asked to do puts them in an unsafe environment, they can 100 per cent refuse the work,” he said. “They also cannot be penalized for it, as long as the employee is acting in good faith.”

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Samfiru believes protective equipment might become a sticking point between employees and employers in certain industries as the pandemic drags on, and in some cases, already has.

He said there’s no formal requirement for employers to give PPE to their employees.

“But that doesn’t stop employees from asking for it or from potentially bringing their own,” he said.

“Even though they’re not required to do that, an employer that chooses not to provide it to their employees is going to be much more susceptible to a work refusal.”

Prior to a technician showing up at someone’s home, Moshkovich says his shop vets its customers over the phone.

“We ask if they’ve travelled recently, if they were sick, if they’ve been staying home or working from home,” he said. “We ask all those things before we show up.”

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He said if for any reason his employees feel unsafe about going into someone’s home to repair an appliance, they’re allowed to refuse service.

“We’re not playing around with this,” he said. “We need to keep our staff safe.”

— with files from the Canadian Press and Global News’ Gil Tucker 

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