Working on the Frontline in Lockdown – Sydney, Australia

Here is a great article from one of our team members at International Greenkeepers, Damien Curtis is spearheading a team of people in our industry working on the frontline in a lockdown zone in Sydney’s worst affected areas by this Delta Strain of Covid19 risking their lives to help make the community safe.
International Greenkeepers would like to personally thank every person in the Turf Industry around the world putting themselves in the front line to make sure the world can have somewhere to go outside their house during this pandemic.
Damien Curtis – Acting City Works Manager Liverpool City Council – Australia NSW
With all work scrutinized during a hard lock down due to Covid 19 work in Local government areas get broken down into 2 groups -Essential / and nonessential. Most of us would expect Garbage collection and the repair of roads as essential but we also define Parks and open space areas as essential also. In open space areas we have a duty of care to provide safe and clean areas for the public to exercise in which in our areas include walking tracks in native bush land ,open space sporting fields ,playgrounds ,play gyms, dog parks and general passive open space areas.
Sports have been cancelled but our sports fields are probably getting more wear and tear now due to the sheer number using them to exercise. Without eyes checking that these above areas are safe we leave ourselves exposed to residents and guests injuring themselves especially when exercise is their only form of outside entertainment in a hard lock down scenario. This is why in our local government areas ground staff are a critical part of our workforce.
The first item to consider in any lock down is what are the latest public health orders and how they will affect the safe delivery of service to our open space areas. We, like all industries, will be given perimeters to work within then we must apply for essential work permits which come with many restrictions that are necessary for us to work in. The fines for businesses and individuals are quite large and the other side to this is we do not want to have staff or the public put in danger if we are not abiding by strict legislation put in place by multiple Government agencies. Some of the provisions this time round are collecting data on staff living in hot zones that require Covid testing every 3 days . The use of extensive PPE and hiring additional vehicles to service areas due to distance regulations in trucks and work vehicles. Recording all entry and exits into depots by staff with bar codes and manual recording and restricting visitors if possible. In house Covid Testing for staff to minimize the distribution to their already busy lifestyle of working and living in hard lock down areas.
Creating work schedules where sanitizing hard stand amenities such as playgrounds and seating become more important than mowing or gardening. Staggered start and finish times to avoid congestion in our depots. Creating satellite depots to spread the work force out in case a close contact takes out a whole section for 14 days and we can continue with the delivery of critical work from other depots. In regards to our sporting fields and high profile areas we are continuing with our spraying programs for Pests /Weeds and Disease especially targeting weeds such as Burr Medic and Bindii as these weeds pose considerable safety risk to our users if they flower so it’s important for us to reduce this risk .
This is still deemed essential as is auditing and fixing irrigation issues as again water leaks and breaks are a danger to the users of our open space areas. Last lock down we completed many renovations processes as the sports were cancelled but this lock down all construction and non critical work has been fagged so we cannot use this window to complete small capital works on our fields. Providing the best PPE and making sure our staff use this and are updated on the latest public health orders which are changing daily . We still continue to maintain our open spaces to a standard but with a focus on sanitizing and litter removal combined with more stringent inspection on assets to identify safety concerns in a more efficient time frame.
One of the difficult issues is a large number of our residents are out of work or stood down temporarily due to the hard stage 4 lock down which has greatly affected our local government area which is 310 square kilometers in a high density area with lots of blue collar trade employees in our local government area. We actually get busier now with the only form of normality for residents is to go into our open space areas and exercise the body and mind.
We also get more vandalism and theft and lots of our staff can be subjected to abuse from frustrated open space users who feel the need to take out life’s frustrations on them. This issue gets tool boxed and talked about so we can give our staff strategies to deal with these issues as it is a very challenging time when residents cannot feed their families or service their debts due to no income coming in.
We must also manage our staff’s mental and physical well-being by implementing guidelines to identify risks ,allow different leave patterns to be authorized and effectively communicate from the high levels down to the field staff with clear messaging.
In terms of maintenance most Local Government staff are the last line of call outs and we call this the phone a friend scenario due to being called out to electrical issues with our tree teams cutting fallen trees over power lines,our civil teams spreading sand on major and minor roads after an accidents and stopping pollutions going into waterways with spill kits and bundling. Our traffic control teams are always utilized in storm events in conjunction with other state organizations to block roads and put in detours to reduce risk and make people safe from hazards .
Like all emergency management the layers only work when tryouts have clear and concise information communicated to all staff. We are very lucky to have very experienced staff who have worked all over the world in critical situations and their calm demeanor and ability to mentor the less experienced staff has seen us adapt to the ever changing world we all now live in. In times of crisis the great staff rise to occasion and I am very lucky to work with a fantastic team continuing to maintain our open space areas for our residents.
Stay safe and reach out to your industry friends and associates to help in times of need as no person has all the tools in their kit to solve all the problems or issues that come our way especially dealing with living organisms.
From a management perspective we need to record daily the below information.
-Staff leave -at present due to working in a hot spot we have many staff using up their accrued leave .
We have not forced this but are happy for staff to take leave as many look after their elderly family or kids who at the moment must be homeschooled .
-We have staff redeployed from other areas of council who have been stood down in their substantive roles. For this at the moment the council pays a 4 week full time wage then our union is in negotiations to get some form of payment as local government workers are not covered by the old job keeper payment .
-Daily meetings with emergency management which includes NSW Health / Police/ RMS /Office of Local government .
We have set up many Covid Testing clinics in our open space parks and these change quite often depending on the areas needing more resourcing.
The last week has seen us working to set up much needed vaccination hubs which are critical for the community.
The management team also looks at our own hotspot congregation areas and works with the authorities to close areas off. Last year we closed sporting fields and playgrounds but so far we, on the direction from NSW Health have kept these facilities open so we dedicate more resources to clean and inspect above what we normally do outside of lockdown.
Damien Curtis – Acting City Works Manager Liverpool City Council – Australia NSW

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