These are unprecedented times and the restrictions imposed to reduce the spread of the virus have created many challenges for both daily life and the street works industry. As always the street works industry in Wales has responded in a positive and pragmatic way and is a credit to all members of Welsh HAUC. Whilst the situation is continually evolving this statement seeks to clarify some issues as far as possible by stating the current position.
The NRSWA 1991 and TMA 2004 still apply to all works. Whilst this pandemic is a national crisis the legislation remains in place and there are no measures within the creation of emergency legislation to suspend provisions within the above Acts.
However, at this time Welsh Government requests that street authorities afford a degree of understanding when considering the application of enforcement powers. Safety remains paramount and must not be compromised. Organisations will be doing their best to undertake required works in line with their duties and therefore street authorities must think carefully about application of FPN’s for administrative failings.
There are grounds for completing schemes in order to return the road network to functionality, but if sites need to be suspended utility companies must notify the street authority in line with Section 74 and the street authority must make reasonable allowance for extensions and/or early starts when the time comes to re-commence works. However, any sites just abandoned will be liable for over run charges.
Planned Works and Emergency Works.
Each utility company and street authority must work within their own company and authority policies, but emergency works will continue to be carried out along with works which are required to ensure that essential services are maintained or required to support essential infrastructure and vulnerable customers. In order to preserve highway resilience it is preferred that existing projects currently in progress are completed where possible and street authorities should consider relaxing embargoes to facilitate this.
In terms of planning works, it is essential that this is reviewed and prioritising daily, as the crisis unfolds, with a key focus on essential work being carried out. It is worth noting Transport Scotland have set a very simple guideline:
Is what you do essential or material to the effort against the virus or to the wellbeing of society?
If so, can your staff work from home?
If not, can you practice safe social distancing and comply with all other standard health and safety requirement?
If the answers to none of the above questions is yes, our strong advice on a precautionary basis at this stage is to close.
We consider this to be an extremely pragmatic approach as at a national level we cannot decide, case by case, who goes ahead and who doesn’t. Welsh Government and Welsh HAUC fully support highway authorities and utility companies in taking a reasonable and sensible stance on what is required during this period i.e. emergency, critical for the safe operation of the network, maintaining continuity of supply or to enhance network capacity i.e. broadband roll-out.
The Welsh Government published a list of categories of key workers; https://gov.wales/written-statement-eligibility-ongoing-provision-children-who-are-vulnerable-or-whose-parents-are
Whilst this isn’t specific in terms of actual job descriptions it is recognised that in order to adequately support the utility companies in delivering their works there needs to be street authority officers available as agreed with JAG UK.
Given the pressures on the workforce at this time it remains essential that safety is not compromised and all works shall be undertaken in accordance with government and regulatory guidelines, maintaining social distancing and in line with street works legislation i.e. the Red book. The health, safety and wellbeing of street and road workers is just as important as us undertaking all required essential work.
Workers shall adhere to the Public Health Wales guidelines, in particular the need to stop all gatherings of more than 2 people and to maintain social distancing of 2m. Relevant authorities have powers to enforce this with fines and dispersal orders. Workers must be aware that working within the public domain they are under constant scrutiny and shall adhere to the above for their own safety and the reputation of their employer.
Street Works Cards
Welsh Government has been in contact with Street Works Qualifications Register (SWQR) regarding arrangements for accreditation and card renewal. As above there are no measures to amend the regulations around qualifications and accreditation, however the Welsh Government, SWQR and JAG have agreed the following statement: “It is essential that Street Works do not stop entirely, and some cards will lapse through no fault of the holders. We are, therefore, writing to ask that Street Authorities bear this in mind with regards to card enforcement policy for the next six months or so”
The SWQR have advised that the time allowed for card production will increase, and production may eventually cease, impacting on our Service Level Agreement. The SWQR will provide an exemption over the next 6 months to card holders where their card has expired between Tuesday 17 March 2020 and Thursday 17 September 2020