Providing essential services with safety in mind

The announcement of the COVID-19 lockdown sent shockwaves through the country and many businesses had to temporarily close their doors. But what about those who didn’t? TJ is on the list of companies providing essential services and as such was expected to keep operating. Here we speak to TJ’s chairman Terry Higgins about how they’ve managed to keep the company steady during these challenging times…

What were your priorities after the announcement of the COVID-19 lockdown?

My first consideration was for the health and safety of my employees, customers and suppliers. It’s an unprecedented situation but I completely understood the need for the lockdown. That said, as an essential service company we were able to continue operating, which posed its own problems as we had to quickly figure out how to continue running effectively, efficiently and safely.

We want to do the right things for moral reasons as well as practical reasons – we value the wellbeing of our staff and without healthy employees, we will have no business – they make it all possible.

How have you reacted to the pandemic in terms of the business?

When the lockdown came into force much of our business dried up overnight, particularly on the transport side. This unfortunately meant that we were unable to sustain the entire workforce so we had to make use of the furlough scheme for some of our staff. We made sure that any staff who needed to self-isolate, shield family members or who had underlying health conditions were furloughed immediately.

After that we made judgements on how many staff we would need to keep on to deal with the workload. For the first three weeks we ran the company on a skeleton staff with just a few people in the office and driving the haulage vehicles. We kept on the majority of our waste drivers as much of that business was able to continue.

We’ve made many changes to the way we operate and within our day-to-day tasks. We’ve put social distancing measures in place throughout the business; in the offices this means that we have rearranged desks and removed excess chairs so that it is not possible for people to sit closer than 2m from the next person. We have ordered some desk screen dividers for the offices as well as some bespoke face masks and we’re hopeful these will arrive soon, despite the high demand for them.

Our drivers have new procedures to follow to ensure they maintain social distancing when carrying out deliveries or collections. We usually get customers to sign to confirm delivery/collection, but we are now taking photos of the delivery taking place as confirmation to avoid the need for any close contact.

Drivers also have new cleaning procedures in place. We’ve provided them with cleaning materials and they are required to sanitise the interior of their vehicle every day. There is also a one driver, one vehicle policy in place (which is not usually the case) so that cross-contamination is not a possibility.

At our Materials Recovery Facilities, our staff are used to wearing PPE and facemasks so we’ve simply asked them to wear theirs in all work situations as well as ensuring they observe social distancing too. In the mess huts, we’ve set limits on the number of people that can use them at any one time, introduced social distancing rules and staggered break times to ensure everyone can use the space safely.

At the beginning of the lockdown it was impossible to get any hand sanitiser gel, but one of our suppliers, a chemical supplies company, had lost all their business so we employed them to make huge vats of sanitising gel for us. We now have a large supply and have given individual bottles to every member of staff as well as leaving bottles in and around every department and area of the company so that it can be freely accessed.

What are you doing differently on a week-to-week basis?

Myself and the directors are holding weekly board meetings to review the latest government guidance and advice and implementing any changes that need to be made as the situation progresses.

We are also committed to keeping our employees informed – both those on-site and those who have been furloughed. We are doing this with weekly email updates to let them know about any developments or any changes that will be taking place in their working environment.

We’re continually monitoring the situation, making changes to our procedures as and when we need to.

Have any external factors affected you?

The fact that people are working from home has meant that there is much less traffic on the road and this has made it a lot easier for our vehicles to get from A to B and in less time which makes a nice change! We’ve also seen a rise in the demand for skips during lockdown. This is due to the fact that the Household Waste Recycling Centres were closed until recently, coupled with an increase in garden and DIY projects being undertaken as people have more time on their hands and little else to do.

How are you keeping in touch with your customers and partners?

We’re sending out weekly emails to keep in touch with our customers and suppliers. These are to let them know that we are still operating, still able to offer the majority of our services and that we’re keen to keep working with them.

What has the team atmosphere been like during this time?

Everyone has really pulled together, which has been lovely to see. There’s this “we’re all in this together” feeling and where some people may usually be reluctant to stray from their own job roles, the lines between roles have blurred and people are just happy to help wherever they can to ensure the business continues to run smoothly.

Find out more about the services TJ offers and keep us in mind for your waste, aggregate and haulage requirements during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond! Give us a call on 08000 463 964 if you’d like to discuss your needs with our friendly team.

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