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Insights A day in the life of a key worker

02 July 2020 

During the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent government guidelines, the vast majority of our teams are working from home. We do however, have around 300 people who have been classified with key worker status to enable them to carry out vital roles across the country. #InsideAtkins spoke to one of those key workers, Dudley Gunatunga, who works as a site supervisor on the M23 Smart Motorway Project to find out what life has been like in an otherwise locked down world and how he’s had to adapt.

image of Dudley in safety clothing

"I have worked as a civil engineer for Atkins for more than 26 years and in the construction industry for 43 years and I’ve never worked under circumstances like these before.”

I start my day by… getting up in the morning and going through routine exercises at home. I then have a quick cup of tea, go through my emails and prepare myself to go on site by checking I have my facemask and PPE. As a Buddhist, I say a prayer and ask God to protect me while I am outside the house and on site. Lastly, I phone Atkins Operating Safely (AOS) and activate their system before making my way to site.
My commute consists of… driving to work. I have been using my own car instead of a site car to minimise contact with others. However, in some instances, where chapter 8 high visibility chevrons are required, I still need to use a site car. I have fortunately been able to avoid using public transport for work.

When I arrive at my workplace… I’ll go to the site office to collect my files and then head to the site. Usually the quality files are left in an agreed location outside the office to minimise or avoid contact with others.

I’m responsible for… As Clerk of Works in the Inspection Quality Verification Team (IQVT), I am responsible for around 20% of onsite inspections and in some cases 100%. I have been looking after drainage, structures, earthworks and Vehicle Restraint Systems (VRS) during the past 24 months. Although the main civil works reached substantial completion at the end of March 2020, there was still work to be completed between April to June 2020.

My typical day… After carrying out a risk assessment, I travel to site and park safely on a side road. I’ll then access the M23 verges and walk behind the safety barrier to carry out inspections. Most of my work on site is lone working since the pandemic hit and I have little or no interaction with other members of the M23 Smart Motorways Project team. I feel safer distancing myself from others since COVID-19 but I have to manage the site risks that come with that and be extra vigilant on site. 

image of the M23

The effects of lockdown have… meant a change to our methods of working and the way we communicate. All paperwork is being done at home rather than in the site office which can be challenging at times when work needs to be sent back and forth between colleagues. I would normally meet with contractors face to face on a daily basis, run through works and inspect as works progress but this is no longer possible. It’s therefore been lonely on site in the new environment where I would usually have regular interactions with my colleagues on site and in the site office.

Being a key-worker makes me feel….many emotions. Firstly, brave yet vulnerable – I’ve been working on site at the peak of the virus but I’m conscious I’m one of the more mature members of the team. Secondly, I feel challenged – my job role and workload changed very quickly to adjust to the working requirements which resulted in sometimes longer hours. Thirdly, I feel proud – I’m part of a team keeping the country’s infrastructure moving. Finally, I feed grateful – to Atkins for their support and the measures put in place to support me under the current conditions with a special mention to my JAJV Project Manager, Austin Sependa.

My main challenge as a key worker... is planning every aspect of leaving the front door. Prior to every site visit I’ve had to do a risk assessment in advance and carefully plan every aspect of my visit including ensuring I had a full water bottle and fully charged phone if I had any issues! If there were any new hazards or changes, I had to do a dynamic risk assessment. This is part of normal working procedures working on site and lone working but as the hazards have increased, so has the planning. 
The silver lining of lockdown has been…enjoying the work itself; it’s been challenging and I’ve learned a lot. After doing this job for a long time it was a great opportunity to push myself in a different way. Also, I have been able to spend more time with my wife and two grown up daughters. I feel that I have more work-life balance now and appreciate spending time with my family.
After work… I try and relax and wind down, I’ll go check on my Japanese koi in the pond, then usually sit in my conservatory with a cup of tea before falling asleep.

Everyone #InsideAtkins would like to say a big thank you to all of our Coronavirus key workers and volunteers.