Our response needed to be flexible, current and relevant to our diverse business operations. The impact of the pandemic varied across the business, with some of our people working in higher-risk environments such as hospitals, schools and nursing homes.
Downer’s Group Zero Harm team monitored the emergence of COVID-19 from January 2020, working with the Major Projects business to identify early learnings from the workforce with our China-based joint venture partner, CRRC Changchun, which Downer partners with to deliver Sydney’s Waratah trains and Melbourne’s High Capacity Metro Trains.
Specific information relating to COVID-19 and the management of its risk was distributed to the business. Information bulletins were also regularly circulated to the Downer workforce. From these bulletins, a COVID-19 Management Standard and Pandemic Playbook was developed and regularly updated as our knowledge and experience increased.
Downer’s initial response focused on providing our people with information on the virus to alleviate uncertainty and anxiety, along with guidance on how to restrict the spread of the virus through hand sanitation, social distancing and respiratory etiquette. Central to our messaging was to remind people that if they exhibited symptoms consistent with COVID-19, had been tested, or were a close contact of a positive case, they should not attend work. Concurrently, we worked to identify employees who were at higher risk, as well as those who were overseas, and developed a response to manage the risks to these groups. We quickly restricted, then prohibited, overseas travel, utilising our international travel risk service to provide accurate information and support the return of our people from overseas back to Australia.
We adopted a risk management approach, with a focus on building awareness and verifying compliance with the Critical Controls to prevent and manage COVID-19 exposure in our business.
In addition to our usual workplace cleaning and disinfecting, Downer focused on increasing cleaning of frequently touched or accessed areas, increasing supply and access to hand sanitation and disinfectant, eliminating sharing of kitchenware, and restricting access to our worksites and offices.
In order to support those affected, manage our workforce and understand the impact on our business we introduced a COVID-19 tracker into our existing incident management tool, which enabled us to monitor potential and actual exposures within our business. Collating and having access to this information early was an important part of our response to COVID-19 and helped to keep our people safe and allowed many of our operations to continue under the strict Government restrictions.
As the situation developed, our response evolved to include:
- Staggering of shifts, rosters and meal/rest breaks to allow for social distancing in the workplace
- Changing the layout of meeting and meal/rest rooms to maintain distance between workers
- Redesigning work to minimise the need for working in close proximity with others, and enforcing these social distancing measures
- Minimising high use communal areas and avoiding enclosed spaces
- Enforcing social distancing measures
- Eliminating the use of shared utensils or foods
- Introducing health self-assessments prior to commencing work
- Restricting the number of people allowed in vehicles at any one time
- Increasing cleaning and sanitation of shared tools, vehicles and mobile plant
- Introducing non-contact temperature testing where required
- Directing start-of-shift meetings to occur outside, where possible, to accommodate social distancing requirements
- Increasing random drug and alcohol testing in response to changes to start-of-shift testing arrangements
- Increasing our use of technology for meetings and collaboration to reduce the reliance on face-to-face meetings
- Closing corporate offices and instructing employees to work remotely where possible
- Providing essential workers with documentation to explain their travel and movement during lockdown restrictions
- Increasing our procurement and holdings of disinfectant products, appropriate Personal Protective Equipment and non-contact temperature testing devices
- Producing our own hand sanitiser in New Zealand when procurement of supplies became difficult
- Establishing collaboration platforms for the sharing of best practice resources across the business and accessing mental health information.
Our Victorian workforce was impacted by the second wave of COVID-19. Zero Harm and senior operational leaders responded quickly to manage the situation in accordance with our well-established frameworks, which helped minimise disruption to our permitted workplaces and achieve compliance with all requirements.
The pandemic not only threatens people’s health and economic security, the social distancing restrictions to stop the spread of the virus also left people isolated at a time many needed to lean on others for support. This trio of mental health triggers heightened concern about the welfare of our people. Downer’s Group Health function was crucial in helping to support our people during the pandemic. We provided COVID-19-specific mental health support and increased training in mental health support practices. The team used Microsoft Teams to deliver four 30-minute mental health webinars each week between April and June. The webinars covered important COVID-19 topics including: Talking with children and teens about the pandemic; practical tips on working from home; mindfulness techniques; staying connected socially and creatively; and adjusting to changes at work. The sessions were supplemented by written material that was made available to everyone on the purpose-built COVID-19 information page on Downer’s intranet.
Hundreds of employees tuned in to the webinars each week.