In the March newsletter we asked the Environmental Health community how they were responding to the Coronavirus pandemic and to share any best practice, the following have got in touch and responding with how their work has adapted.
Glasgow City Council
Environmental Health has been identified as an essential service in dealing with coronavirus pandemic and staff from other areas have been drafted in. Billy Hamilton has returned from retirement for 2 days per week to help with Glasgow City Council (GCC) response to the pandemic. Most officers have been working from home and food inspections have been suspended unless there is a potential serious health risk. There have been a few key areas of work undertaken in response to the COVID- 19 pandemic by Environmental Health at Glasgow City Council as follows:
- Covid-19 Cross Infection Surveys- this has involved volunteer Environmental health officers going to key department locations to identify cross- infection “hotspots” and make recommendations and to report back to management. This has been carried out using necessary precautions to ensure social distancing measures are being applied and that relevant PPE was used. This task was undertaken from a public health perspective and not in a health and safety at work context.
- Procurement Prioritisation. GCC Corporate Procurement, Corporate Health and Safety and Environmental Health have developed a streamlined, centralised procurement process for Covid-related PPE requests across the Council. Environmental Health staff apply a prioritisation tool in order to triage incoming requests.
- Tracing of cases and suspected cases. Environmental Health has prepared materials and guidance to enable staff to contact Service colleagues who have declared themselves to be suffering from coronavirus (or to at least have symptoms). A questionnaire has been developed which would be completed while interviewing the ‘case’ over the phone or by email. Information will be collected on the person’s working location and upon any colleagues within which they’ve been in contact over the past 7 days. (This won’t be required if the person has been working from home during this period). Details of the specified contacts will be recorded and those ‘contacts’ then contacted by the ‘relevant case officer’ who contacted the actual case/suspected case.
- Mass Fatalities Resilience. This has been led by Registration, Emergency Planning and Bereavement services however Environmental Health has a role in this area and will involve carrying out daily inspections at the temporary mortuary along with Renfrewshire Council colleagues.
- Coronavirus Regulations. The recently-produced Regulations empower Local Authorities to take enforcement action where businesses are found to be trading unlawfully. Both Environmental Health and Trading Standards staff have been deployed to respond to enquiries and allegations from the public and Police.
- Communications. There is an ongoing need to maintain Covid-related communications with businesses and Council colleagues. Work has included updating website information, creating social media content, creating information posters for depots and other locations, contacting food businesses with information regarding measures to take for takeaways, and contacting care homes to ensure correct waste control measures are in place.
Environmental Health Teams in Fife were identified as business critical, both in terms of the COVID-19 Pandemic response and the day to day public health functions undertaken by the Teams.
Officers are working mainly from home, with routine inspections and interventions suspended at this time. Visits and inspection can only be carried out where there is a significant risk to public health, safety and wellbeing, with Officers first obtaining permission from their Line Manager.
Fife Council’s Environmental Health have and continue to play their part in the response to the Covid-19 Pandemic in the Kingdom, including:
- Active involvement in Fife Council’s corporate response and are represented on the Corporate and Directorate level Incident Management Teams.
- Are members of the STAC (Scientific Technical Advisory Cell) supporting the work of both Fife Council’s and NHS Fife Incident Management Teams.
- An integral part of the Mass Fatalities preparation work and will have a key role going forward.
- Port Health work continues along with liaison with City of Edinburgh Council Environmental Health colleagues. As the Firth of Forth is providing moorage to five cruise ships (at current count), with servicing of the ships being undertaken at local ports.
- Provision of information and guidance to businesses through Fife Council’s dedicated Covid-19 webpages.
- Proactive (non-visit) interventions of food business currently trading and those who have or could adapt to collection/delivery service. This covers a range of food safety practices including for examples cross contamination and allergen management, along with social distancing measures.
- Responding to requests for advice and concerns from other council departments, Businesses, the voluntary sector, partner agencies and members of the public.
- Working with our Trading Standards colleagues of as relevant persons under the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulation 2020. Liaison with our local Division of Police Scotland is also underway.
Being a rural authority with officers usually spread over a variety of 7 offices and home locations, the move to everyone working from home has been reasonably smooth given the existing familiarity with the technology required to support remote working. We had to make the best use of the technology to bid our farewells to a well known friend and colleague John Bell, Lead Food Officer and Examiner who retired on Tuesday 31st March, the promise of an Indian Buffet remains for when restrictions are to be lifted. In the meantime, we have been kept busy:
Our team were quick off the mark producing guidance for business who were having to adapt their food offering to deliver/ collection only, we got this guidance on to our social media channels and linked to special COVID advice pages on our website. We continue to review and update our web pages on a daily basis to reflect the changing landscape for residents and business as best as possible.
A diving support vessel arrived at Peterhead on the 27th March. On board and amongst a crew of 101 were individuals reporting symptoms associated with Covid-19. These crew members were in isolation as per government "household" guidelines. The vessel was directed to a secure berth in Peterhead Harbour and directions given that no crew member leave the vessel and that no 3rd party could board without the permission on Aberdeenshire Council (as Port Health Authority) and Public Health Scotland. An informal "incident team" was formed comprising representatives from Aberdeenshire Council, the Acting Consultant in Public Health from NHS Grampian, and the operator (both onshore and on board the vessel).The Council served a Notice under Section 73 (3)(a) of the Public Health (Scotland) Act 2008 on the owners and operators of the vessel. The Notice contained conditions aimed at preventing the spread of infectious disease from the ship. After careful monitoring of the health status of individual crew members in the following days disembarkation was permitted when deemed appropriate by the incident team. The vessel was then deep cleaned before a fresh crew returned it to service.
With our Household Waste Recycling Centres closed, people have been unable to dispose of their garden waste and some unfortunately have taken to having garden bonfires. We have seen a gradual rise on complaints compared to the same period last year, a trend that will likely be mirrored across other Authorities. To combat any further increase in complaints, we have taken to social media, in conjunction with our Waste colleagues, to encourage people to home compost any garden waste and refrain from burning.
Although based from home our Animal Health & Welfare Officers are still responding to concerns and visiting small holdings, farms and livestock markets. Stray dogs and dog fouling don’t stop during a pandemic! It has been disappointing to hear of the number of incidents of bagged poo being left on our paths, especially when our 1 hour a day to enjoy the outdoors is confined to these paths.
As if a global pandemic wasn’t enough to get our heads around, we convened an IMT just over a fortnight ago when we received confirmation from SEPA and the DWQR that Aberdeenshire was at an increased risk of drought and our private water supplies may begin to experience difficulty within the next 2 to 4 weeks. The Cabinet Secretary has confirmed financial assistance will be made available and we currently hold a stockpile of Scottish Water bottled water that I expect we will begin to distribute in the coming days.
In this fast-moving time, there is real opportunity for our profession to demonstrate more than ever why we are at the core of public health within Scotland.
East Lothian Council
East Lothian Council have authorised Environmental Health and Trading Standards Officers under the Coronavirus Regulations. Each Officer has been assigned responsibility for premises social distancing monitoring within a specific part of the County. We have adopted the four E’s approach – engage, explain, encourage and enforce.
The team devised some guidance material to assist businesses operating during these times such as food deliveries, commercial dog walkers and pool plant operators. We have also handed signage to businesses. Feedback from businesses has been very positive and appreciative. There has also been good general adoption of social distancing measures by the public.
We have received an increased number of public health nuisance complaints, most likely due to restrictions keeping people at home. Particular problems include an increase in fly tipping, domestic bonfires, an increase in sightings of rats during the day due to lack of their normal food source and also noise complaints.
We have also participated in East Lothian Council’s inter-departmental Mass Fatalities Working Group to ensure that a plan and protocol/procedure was put in place for temporary body storage provision should this be required.
A few matters raised for address following lockdown include caravan site occupancy. At least one of our holiday licensed sites appears, unawares to the site owner, to have residents with no other formal address.
West Lothian Council
West Lothian Council’s environmental health team are working from home at the current time. The pandemic, and government advice on controlling its spread, have made significant changes to the way we work. The team remain focussed on carrying out essential work in relation to public health protection and enforcement of emergency legislation.
The most obvious change in our work load is enforcement of the relevant parts of the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 where we have had good engagement with the public and businesses.
We are working with NHS Lothian and partner environmental health departments to prepare for any assistance we can give with coronavirus contact tracing strategies.
Our commercial team are proactively contacting food businesses which may be open at the moment to reinforce essential food safety procedures and to discuss controls in place to prevent Coronavirus transmission amongst staff and customers.
We are continuing to handle reactive work such as RIDDOR notifications, food complaints, business advice requests, communicable disease investigations and production of food export certificates.
Public Health and Environmental Protection workload continues at substantial, but 6% reduced levels relative to mid-March – mid April 2019.
An increased proportion of work relates to refuse accumulations and burning of garden and household waste. There has been an increase in domestic bonfires for a number of reasons:
- Additional household rubbish being generated (~20%) due to eating etc at home which would normally take place elsewhere;
- Good weather during lockdown providing residents time to tidy gardens, but unable to dispose of excess waste whilst the Community recycling centres are closed;
- Lockdown providing residents time to carry out DIY, but unable to dispose of excess waste whilst the Community recycling centres are closed; and
- Some small traders who had continued to surreptitiously use the Community Recycling Centres for business waste have had this option removed.
West Lothian retains a full normal household waste collection service during the Covid-19 Pandemic. There is therefore no shortage of capacity for routine household waste, particularly if householders do all they can to segregate out recycling for disposal in the blue bin and garden and food waste to the brown bin.
We have also emphasised the need to minimise burning / carry out responsible burning using social media.
Please keep in touch and let us know how you are getting on during this pandemic and how your work is adapting to the COVID 19 pandemic.