Whilst many people can work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, Kent’s key workers, including KCC highways staff, continue essential work on the county’s roads.
From pothole repairs to resurfacing works, Kent Highways’ workers have been deemed key workers by the government, providing a safety-critical role to keeping Kent’s roads safe.
KCC Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, Michael Payne, said: “Our roads are crucial to ensuring medicine and equipment can get to where it is needed most.
“Our roads are used by our own social care teams and NHS workers, as well as those transporting essential goods to supermarkets, pharmacies and hospitals.
“With the guidance from government during the coronavirus pandemic, it has, however, been necessary to change our normal approach to how we work.
“First and foremost is the safety, health and wellbeing of our front-line staff in the very important service they provide.
“Our highways teams are undertaking works to remove potential hazards and repair defects to ensure that we keep the highways safe.
“You may well see them out in KCC Highways vehicles, and they have authority to continue working as they are providing an important service.
“You will shortly see new road signs and personal protective equipment (PPE) which lets people know that essential work is being carried out, and I would like to thank them for the work they are doing during these difficult times.”
Amey is contracted by KCC to carry out highways works, which can include pothole repairs and resurfacing, cleaning drains, and even cutting grass.
Michael Payne added: “Some might not consider grass cutting essential, but where it is safety critical – for instance if road signs are obscured, then we will be cutting it.
“We are still available for anybody who needs to report an issue with our roads and all of our staff, performing a vital role in keeping the county moving, are following government guidance around hand washing and social distancing.
“It is vitally important that we continue to maintain our roads, to ensure they remain safe for our key workers.
“I would urge everyone to follow the government’s advice and only travel where necessary, keeping the roads clear for those key workers and deliveries.
“For those out on the roads, please drive carefully and don’t see quieter roads as an opportunity to drive over the speed limit or without due care and attention – keep safe and where possible stay at home.”
Business Director at Amey David Ogden said: “Our teams have been classified as key workers and the work that they are undertaking ensures that other critical workers can get to and from home safely.
“Protecting our people and the communities we support remains our main priority.
“We have ensured that whilst they are working during covid-19 that they can do so safely and respecting social distancing measures.
“We’re incredibly proud of our operatives and the support they’re providing to critical workers.”
Utility companies are also continuing with their maintenance works to ensure the supply of water, power and communications – essential work that need to continue.
Southern Water’s Head of Wastewater Collection, Peter Stakim said: “Our teams have always had to put up with a few cases of unfair and unacceptable behaviour – often from impatient motorists, but there are reports from workers who feel the public don’t understand why they are out and working.
“These are key workers keeping taps flowing and toilets flushing. We’d like to thank the vast majority of customers who are polite and keeping social distance and plead for the tiny minority to follow their example.
“We’re doing everything we can to protect our employees and customers, while making sure that we continue to supply you with water and wastewater services.
“Our ways of working have already changed, and there may be further changes to come, but our mission remains the same – to keep our employees and customers safe and our services running.”
Gas network company SGN is focusing on emergency and safety-critical work.
Director of Operations (Southern) Glenn Norman said: “We know Kent residents are relying on us now more than ever to keep our communities safe and warm.
“Our key workers are committed to keeping gas flowing safely and reliably to the county’s homes and hospitals during the pandemic.
“To protect our communities and colleagues from spreading or catching the virus, we’re now only carrying out emergency and safety-critical work on our gas network and we’ve paused the majority of our planned projects.
“We’ll continue to operate the 24/7 National Gas Emergency Service throughout the pandemic and if you need us in a gas emergency, our engineers will still attend your home.
“We have extra safety precautions in place to protect our communities and our colleagues from the virus, in line with government and public health body advice.”
South East Water, which supplies tap water to homes across Kent said while most of its employees had been set up to work from home, essential work still needed to be carried out on the network.
Operations Director Douglas Whitfield said: “You will still South East Water workers out and about carrying out repair and maintenance work which is crucial to keep the taps running.
“Supplying safe, clean water is critical and so is keeping our workforce and the public safe. Our teams have signs and badges to say they are key workers, but we would ask everyone to observe social distancing while they carry out the essential work and not to approach them on site.”
The public can still raise highway faults online, but KCC is asking people not to approach highways staff whilst going about their work in order to respect social distancing.