COVID-19's Impact on Public Works Operations

Besides fallen trees, clogged sewer drains, and malfunctioning traffic signals, today's public works crews have an even more formidable challenge - the Coronavirus!

Working in small groups in closed-in settings with commonly shared equipment is the ideal breeding ground for the virus.  But PennDOT's Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) has recently released best practices that can be implemented right away to keep these workers safe including:



  • Staggering start times to avoid congregating at time clocks, lockers, and other areas.
  • Checking temperatures of the employees as they arrive
  • Requiring social distancing and hand washing or hand sanitizer be used as often as possible throughout the day
  • Ensuring masks are worn while riding in vehicles with other crew members
  • Limiting the number of passengers in a vehicle and keeping windows open instead of recirculating the cabin air
  • Wiping down high-touch areas such as steering wheels, radios, microphones, door handles, tools, grab bars, control panels several times a day
  • Marking off sinks, toilet stalls, and urinals, so that no two can be used next to each other
  • Maintaining an EPA-approved list of disinfectants on-site
  • Scheduling use of lockerroms at the beginning and end of shifts
  • Restricting non-essential visitors from worksites
Additional precautions have been put in place for certain types of public works employees.  For instance, solid waste handlers must only work with bagged garbage and possibly travel one per vehicle, when possible.   And, wasterwater and sewage operations workers should use face shields, goggles, liquid-repellant coveralls, gloves, and boots while working.
Our public works crews keep Pennsylvania's towns clean, safe, and functioning.  These new guidelines will go a long way in helping to keep them safe from COVID-19 as they conduct their daily work.
*Special thanks to Jason A. Dailey, Director of Public Works in Cranberry Township for the information contained in LTAP Technical Information Sheet #200 (Summer 2020) 



Bike There or To Work Week

September 21st through September 27th is Bike There or To Work Week.  So now that the weather has cooled down and you are ready to go out for a ride, here are a couple of things that you may want to consider.

If you are interested in buying a bicycle, you want to be sure that it fits!  You should be able to straddle the top bar of the bike with both feet flat on the ground.  When you sit on your bike with your foot on the pedal in the lowest position, your leg should almost be straight.  When it comes to the handlebars, they should be placed with the grips at about seat level.

You know how we feel about wearing a bike helmet. Be sure that you wear one every time that you ride your bike. Encourage your friends to wear them too! Your helmet, when it is adjusted, should cover your forehead.  The chin strap should be tight enough to keep the helmet from slipping.  You should be able to slip only 2 fingers under your chin strap. If your helmet has been involved in a crash and it has been hit— get a new one.  Invisible cracks can weaken the shell and its ability to protect you can be compromised. 

Remember that your bicycle is a vehicle and you need to see and be seen by other vehicles.  Try these simple tips to make sure that you are visible. Use a bicycle safety flag. This is especially important for children whose bikes are smaller and more difficult to see.  At night, wear reflective clothing. Add reflectors to your pedals and the rear and sides of your bike.  Make sure the reflectors are large enough for people to see.  Use a headlight and a small battery powered leg light to help everyone see you.  During the day wear a light colored helmet and bright or fluorescent clothing.  Make sure your shoelaces are tied and tuck the ends into your shoes.  This way they will not get stuck in your chain.  If it is sunny out, be sure to wear your sunglasses.  They also keep the wind and bugs out of your eyes.

Be sure to obey traffic rules, signs and signals. If you are entering a street from a driveway, alley or a sidewalk, you need to look left, right and then left again before proceeding with caution. Ride on the right side of the road with traffic, never against it. Don’t pass a car on its right side. Ride in a single file and do not weave in and out of traffic.  To avoid being hit by the opening of a door of a parked car, ride approximately 3 feet away from them.  Be sure to signal before making a turn and “shoulder check” for traffic before making that signal.  When you approach an intersection, check in all directions before going ahead.  Keep aware of low hanging tree branches, drain or sewer gratings that can cause a hazardous situation.   Use a bell, horn or yell to warn other drivers and riders, especially when you pass them. Never hitch a ride by holding onto another vehicle.  Be predictable  - don’t make moves that a driver might not expect.

Ride safe!


Creatures of Habit

Two of the most often recognized benefits of teleworking are more freedom and flexibility.  You can work the hours you choose (within reason), dress more casually and work more productively.  But with that freedom comes more decisions to be made and more choices to pick from. 

When you were going to your office to work, you had a morning routine that signaled the start of your day.  Even though your commute may have been frustrating, it created a buffer between you and home.  Then once you arrived at the office, your routine continued. You reviewed what needed to be done, got a cup of coffee with your fellow workers and then attended an in person meeting.  The sheer variety of those items helped to create new sights and sounds in order to stimulate your senses.  Now, you are sitting in a chair in your home office, attending meetings from your chair and by the time it comes to have that cup of coffee, you are having it alone and it is probably cold.

In order to be a more effective teleworker, you need to add diversity to your work day while not impeding your productivity.  For example, I knew I was sitting too much so I purchased a Fitbit in order to be sure that I get up and move 250 steps each hour.  Sometimes I walk in place, sometimes I walk around the house or walk outside to the mailbox.  But just the change in scenery makes it easier to concentrate when I step back to my desk.

Are you effectively using your time?  With all that you will have to do this fall, it might be helpful to make a list. Every morning or evening make a list that prioritizes what needs to be done that day.  You can label them 1,2,3,  or color code them with the most important item in red or identify them as must do, like to do or do when you can.  You can even add in some rewards to your schedule, like play with the dog for 10 minutes or take a brisk walk to get lunch from the local deli. This list will help you keep on task, define some structure for you and identify the projects that are most important.  And there is nothing more satisfying that checking something off your list.

And as we have often said, when you are done for the day, signal it by changing your clothes, turning off the computer or taking some time to do something relaxing like listening to music, watching a little television or maybe even a 15 minute power nap.  Don’t immediately jump into house chores like mowing the lawn or pulling weeds. Scheduling in that buffer time will help you prepare for your time at home as well.

Teleworking – Is It Working For You?

Normally when starting a teleworking program, businesses took their time.  They established goals, discussed software needed to do the job, analyzed workflow and deadlines and requested input from human resources and even legal before starting the program.  That did not happen this March.  Many businesses, who never even thought of teleworking, were thrust into a new world.  According to our survey, 74% of businesses in our area began teleworking.

What has been exciting to see is that 87% of those businesses have deemed the teleworking experience successful.  And now as businesses begin to reopen, 75% have said that they would continue the program.   So maybe it is time to formalize the process. 

Let’s begin by defining expectations for both employer and employee.

The employer should:

Clarify and communicate the expectations going forward.  This should be done both orally and in writing.  Are there specific hours that need to be worked?  How many days a week will teleworking take place? 

How will regular communication and reporting be done?  Will there be weekly phone calls or Zoom meetings?  Will there be a weekly summary of activities – if so will they be in writing or given orally?

Don’t be afraid to change something if it is not working.

Be sure to establish measurable goals and objectives with specific time periods for completion.

The employee should:

Establish clear work and family roles and times.  While this has been exceedingly difficult with children being home schooled, it is important to establish work times and work areas in one’s home.

Schedule regular “check-in” times, including face to face interactions.

Speak up if the situation is not working for you and identify how it can be improved.

Refining the teleworking program from the hurried beginnings will take time and patience.  But it does not look like it will be going away anytime soon.  The PTMA is here to help you with numerous different resources available.    


Air Quality Preparations for 2020

Today was our first Air Quality Action Day of the 2020 season.  The Code Orange Day means the ozone level will be unhealthy for sensitive groups.  This season, more than any other, we maybe more concerned about our lung health as well as the air quality consequences for those in the sensitive group such as seniors or those with asthma. While we have noticed that our air quality has improved with the lack of polluting causing agents this spring, as more individuals return to work, the air quality may begin to change.  So as you navigate through the changes that going back to work means – you will want to keep in mind what you can continue to do to keep our air quality in the good level.

More than likely if you are going back to work you are going to drive.  So here are some simple tips offered by the Air Quality Partnership that can make a difference in our air quality.

  • Maintain your vehicle by getting regular tune-ups and maintenance checks. A properly running vehicle emits less pollution and will save you gas. Be sure to change your oil at the appropriate time and use a manufacturer recommended grade motor oil.  Also keep the right amount of air pressure in your tires.
  • Don’t use the trunk of your car as a storage unit.  An extra 100 pounds of junk stored there will reduce your gas mileage by up to 2%.
  • Avoid aggressive driving, speeding, rapid acceleration and hard braking which can reduce gas mileage by 33% at highway speeds.
  • Just because there isn’t a lot of traffic doesn’t mean you should speed.  Besides the safety factor, for each 5 MPH that you drive over 60 MPH it reduces fuel economy by up to 5%.
  • Don’t let your vehicle run when you’re not driving. Idling wastes gas and pollutes the air.
  •  Refuel at the end of the day. Don’t “top off” your tank when refueling and be sure to tighten your gas cap.

Wondering what the air quality will be for your area for today and tomorrow?  Visit and input your zip code for the latest information tailored for your area. 

Biking - A Transportation Option AND A Great Way To Exercise

On the news this morning, the anchor was discussing the best way to get to work during the pandemic.  The answer - bike!  Now we at the PTMA have been promoting biking for years.  In fact we operate eight bike shares throughout our region.  And we host Bike to Work educational programs at businesses who would like to promote it.  For the younger generation, we have our "I Love You and Your Brain Too" bike helmet safety program where we give away free bike helmets to children in kindergarten through 8th grade.  But as we began to gear up for our bike share season - COVID-19 happened. 

If you are in our region, you know that transportation is a challenge in the best of times.  Now with SEPTA being on such a limited schedule, it has become even more frustrating.  So biking and walking, besides working remotely, have become the transportation options.  But in order to make sure the community remains safe, we had to make some changes. 

We knew that people wanted bikes - whether to get to work or just for exercise.  So we offered our cruiser style bikes to employees or individuals recommended from nonprofits for free on a temporary basis.  In order to avoid contamination, the recipient would have sole usage of that bike until the PTMA’s bike shares have deemed it safe to open to the public.  The recipient would have to sign the PTMA’s usage wavier, obey all the rules of the road, be the only rider of the bike, lock the bike when not in use, be responsible for the bike and wear a bike helmet.  If the recipient does not have a bike helmet, the PTMA will provide them with one – free of charge.   As mentioned, the agency or employer would need to request the bike on behalf of their employee or client and keep their name, address, telephone and email on file along with the date the bike was checked out. 

A major complaint we hear about riding a bike to work is that there is so much traffic on the roads.  Well right now there is a lot less traffic, so it is a good time to try it out.  Even better, Montgomery County has just released an app that identifies the best streets to walk, jog, run and bike.  You can find it at

In order to encourage those that have never thought about biking to work, the PTMA is running a virtual Bike to Work Contest.  Individuals can sign up through email ( or Facebook and ride their bike (stationary or regular) the same distance that it would take them to bike to work.  They can do it for a day, a week or the whole month.  Everyone gets a dogtag metal for participating and the individual that rides the furthest wins a $50 gift card to their favorite bike shop.  

So it looks like it is time to brush off that bike, maybe add a bell, light or a basket and hit the road!


Communication is the Key

We have had to learn a variety of new ways to communicate during these past several weeks.  From conference calls to teleconferencing, it has been challenging for some and exciting for others.  At the same time you have had to do virtual learning with your children, another piece of the technology world that you may not have dealt with before.  None of this is easy, but staying connected and communicating during these challenging times is important for everyones' sanity.

Over the past few weeks, I am sure that you have participated in several teleconferencing meetings, whether it be for business or to connect with family members.  But it is extremely important and can save you a lot of embarassment when you remember that if you have an audio and video link – We Can See You!  So if you get up to adjust your pants or make silly faces at the dog – everyone on that call will see it. That goes for hearing you too.  If you are eating and drinking – we can hear it.  Or if you are talking about other family members, when they too are on the call – we can hear that.  Be sure to mute your microphone if you are not speaking in order to avoid an embarrassing situation.  If you are hosting the meeting, try to keep the interaction to one hour or less.  After that it can become challenging to focus on the screen and can cause headaches and eye strain.

Don’t expect an immediate response on everything.  You may be thinking, “I just emailed them and I know they are working from home – why haven’t they emailed me back?”  But just like in the office, there will be times when your employee is working on a project or your employer is on a 2 hour meeting and is not tracking their emails on the screen.  Relax – they will get back to you

I have never been a micromanager.  Throughout the years, I have hired individuals that are able to work on their own, sometimes with little or no direction.  But you may feel the need to check in on your employees or maybe your employees feel the need to check in with you.  Try to find the balance that will work the best for you.  Is it emails throughout the week and a conference call on Monday?  Or is it daily check-ins? Select a plan that makes everyone comfortable.As always, communication is the key, but we are having to explore such different methods of communication now.  As with everything these days, it will take our patience and time but we will get there!

The use of technology can be daunting and frustrating.  Each one of us has different computer equipment and different technological capabilities. If you are not sure of what you are doing, it can be frustrating and cause additional stress.  After several Zoom meetings, I still could not figure out why I did not have a picture on the screen but did have it on my IPad.  Then I realized that I do not have a camera on my work laptop. I know someone that can not access Zoom on either their computer or phone.  She was extremely upset because she was missing valuable meetings.  But we worked on an alternative option for her - a call in number so she will be able to join us.  Not everyone has used this type of technology before, so patience is an absolute key here

When I am on the phone for business, I want to get right to it.  I try to be respectful of the other person's time and limit the amount of personal "chit-chat".  But these days you really should try  to have a little personal information exchange – “How are you doing?” “How are your kids handling home schooling?” This acknowledgement that this is a stressful time will help get us through it .

A Special Thanks to Our Sponsors

SEPTA   |   PennDOT   |   DVRPC   |   Montgomery County