Keeping people safe in testing times

The first responsibility of any employer is to make sure that everyone who works for them and with them is able to go home safely to their families at the end of every working day. For Warmworks, our responsibility goes further, extending to the people who work in our supply chain of registered sub-contractors and the thousands of customers that we visit every year.

My role in Warmworks is to work with my team of qualified, experienced on-site compliance officers and with our registered sub-contractors across Scotland to promote a safety-focused culture that takes care of our customers and our teams. We have a good track record over the last six years that comes from having built strong, supportive relationships with our sub-contractors, who understand our high expectations and seek to provide a high-quality, safe service to the vulnerable customers who come to us for help.

However, even with established systems and relationships in place, COVID-19 has brought its own set of new and unique challenges. Firstly, the pandemic has increased the need for help and support under the Warmer Homes Scotland (WHS) scheme as more people have found their jobs and incomes threatened and others have been forced to stay at home and try to keep warm without affordable heating.

At the same time, for my team and the sub-contractors that we work with, the pandemic has also led to changed ways of working. Although the Scottish Government agreed for all work under WHS to be paused last year, we used that time to work out how and when we could safely restart installation activity under the scheme in a way that protected our customers and our teams in the field. We also moved our office staff to home-based working, which continues today.

The adjustments we made to our installation processes were about increasing the amount of personal protective equipment that our field-based workforce uses and wears every day. We also made physical distancing a requirement of every home visit, ensuring that householders could stay in ‘safe zones’ within their home to keep them away from any areas where our representatives were working. Lastly, we introduced a system where no home visits take place on any of our contracts without pre-visit screening calls, which are an opportunity to talk to householders and check that they’re healthy and happy for any visit to go ahead.

Since we restarted WHS activity on 1st July last year, we have carried out more than 800 on-site checks to verify that our installation teams and field-based staff are following these enhanced guidelines and COVID-safe protocols. It’s been very encouraging for me to see that our teams and engineers are taking these protocols so seriously and the results of these checks are positive. That is providing vital reassurance to our customers that, with their need for affordable heating so important now, in the middle of winter, they can have vital work carried out in their homes in a safe way.

Working safely has always been our key priority and our biggest responsibility, and the events of the last twelve months have brought that to the fore. We have responded to the need to enhance our processes and ways of working to demonstrate that we are able to take extra care of our customers and our staff, but the challenge has not subsided or passed. Instead, the challenge will be for us to maintain our discipline and focus throughout, responding to any changes in guidance promptly and continuing to listen to the needs of our customers and supply chain partners as we shape and strengthen our safety-first culture in a way that meets the needs of the post-COVID environment.

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