How can councils stop staff sickness impacting refuse collections?

Ideally, we’d all like to start the year on the front foot – but many local authorities have spent January playing catch up, after high levels of staff sickness interfered with refuse collections over Christmas. But while illness cannot be predicted or avoided, there are ways that council waste management teams can limit its impact on essential services.

According to the Daily Telegraph, families in the Birmingham area faced a month-long wait to get household rubbish picked up during the festive period, as collection crews calling in sick meant services were either scaled back or temporarily suspended. Many residents were seriously unhappy as a result, fearing the hygiene impact of wild animals tearing open black bags on the pavement, in search of food.

To help mitigate against such problems, local authority waste management teams must look closely at how they respond to staff shortages, and then develop effective ways of responding quickly to collection issues in the local community.

What happens when waste collection teams are short staffed?

Illness or injury absences are an issue for all organisations, but for councils they can have serious consequences. Essential services like refuse collections rely on having enough ground crew to cover all routes on a weekly basis, and even just a few staff being off sick can throw carefully coordinated schedules into a state of disarray.

The reason for this is that many municipal waste management teams use a manual process such as spreadsheets to map out rounds, which aren’t easy to adapt or change. There’s time to redeploy crew members if an expected absence is coming up – such as a holiday – but it’s much harder to redistribute staff and share a new rota if a problem occurs at the last minute. So, what’s the solution?

A quick response in times of crisis

Municipal waste management technology makes a massive difference to how easily community refuse collections can be coordinated at the best of times, and this type of software comes into its own in times of crisis.

If local authorities invest in online technology to manage workflows, every member of the waste management team – in head office and the field – can check their task list and receive updates, wherever they are.

This way, if something changes unexpectedly, like a member of staff phoning in sick, waste management technology enables staff to respond to the issue immediately. Using the online platform, senior managers can update round sheets to change which team members are working together, or alter the route that each refuse lorry is due to take. These updates can be instantly communicated to collection crews, sent directly to each vehicle using in-cab technology, ensuring every person on shift will see the latest round sheet when they log on.

Equally, local authorities with larger teams can draft in back-up personnel to assist – for example, supervisors may join a short-staffed crew to make up the numbers. Equally, many councils have trusted agency drivers on their books; in-cab communications make it much simpler to get ‘stop gap’ staff up to speed as quickly as possible.

Solving challenges with two-way feedback

Investing in waste management technology is a great way to streamline head office communications, but not every problem can be resolved through top-down instruction. Even with the staff available deployed effectively, there may be particular streets where rubbish has built up to unexpectedly high levels, and there isn’t enough manpower or space on the truck to clear everything up.

As recent frustrations in Birmingham have shown, one of the main issues that local residents have with collection services is the amount of time it takes to sort out backlogs when things go wrong. All too often, this is down to the fact that collection crews cannot report issues until their round has finished, and either the problem can’t be solved until next week’s round – or a special task needs to be scheduled, at considerable expense.

Empowering field-based staff to report on incidents quickly can make a huge difference to tackling high volumes of rubbish in target areas. If people are able to report back in real-time using mobile in-cab software, the problem can potentially be solved the same day; head office staff just need to see whether another truck can be diverted to deal with the issue.

By synchronising waste management software to enable two-way feedback, everyone involved can feel confident that they have an accurate picture of what conditions are like, and they can respond effectively to what’s happening in their local area.

Putting the tools in place to tackle any problem

Communication is important at all times, but when staff shortages impact local authorities’ essential services, it becomes critical. Yet many waste management teams are still using the same systems and processes they put in place a decade ago, which simply don’t allow for agile responses to unforeseen problems.

With modern municipal waste management software in place, the building blocks are in place for quick, efficient response – even when things don’t go according to plan. And it’s not just staff shortages that teams can deal with effectively; by taking fast action, personnel can respond to any last-minute problem, getting refuse collections on track as soon as possible.

Try Whitespace waste management software for free to see how our online platform manages refuse collections in real-time.


Keep up-to-date with the latest blogs by signing up to our monthly newsletter!

Book a demo

See Whitespace Work Software for yourself with a personalised demonstration

Book a demo with one of our waste management experts to see how Whitespace Work Software can transform your waste management operations.

  • For information on how we will use any data you share with us, please see our privacy policy.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Signup to the Whitespace newsletter

Receive monthly emails with the latest news, blogs, advice guides and product updates.

  • For information on how we will use any data you share with us, please see our privacy policy.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.