The coronavirus presented Fingrid and its supplier companies with a good opportunity to test their contingency plans and enhance them in the light of practical experience. Lessons were learned during the extraordinary circumstances brought on by the epidemic.

The greatest challenges during the coronavirus period involved waiting for coronavirus guidelines from the authorities, the perceived contradictions in policies, and the entry of employees into the country.

Continuous preparedness guided us during the pandemic

The coronavirus did not hit Fingrid and the energy sector like a bolt from the blue as it did in many other sectors. The energy sector is constantly making plans to prepare for disturbances, and comprehensive risk management procedures also include the potential for major threats.

“We held our most recent threat exercise in 2017 and, coincidentally, the theme was a pandemic. In conjunction with this, the operating instructions and procedures for use during pandemics were updated. Now they have been put to use,” says Vesa Syrjälä, Fingrid’s Corporate Security Manager.

The greatest moments of uncertainty were in the weeks when the coronavirus spread to Finland and became an epidemic.

“Initially, everything was rather unclear when the borders were closed and there was little information available about future measures. At that stage, some work such as revisions scheduled for the spring was postponed to the autumn, which proved to be a good decision.”

Fingrid was well prepared to deploy its operating and communication practices for extraordinary circumstances as soon as the first pandemic restrictions and recommendations were issued.

The challenges posed by the coronavirus epidemic on worksites and the related practices were reviewed with suppliers in contexts such as the suppliers’ occupational safety group. In line with the Crystal-Clear Line principle, suppliers planned the actions they needed to take on their worksites.

Significant delays were avoided

“We were able to keep all of our worksites going. There were some minor delays, mainly due to the problems in getting foreign employees into Finland. When the list of critical sectors was published, we quickly sent our employees the requisite grounds for entering Finland, and they were able to come back here relatively quickly,” says Syrjälä.

Syrjälä says that the relatively short duration of the extraordinary circumstances in the spring and early summer were a great relief. If the extraordinary circumstances and the closure of the borders had gone on over the summer, the availability of workers and supplies would have been much worse. The gradual relaxation of the restrictions allowed work to continue uninterrupted.

“Some jobs that should only take a couple of weeks ended up taking about four weeks, but there were no longer delays than this.”

Syrjälä says that Fingrid had no problems concerning the availability of personal protective equipment.

“We were able to purchase these items in large volumes as soon as the coronavirus began to spread. We were then able to distribute them to our suppliers on our own projects.“

Effective cooperation with the authorities

According to Syrjälä, one source of complexity was that decisions were being made by many different bodies in unprecedented circumstances.

“For example, when the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment released its list of critical sectors, which provided foreign workers in the construction sector with special permission to enter Finland, the traffic safety authorities put a stop to passenger shipping traffic. It was impossible to buy a ticket to board a ship: only cargo was allowed to cross the waters. Employees ultimately had to fly to Finland, and their belongings followed them over by ship,” Syrjälä says.

According to Syrjälä, the energy supply sector of the National Emergency Supply Agency was a very important link in all communications, and he praises its activities.

“They constantly provided us with good information, and they also communicated the key problems on the horizon. Our cooperation with the authorities was fairly effective in other regards, despite the unfamiliar and challenging circumstances,” says Syrjälä.

Toma Karkkulainen, Vattenfall*:
Some of our practices will continue after the coronavirus pandemic

Toma Karkkulainen, Project Manager at Vattenfall, summarises the success of anti-coronavirus measures on worksites in one word: communication.

“The key factors on worksites are clear instructions and compliance with instructions and, in particular, ensuring that everyone receives information.“

Construction work needs to be done on-site, and Karkkulainen says that it was difficult to take all of the coronavirus restrictions into consideration and make substantial changes.

“Maintaining social distancing has been challenging and, at times, impossible. The team is in the same cluster the whole time, which makes this difficult. On the other hand, almost all of the work is done outdoors, so the risks are lower. Furthermore, there are almost no external visitors to the worksites, so the number of contacts has been limited,” he says.

Handwashing and disinfection practices were added to the normal operating instructions on Vattenfall’s worksites. Unnecessary gatherings were avoided or took place in smaller groups and via remote meetings. Work matters were handled by phone whenever possible, and employees were advised to avoid visiting public restaurants. Employees were free to decide whether to wear masks at their own discretion.

Shift work used if necessary

The Finnish installation technicians remained at work on Vattenfall’s worksites throughout the extraordinary circumstances brought on by the coronavirus, but foreign workers remained in their countries of origin for part of the period as the borders were closed.

“They made it back to Finland after a few weeks. Luckily, we were able to replace them with local workers, so there was no need for work to stop,” Karkkulainen says.

Karkkulainen states that many of the practices that were adopted will remain partially in use after the coronavirus pandemic. Karkkulainen expects to see more remote meetings between office-based employees after the coronavirus situation has subsided.

In the future, preparations will also be made for a switch to shift work.

“Worksites have made preparations for the eventuality that if one person falls ill, everyone will be quarantined. As we currently only have small teams on our worksites, we cannot work in two shifts. Managers on larger worksites would probably seek to switch to shift work so that work could continue even if the employees on one of the shifts were to be quarantined. When employees work in two shifts, there are fewer close interactions, and continuity could be ensured,” Karkkulainen says.

* Vattenfall’s transmission-line operation is now operated by TMV Line Oy, where Toma Karkkulainen now works as Project Manager.

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