2020 has proven to be a year of rapid change, and the last few weeks have continued to show that business and the public need to be quick to respond to change.  As we approach winter, the Ground Control Winter Maintenance Team – who deliver gritting and snow clearance services for 9,000 locations across the UK – is acutely aware of the potential for new challenges and are responding daily to changing rules and predictions.

Early indications are that this winter is likely to be colder than average; we anticipate being impacted by a forecast  La Niña event in the Pacific Ocean that will affect weather patterns throughout the UK.  With many professionals asking what more disruption 2020 could bring, in the event of a cold and white winter the focus needs to on ensuring staff and customers remain safe outdoors.

As we do in the lead up to every winter season, we’re spending a significant amount of time preparing. This includes communicating with our customers to understand any changes to their needs and establishing and confirming service requirements and communication protocols. As the number of staff on-site, opening hours, and access procedures have all changed on many sites this year, it’s become an even more important task to ensure we can deliver effectively when the time comes.

We have engaged and now have firm plans in place with our suppliers, including the weather forecasting team at the MetOffice and our salt suppliers. This year we increased the number of strategic locations where we maintain salt reserves to ensure that we can respond quickly in the event of logistics or network issues and to insulate ourselves from Government salt requisitioning. Finally, each year we further reduce the environmental impact of our winter service by optimising routes to minimise travel between sites as our customer and site portfolio continues to grow.

With COVID central to our operating environment, we’ve been doing all of our preparatory work for the winter season remotely, with the majority of our team working from home.  As many of our customers have experienced, technology has enabled our team to transition seamlessly overnight from office to home-based working. Given the recent changes, we now expect and are planning to continue to manage the service remotely throughout the winter.

To ensure continuous service delivery on-site, we are utilising a ‘permit’ system where two people are required to share the same vehicle. This permit ensures critical practices to keep our people safe, including PPE and limiting cohort changes, are in place and maintained in alignment with Government guidance.  As we anticipate an increase in absence and ‘self-isolation’ this winter, we are also ensuring that each customer site has at least two delivery teams assigned who have the capacity to deliver, to ensure consistent delivery where the primary team is unable to perform a service. Everyone in our organisation receives regular updates to our risk management practices through SMS, our website, and our apps to guarantee we can respond quickly to changes in local conditions, including local lockdowns.

We are of course collaborating with our customers as their needs change due to COVID.  We have engaged with some customers who have reduced the number of staff they have on-site to provide options to temporarily adjust service to focus on critical areas, such as roadways and ‘front of house’.  For many clients, our advice remains that the value of full-service delivery is maintained where members of the public access sites; we all recognise that a duty of care still exists to all the users of these private roads and car parks that we help them make safe for winter.

The primary goal for grit spreading is to prevent ice formation; grit is normally spread when we are aware of the risk of ice forming and ideally before the ice forms.  The coldest part of the night is usually the period just before dawn, and our service is therefore provided after nightfall and before midnight, though some customers prefer a morning application that we accommodate when appropriate. With some customers staggering staff arrival times and extending facility opening and closing times, the good news is that the current operating procedures will still work well for these revised working hours.

2020 has been a year of continuous change. One thing Ground Control knows will come and is more prepared than ever for is winter. Our people, processes, supply chain and systems are COVID ready and compliant, with more redundancy than ever built-in.

This year has highlighted the need to be continuously adapting to changing needs due to Government, customer, and market conditions. Going into winter, the challenge we all face is to continue to listen to and work with clients to make winter safe.


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