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COVID-19 Risk Reduction for Water Utility Employees

Updated: Jul 9

For many people, social distancing and working from home is becoming the new normal for the foreseeable future. However, frontline utility staff are not afforded this luxury. Many water utilities have been sharing the hashtag #stayathome on social media, so our frontline workers can stay safe while still providing essential services for the community. This raises the question of what can utilities do to mitigate COVID-19 risks for their employees?


To begin with, a utility must look at what technologies they have at their disposal to help reduce or eliminate the risk and frequency of sending employees into the field to carry out work. An example of a solution for a water utility could be using data analytics and sensors to predict a sewer pump station failure or water main break. These are two problems that are very common for a water utility and require a crew of workers to fix and remediate the site. Therefore, using technology to predict when these problems may occur can make the outcome less severe and reduce the risk of frontline workers being in the field.


However, other water and wastewater industry activities such as taking water quality samples around the reticulation network require staff to go into the field. While compliance testing is always going to be required, other testing activities could be replaced with the deployment of smart sensors to send feedback of operational performance to the operations team. The deployment of smart sensors could also resolve the issues of water quality complaints and meter reading, by removing another aspect of interaction with customers and the public.


SAFEgroup Automation employee working at a water treatment plant prior to COVID-19

Another way to ensure our frontline workers are reducing risks throughout this uncertain period is to provide secure access to critical data systems outside the office. This facilitates the ability to work from home as well as undertake key problem solving and troubleshooting activities. In some cases, this option can mitigate the need to go into the field, and in other cases, it can minimise the field and site activities required.


In this unprecedented time that we live in, technology is being leveraged in many ways to overcome the current challenges this pandemic has presented. The issues and risked raised can be reduced and mitigated with current technologies in the marketplace and a lot of these technologies and solutions are mature enough for deployment now. Before the pandemic, technology uptake had many different needs and drivers. Business cases were required and the cost of moving to the new technology was always a major consideration. But now, is it time to rethink the strategy to protect staff first and foremost?


To all the frontline workers in every sector, thank you! For everyone else, stay safe and remember #stayathome.

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