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Missouri utility workers take new precautions during COVID-19

  

As social distancing guidelines in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic send workers in many industries home, essential operations and utility work — such as electrical and gas services — are still being conducted, with added precautions in place. 

Spire, a natural gas company based in St. Louis, has implemented extra measures to ensure the safety of both its employees and customers during the health crisis. 

“Safety is at the core of what we do,” Spire Missouri President Scott Carter told The Missouri Times. “We’re central to the quality of life, so our job is to be there, to show up every day, to make sure the gas comes on when you turn it on, and we do that in a very safe way.”

“Obviously this is a new challenge, we’ve prepared for contingencies for disasters, and a pandemic takes a little bit of adaptation for safety concerns. With that core value of safety, CDC guidelines, conversations with the medical community, and our existing procedures, we came up with a few measures to ensure the safety of the public and our employees.”

Carter said the utility company is implementing various recommended practices, such as social distancing and minimal face-to-face contact. Other precautions include minimizing the number of people who enter facilities, limiting work in confined spaces as much as possible, and careful screening before sending workers out. 

Spire also canceled late fees and disconnects through at least the end of April. 

“We have calls with other industry groups to ensure the best practices,” Carter said. ”As we’re learning, we’re taking as many recommended precautions as possible. There’s been a steep learning curve with this, but we’re really well-positioned to keep ourselves, our employees, our customers, and the general community safe and still provide the essential services that we do out there every day.”

Evergy, headquartered in Kansas City, has taken similar precautions, including allowing dispatchers to work from home, according to spokesperson Damon Smith. 

“Our dispatchers are used to working in a small confined space, and we’ve acquired the technology to permit them to do their work remotely, and we’re constantly working to upgrade that technology,” Smith told The Missouri Times. 

“Our crews have to work closely sometimes, so what we’re doing to negate the spread of the virus is keeping the same crews working together. No one is switching out to a different group, and it’s worked really well thus far to contain any spread that may happen,” he said. “Our priority is the safety of our employees and the safety of our customers. We have safety rules in place for certain jobs that require for there to be more than one person in a confined space at times, but we have reduced those numbers because it wouldn’t be safe in the current situation to have one person doing a certain thing. 

Hand sanitizer, masks, and protective gear are available for Evergy employees as well. 

Ameren Missouri is also continuing its response to service calls and working on facilities and infrastructure projects — all while social distancing and limiting direct interaction, among other precautions, the company said in an email to customers. It is also allowing employees the option to work remotely if able. 

Additionally, the electric company has suspended disconnections for the time being and will forgive late payment fees in deference to challenges from the ongoing health crisis. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines continue to evolve as more is learned about the virus, and both companies mentioned their commitment to adapt as the pandemic progresses. 

“It’s an evolving process,” Carter said. “What we do today will be different from what we do tomorrow, and so we will continue to provide the best, safest practices.”

As more local municipalities enact stay at home orders, the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) has pushed for utility workers to be deemed “essential” in order to continue providing services. 

More than 1,800 Missourians have tested positive for coronavirus in less than a month, and 19 people have died.


EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.