How Blacktown City Council managed the coronavirus pandemic

Date: 
Tuesday, 28 April, 2020 - 11:30
Category: 
Industry news
Location: 
National News

An all-of-business approach has been critical to the successful organisational management of the coronavirus pandemic for Blacktown City Council, according to its chief safety officer Geoff Hoad.

This holistic approach was important because in a pandemic, Hoad said one function of the business could not operate without the other.

“Our initial business continuity plan was supplemented by a very detailed operational pandemic response plan,” he said.

“This covered each business activity and provided clear guidance as to what was deemed essential and how it would continue to function.”

Hoad, who recently spoke as part of an AIHS webinar on business continuity and security management in the COVID world, said that complete executive participation and strong management participation were critical to the process.

Special executive meetings on pandemic response were held regularly, and Hoad provided specific, detailed guidance which was then executed by the entire management team.

He explained that this approach was “successful and effective” and acknowledged that his job was made easier by a “total commitment to the plan”.

However, it was not without its challenges, and Hoad explained that it was important to recognise that normal business continuity planning approaches did not work as the assumptions used are not appropriate for a pandemic.

“Creating a pandemic business continuity plan that enabled essential activities to continue and which took into account scaling down or ceasing of types of work which carried high risk of exposure or which were non-essential,” said Hoad, who added that other challenges included:

  • Ensuring the acquisition of adequate PPE supplies before shortages occurred.
  • Developing safe work methods to provide maximum protection to our people.
  • Providing regular and clear information on demand.
  • Recognising that fear is normal and taking every concern seriously.

 

It was also important to manage balancing restrictions and guidelines (around the likes of social distancing, PPE and meetings, for example) with what is reasonably practicable from a duty of care perspective.

Hoad said the council took a number of approaches in the above:

  1. Updating technology to enable remote working (new laptops and tablets plus the expansion of VPN connections)
  2. Physically separating teams to secure locations
  3. All meetings are conducted via Microsoft Teams and Zoom
  4. Controlled issue of PPE
  5. A completely revised work-from-home approach
  6. Changing how mobile work teams operate

 

The pandemic will have a lasting impact on the council, according to Hoad, who said that work will not be the same and flexible work arrangements will be here to stay post-coronavirus.

“Work from home will be the new normal,” he said.

“The profession will need to adapt to these arrangements.”

OHS professionals need to be flexible and respond to changing situations, with rules balanced with real-world requirements.

“OHS professionals will need to influence better (or more) as contact with workgroups decreases,” said Hoad.

In some instances, he also said they need to be more visible.

“Have a different appreciation of risk and plan to deal with new risks,” he said.

“Be risk identifiers, not risk responders.”

 

For the full interview with Hoad and feature article on how Blacktown City Council managed its way through the coronavirus pandemic, see the next issue of OHS Professional Magazine.