How are councils protecting waste management staff during the coronavirus outbreak?

The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought many sectors to a standstill, but essential services still need to continue during times of adversity. Up and down the UK, local authorities have been working hard to maintain refuse collections, while safeguarding front-line staff.

Let’s look at some of the initiatives that councils have introduced to minimise the coronavirus risk to waste management crews, while maintaining vital refuse collection services…

1. Focusing on essential waste management services only

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the difference between what is essential and what is not – and that includes waste collection. DEFRA has issued guidance on high and low priority refuse collections, leading many local authorities to temporarily suspend garden waste and bulky waste collections, in order to reduce the number of rounds that teams need to make.

For essential household waste collections, councils are thinking carefully about how to ensure social distancing rules can be enforced between members of each collection crew. A large number of councils have reduced manpower to minimum levels – just a driver and a loader – and they are providing additional vehicles for any jobs requiring extra staff, to make sure teams can operate in isolation where possible. Swindon Council is an example of one organisation following this approach.

2. Keeping crews up-to-date with the latest safety advice

With medical guidelines and safety advice relating to coronavirus changing all the time, it’s important that local authorities stay up-to-date with the latest protocol, and keep personnel in the loop as soon as processes need to change.

Many councils have taken their waste management strategies back to the drawing board, to maximise productivity with the fewest number of staff involved in collection rounds. They appreciate that exposure to other people needs to be kept to a minimum, but service standards must still be upheld.

One major gamechanger in this area has been the government’s promise of a £1.6bn cash injection for English councils.

Ongoing services like waste management are now competing for budget with additional social care and housing requirements, or resources are being diverted to other initiatives – for example, Reading Council is using Whitespace waste management software to coordinate the distribution of food box deliveries to vulnerable people in the local community.

A government-led cash boost will help councils to finance vital activities properly at this time, and may even provide waste management teams with the budget to improve the lines of communication between office-based teams and collection crews. It will also help to fund similar initiatives to Reading Council’s food box system, to support high risk residents.

3. Praising the fantastic efforts of front-line staff

The weekly ‘clap for carers’ event show the nation’s appreciation for NHS staff, but it’s easy to forget that there are workers in other industries who are also putting themselves at risk to keep the country running – including refuse collectors.

In these unprecedented times, local authorities are quick to praise the efforts of front-line staff. For example, Dorset Council’s leader, Spencer Flower, told local media that he has been “immensely impressed with how the staff have coped, given that we have gone through a period of change… I think the staff have been incredibly flexible in willing to roll their sleeves up and get involved in supporting areas they wouldn’t normally have been involved in.”

This praise is now filtering through to the public agenda, with the Duke of Edinburgh personally thanking keyworkers, and many households leaving drawings in their window or chalk messages on the pavement to praise collection crews for their hard work. As the BBC reports, some have even left small gifts out on bin collection day; two children in the Eastleigh Borough Council area left a packet of sweets for their bin men.

Thank you to the UK’s waste management crews, from Whitespace

The COVID-19 outbreak has challenged the UK – and the rest of the world – in unforeseen ways, and as the examples we have shared demonstrate, most local authorities have risen to the challenge with great effect.

On behalf of everyone at Whitespace, we’d like to thank refuse collection crews across the country for continuing to work during this pandemic, to make sure the nation’s waste is being dealt with responsibly. If there’s anything further our municipal waste management software can do to protect staff and meet latest safety guidelines, we are always happy to help.


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