Thursday, May 21, 2020

By Suzanne Pender


COVID-19 has forced so many employers and employees to rethink how we work. Our work practices, procedures and the environment have all changed as we work around the new realities of life in the midst of the pandemic.

One such place that has taken on the changes is Carlow County Council. Niall Byrne has been with the local authority since 2004 and has worked in various departments within the organisation.

From working on roads to planning enforcement, he has seen quite a bit. Storms, snow, drought … you name it. But it is fair to say that the current working environment is a first for Niall.

Now a general services supervisor with the council’s water department, Niall works out of the Rathvilly water treatment plant, staggering shifts with caretakers and ensuring that correct social distancing measures are taken with all colleagues.

The plant is one of the largest in Carlow and is operated by the council on behalf of Irish Water.

“I’m not working from home because I can work at the treatment plant here in Rathvilly without coming into contact with anyone else. We’re just getting on with it really and doing our jobs,” said Niall, who was on site at the Rathvilly treatment plant that is currently producing 300,000 litres of water every hour.

“We haven’t seen any major spikes in usage, to be honest. What we have seen is that it is more like weekend usage every day of the week, which is perfect for water production, as you know what is ahead of you.”

Niall supervises the water treatment plant caretakers across the county. He manages 16 people in total, ten of whom are water treatment plant supervisors and those same treatment plants serve 45,000 people around the dolmen county.

He and his colleagues from the council and Irish Water have been working away diligently ensuring water continues to flow to homes and businesses in Carlow, while sticking to the guidelines set out by the HSE in relation to Covid-19.

The Fighting Cocks native is proud of the work he and his colleagues are doing and pays special tribute to all the staff, from those in the home offices who are working day and night along with the engineering staff and managers.

“We have guys working here who have 40 years’ experience, so we need to wrap them up in cotton wool at this time. We are being very careful with how we work and we are only carrying out essential works. We would ask the public to be cognisant of why they call Irish Water, as we are putting our health and that of our families at risk every day we go out to work,” he said.

“We all take huge pride in our work and it does feel like we are doing our bit for the country. It has also been a great opportunity for us to get out there and reduce leaks. We have one-man crews which go out and carry out their duties efficiently without being in contact with anyone else and we have seen great benefits from this type of activity.

“In one case, over the course of a week, we saved 600,000 litres of water per day through fixing leaks that had sprung up since Christmas so, in a way, the quiet streets and roads are proving to be useful for us,” said Niall.

Niall works closely with his colleagues in Carlow County Council and Irish Water to safeguard the health and wellbeing of both staff and the public to ensure the continuity of critical drinking water and wastewater services for those who are served by the public water mains across Carlow. For Irish Water, that figure increases to 1.6 million homes and 172,000 businesses across the country, including hospitals and nursing homes.

The dry weather has been kind during this crisis, allowing people to enjoy their localities within that 2/5km radius, but for Niall, the dry weather highlights other issues.

“Every essential service needs water and we are working hard to ensure we can deliver that for them. If the dry spell continues and becomes prolonged, it isn’t ideal. We would ask people to be mindful of the way they use their water and not to waste it, if at all possible. Taking little measures like using a watering can to water flowers instead of a hose and turning the tap off when you are brushing teeth can save significant water when everyone does it,” he said.

As the Covid-19 crisis continues, so, too, will the work of Niall Byrne and his colleagues at Carlow County Council and Irish Water, ensuring all essential services, homes and businesses have access to our most precious resource.

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