Published: 15:56, 26 March 2020
| Updated: 15:58, 26 March 2020
Gravesham Council says it is doing what it can to protect housing maintenance staff – despite fears workers are being put at undue risk during the coronavirus outbreak.
Following the nationwide drive to limit social interaction, the council has reduced its repair service to cover only emergency work, but some staff remain worried that they do not have adequate protective equipment to cut the risk of exposure to the virus.
The father of one maintenance worker contacted Kent Online to say his son – also a father – had asked for hand sanitiser and protective clothing, but had been denied the request.
"I can't understand it," he said. "He's got children. They need protective clothing and hand gel. The state of some of these homes he's going into. The kids are coughing and spluttering – I'm not saying they've all got coronavirus, but when they're going into these homes everybody's there.
"Someone from the council should phone ahead to ask if anyone has symptoms. They don't ask 'have you got children in the house, and can they stay in their room'.
"I believe the council has got the money to provide them with hand gel. They've got to ensure their employees are safe."
He believed managers were putting staff under undue pressure to carry on working, and that an attitude of denial was exacerbating the danger.
But Gravesham Council said the safety of staff was paramount and they had taken steps to improve saftey.
Nick Brown, Director of Housing & Operations at Gravesham Borough Council said: “The health and safety of our employees is always at the forefront of our thoughts, even more so in these difficult times.
“Despite Government guidance allowing repair and maintenance work to continue in people’s homes, to protect our workforce and our tenants as much as we can we are only carrying out emergency repair work on properties where the tenant’s health and safety, and/or the integrity of the building could be compromised if left unattended.
“We are also employing additional screening measures.
“When a tenant contacts the council to report an emergency repair, our call centre staff ask a series of questions to ensure that everyone in the household is fit and healthy, that our operative will have the ability to wash their hands on site, and that everyone in the household will stay two metres from the operative when they arrive.
“If they can confirm this, the member of staff attending the property will also complete a health and safety assessment prior to starting any work. This includes questions relating to Covid-19."
He said all members of staff had the freedom to make a decision on whether they felt safe entering a property, and that the workforce was provided with "essential PPE" (personal protective equipment) which included disposable gloves.
He added: “At the moment, masks are not required to enter a property where no one has, or is displaying symptoms of, Covid-19.
“We are working to source hand sanitiser, but quite rightly other services such as the NHS are being prioritised for the supplies available. However, protective gloves and hand washing are effective measures along with social distancing in trying to combat the spread of Covid-19.
“Although we have not yet had cause to, we do have measures in place to enable us to carry out emergency repair work where a household is in isolation due to symptoms or confirmed cases of Covid-19. These measures include the household isolating in a room within the house while the repair work is completed, and our operatives using protective equipment that is normally used for working with harmful materials.
“Our repairs and maintenance team have done a sterling job in continuing to provide a service to our tenants in such challenging and worrying times and we will continue to support them and give them guidance to ensure that continues in the safest way possible.”
More by this authorChris Hunter