Maintaining critical services and protecting public health during Covid-19

We have all seen what COVID-19 is doing to our society, our economy, our workplaces and our healthcare system. First-hand experience and stories in the media remind us of the scale of the challenge. We are all concerned for our loved ones, especially those most vulnerable, and each of us is stepping up to play our part in containing the virus. 

Together, we’re doing everything we can to stay safe and keep the people around us safe. We have accepted changes in our lives we couldn’t have imagined a few weeks ago. Home is the place we feel safe now, and many of us are spending all our days there, trying to stay connected with our work, looking after our children, caring for the most vulnerable. Others are at the front-line – in hospitals, food production and retail, policing, public transport and in critical services like electricity. 

In ESB we know that electricity is providing vital support for everyone right now. It underpins many critical front-line services, and sustains our ability to live, work and stay connected from home. That’s why we are taking steps in line with Government measures to balance the provision of essential energy supplies with our need to keep our employees and the communities we serve, safe and healthy. We are doing this knowing that many of our customers are in their homes, working remotely, dealing with illness or self-isolating to flatten the curve. 

 

  • We are committed to maintaining excellent customer service throughout this crisis. To help us, we are asking customers, where possible, to use digital platforms as the first point of contact for routine services and general enquiries.
  • Contact details for ESB Networks, who serve all electricity customers regardless of who your Supplier is, can be found at www.esbnetworks.ie.
  • Contact details for ESB’s supply company, Electric Ireland, can be found at www.electricireland.ie, while contact details for other supply companies can be found at their own websites.
  • At ESB, we have put in place measures to enable most of our employees to work from home so that we can keep them safe and avoid the spread of the virus while continuing to serve electricity customers.
  • ESB is committed to keeping our power stations and wind farms operating during this crisis.
  • Our networks company, ESB Networks, is committed to carrying out all essential work to maintain the flow of electricity from power stations and wind farms right through to electricity customers. Full details can be found at www.esbnetworks.ie.  
  • Where employees need to be on site to carry out essential work, appropriate steps are being taken to keep them safe and protect the people around them, including maintaining social distancing in line with HSE guidelines, implementing regular deep cleaning of buildings and providing appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • Occasionally it will be necessary for employees to enter homes for safety reasons or to restore supply. This will only be done if it is absolutely necessary and with permission of householders. To keep electricity customers and our employees safe ESB staff, on entering homes, will wear personal protective equipment and use sanitising wipes to clean any surface that they work on before and after carrying out their work. 
  • All ESB employees involved in essential activities that require travel outside the home will carry identification in line with Government guidelines

  • None of us is immune to COVID-19, and despite our best efforts, we are conscious that some of our colleagues in ESB may become ill over the coming weeks. We have therefore activated detailed business continuity plans to ensure that our generating stations, wind farms, electricity networks operations, customer service and support functions continue to operate as normally as possible throughout this crisis, even in the event that some of our colleagues are unwell or have to self-isolate.  
  • ESB Networks occasionally needs to switch off power supplies to customers to repair faults and address safety hazards. We know that this can be disruptive to people so in scheduling and carrying out this work, ESB Networks will seek to limit the number of customers impacted and the duration of outages.  This work will also be planned in a way that prioritises the needs of essential service providers, including those in the healthcare, water, gas, telecommunications and food sectors.   

  • We are acutely aware that many customers are facing new financial challenges as a result of COVID-19 and may need additional support. Our supply business, Electric Ireland, is doing its best to help people at this time, and is asking residential or business customers who are concerned about their ability to pay their bills on time to engage with them at an early stage so that workable and affordable payment solutions can be developed specific to individual circumstances. 
  • To give customers peace of mind at this worrying time, Electric Ireland has also suspended disconnections for now and will continue to monitor the situation as the crisis unfolds. 
  • Before the crisis started, Electric Ireland announced a price reduction of 2.5% on electricity and 11.5% on gas which will come into effect on 1 April 2020. This will mean that people spending more time at home will be less impacted by increased energy usage.
  • In line with Commission for Regulation of Utilities guidance, Electric Ireland has written to its Gas Pay as You Go (PAYG) Customers to let them know that emergency credit on PAYG meters has been increased from €10 to €100. This will allow customers to maintain gas supply for a longer period of time if they cannot continue to purchase credit as regularly as usual. All medically vulnerable customers with PAYG meters have been offered the option to change their meters to standard bill pay to ensure security of supply. 

Contractors working on ESB sites

The following statement has been provided to ESB by the Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment in relation to the need for those travelling to Ireland to self-isolate.

The HSE issued guidance on 6 May 2020 in relation to travel which sets out that:

  • You will need to self-isolate for 14 days if you arrive in Ireland from any other country. This includes Irish citizens returning from abroad.
  • Self-isolation means staying indoors and completely avoiding contact with other people
    (https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/managing-coronavirus-at-home/self-isolation.html)
  • You will be asked to fill in a form before you arrive in Ireland called the Public Health Passenger - Locator Form 
  • You do not need to self-isolate if you are an essential supply chain worker (for example, a pilot, haulier, maritime staff member)

• Essential supply chain workers includes those workers in the categories of essential services as set out on 28 March here. This includes:

  • Electric power generation, transmission and distribution.
  • Extraction and distribution of gas.

The onus is on individual companies to determine that they are providing an essential service and the employees/third party contractors concerned are necessary for the provision of this service (e.g. maintenance power stations, gas infrastructure etc. that is necessary to facilitate provision of the essential service). Companies should use the following questions to determine if workers should travel:

  • Are the works being carried out essential?
  • Do the workers need to travel in person (as opposed to oversee things remotely)?
  • Are the minimum number of workers travelling and staying for the minimum amount of time in the country?
  • Are all workers free of any symptoms and have not been in contact with a case previously?
    The onus is on individual companies to determine that the travel by the employees concerned complies with the requirements in the questions above (i.e. affirmative answers to all of the above).
  • Provided the relevant company is satisfied that the answers to all the above questions are affirmative and it has ensured it has Documented Supporting Evidence in place, the company can issue appropriate documentation to the workers. This documentation could be a letter setting out why the company considers the individual to be an essential supply chain worker, the checks that have been done as per the questions above, the measures that are being taken to minimise the contact with other people and an instruction to follow self-isolation guidelines outside of essential work. The company should instruct the workers to bring this documentation with them when travelling and reference it on the Public Health Passenger Locator Form.

• It should be noted that where a company determines that essential supply chain workers do not need to self-isolate, those workers should follow the self-isolation guidance other than when doing so would prevent them from carrying out the necessary work. This is addition to standard guidance in relation to work practices, social distancing etc.

  • It should be noted that current public health advice is subject to change including, for instance, the Minister for Health’s stated intention to provide a legal basis for the Public Health Passenger Locator Form. Please continue to monitor Government of Ireland and HSE websites for latest advice. https://www.gov.ie/en/

The following clarification from the UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) issued on Friday 22nd May 2020 has been provided to ESB by Energy UK in relation to the need for those travelling to the United Kingdom to self-isolate.

These requirements came into force on 8th June in England. will be reviewed every three weeks from that date. The devolved administrations will be announcing their respective implementation dates shortly; however, it is expected that the same exemptions to apply across the whole of the UK.
On Friday 22nd May, The Home Secretary announced the implementation of a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for anyone entering the UK. This is to ensure that as transmission of the virus amongst the community continues to slow, the virus is not reseeded from people bringing in the virus from abroad.
An exemption has been secured for any essential workers that need to come into the UK for essential or emergency works to support the safe and secure operation of our infrastructure. This is not a blanket exemption for all employees, and any staff member who travels outside the UK and is not required to conduct essential work on their return must isolate for 14 days (this includes if they travelled outside the UK for work). We would continue to advise that all staff should follow the Foreign Office travel advice which can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

Should there be a need to bring in workers from outside the UK to conduct essential work, they will be exempt from quarantine. Copied below is the exemption that applies to our sector;

A worker with specialist technical skills, where those specialist technical skills are required for essential or emergency works to ensure the continued safe and secure operations of the following infrastructure:

  • Electricity Generators (including renewables)
  • Gas & Electricity Transmission and Distribution Networks and System Operators
  • Electricity Interconnectors
  • Gas Terminals
  • Downstream Oil Infrastructure with a capacity in excess of 20,000 tonnes
  • Nuclear Sites
  • District / Communal Heat Networks

There are no additional conditions placed on your exempt workers except that they must ensure they are strictly following all government advice on social distancing, safer working and safer travelling, links to this advice are below;

Social Distancing – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing
Safer Working – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19
Safer Travelling – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-safer-travel-guidance-for-passengers
Workers who enter the country will need to be carrying a letter explaining why they are exempt. These letters will need to contain the following details;
• Name of worker (generic letters are not acceptable)
• Details of the work they are undertaking.
• Contact details for the company for which the essential work is being completed.

While we do not know what the coming months will bring, our continued objective is to look after customers and employees, providing secure and safe electricity to the people of Ireland no matter what happens. We will stay connected to families, communities and businesses all over the country and will support the fight against Covid-19. 

Right now, we are working hard to support the ongoing provision of safe and reliable electricity and many of our employees are adjusting to a new way of working. We thank you for your co-operation and patience as we adapt, and we wish you and your family continued safety during this very challenging period.

Pat O’Doherty

Chief Executive ESB

Friday 3rd April 2020