Dundee roads bosses have warned Covid-related staff shortages could hamper efforts to grit roads and clear pavements this winter.
A quarter of all Dundee Roads Maintenance Partnership (RMP) workers were unable to attend work in March and April during the first wave of the pandemic due to employees shielding and self-isolating.
Dundee roads boss Ewan MacNaughton and city development director Robin Presswood have signed off on a report highlighting the “new risk” around “labour resource availability” during the coming winter season.
Peak labour unavailability level recorded in the Road Maintenance Partnership (RMP) during the pandemic to date was experienced during March and April when the labour unavailability rate reached 25%.” Dundee City Council report.
It warns Covid-19 could result in a shortage of HGV drivers trained to pre-treat roads and goes on to state it may not be possible to clear some “priority one” pavements outside schools and shops before they open at 9am in the event of heavy snow and staff unable to attend work.
The paper says some gritter drivers could be asked to work extended shifts, even if this leads to “exceeding drivers’ hours regulations” in the event of heavy snow.
This would be allowed if extreme weather led to the declaration of an “emergency situation”, the paper states.
The road maintenance partnership (RMP) team is a combination of Dundee City Council road maintenance staff and Tayside Contracts operational staff.
The paper warns the “peak labour unavailability level recorded in the Road Maintenance Partnership (RMP) during the pandemic to date was experienced during March and April when the labour unavailability rate reached 25%.
“This rate was associated with a combination of employees shielding due to underlying health conditions and self-isolating due to either presenting Covid-19 symptoms or having been in interaction with a person displaying symptoms.”
Maureen Dickson, UNISON regional organiser, said staffing during the winter period had not yet been discussed with union representatives.
She said: “We have been meeting with Dundee City Council and Tayside Contracts regularly throughout the pandemic.
“It is a possibility that staffing may become an issue during the winter months, however at this stage this has not been discussed with UNISON.
“When it is, we will ensure that robust risk assessments continue to be in place, protecting the health and safety of our members and the public.”
Councillor Fraser Macpherson, Liberal Democrats, said the RMP did extremely well with the resources available but “there are concerns every year over the speed grit is put on the streets.”
He said: “There are going to be particular challenges in the winter of 2021 given the health emergency, but there is a lot of thought being put into reducing the potential for slips, accidents and falls.”
Councillors on the city development committee will consider the winter maintenance Covid-19 contingency position paper at an online meeting on Monday evening, October 26.
A Dundee City Council spokesman said the plan “details in the extreme circumstances that a 50% reduction in the available workforce is experienced, some footway priority routes may not be cleared of snow by 9am opening.”