Fit and healthy employees
Alliander is committed to the long-term employability of its employees. The challenge is to ensure that our employees remain sufficiently fit, motivated and skilled for their work, both now and in the future. In addition to talks between managers and employees, Alliander promotes the long-term employability of employees with a special budget and its vitality programme. These investments serve to keep our people in great shape and ready for the work of the future.
To monitor the success of our efforts to keep our people motivated and healthy, we measure specific aspects such as absenteeism on a regular basis. In 2017, the absenteeism rate was 4.2% (2016: 4.1%). The average for our sector in the Netherlands is 4.5%. In 2017, we made targeted investments to reduce absenteeism. Together with our health & safety department, we rolled out plans to support both prevention and reduction of absenteeism. We also looked at best practices within Alliander. Short-term absenteeism and the number of times employees reported sick declined in 2017. Long-term absenteeism rose in 2017, signalling that our efforts to address this problem are still not sufficiently successful. We will therefore continue to invest intensively in absenteeism reduction in the years ahead.
Revised Health & Safety Act
The revised Health & Safety Act (Arbowet) took effect on 1 July 2017. The focus is mainly on prevention. Every employee at Alliander can opt to have a prevention interview with a company doctor. Company doctors are also given free access to the workplace, so that they can engage at first hand with people on the shop floor. One new option is to request a second opinion from another company doctor.
New rostering approach for field staff
In 2017, our rostering approach was adapted in response to our field staff's wish to have more flexibility to plan their own work.
Flexible rostering for planned work
Several years ago Alliander introduced flexible working hours for office staff. This option was not yet available to operational field staff such as engineers and measurement technicians. They too, however, expressed a wish for more flexible working hours in order to find a better work-life balance. To accommodate this wish, Alliander started a pilot in 2017 with a new way of planning. Evaluation of the outcomes of the pilot should show which rosters are operationally effective. Subsequently flexible rostering will also be rolled out to our field staff in 2018.
Changes to standby and outage response rosters
Apart from scheduled daytime work, engineers take turns to be on standby in the event of contingencies. In October 2016, Alliander changed the standby and outage response rosters. Some engineers worked a staggered shift from 10.30 to 19.00 hours. The new rosters were evaluated before summer 2017. The outcome was that we had managed to reduce the number of violations of the Working Hours Act (Arbeidstijdenwet / ATW). However, the majority of the employees felt the new roster impinged too much on their personal life. For this reason, various alternative standby and outage response rosters were trialled in the second half of 2017. These new rosters proved to be more in line with the engineers' wishes and will therefore be introduced in mid-2018, subject to the works council’s approval.
'It all happens outdoors'
In Arnhem, at the beginning of the Sonsbeeksingel, Liander has placed a metal cabinet flanked by a small post. 'Cathodic Protection' (CP), it says. This is the measurement point where ‘CP specialist’ Paul Krijt measures the difference in tension between steel gas pipes and the earth. "Every pipe gets a special coating," Paul explains. "That is the primary protection. But we also protect the pipes actively with CP, which involves connecting the pipe with a CP source. This makes the potential of the steel surface negative which, in turn, prevents electrochemical corrosion."
Paul opens the cabinet, sticks a reference electrode in the ground and connects his multimeter to the device. “This is a rectifier, which we can use to apply cathodic protection to kilometres of gas pipes.” The number on the display oscillates between 1,800 and 2,100 volts. “That's good enough,” says Paul. But many things need to be taken into account. The condition of the soil, for instance, or a nearby rail track, such as at this particular spot in Arnhem. “If the Dutch rail maintenance company ProRail is having power problems, that is instantly visible in the tension we measure here.”
There are no less than 13,000 measurement points in the Liander area. Every measurement point is visited at least once a year, and the rectifiers (about 250 in all) are visited once every three months. In addition, CP specialists perform data analysis, give instructions for maintenance and assist at the drawing table when a gas network is being designed or modified. “To get the work done, I have learned to set priorities. We are working on standardised procedures, so that everyone within Liander and the contractors do their work in the same way. This prevents data pollution and enhances efficiency.” Paul also has high expectations of digitisation. The processing of the CP measurements is a manual and complex process. A new digital measurement technique is being introduced in 2018. "This minimises the risk of human error and enables us to detect and rectify faults faster." Moreover, the rectifiers will be equipped with a modem so that all data can be read at a distance. "Doing more office work on days like this – with freezing temperatures and wet snow – is quite good, but it's also a pity to be indoors. Because it all happens outdoors.”
Will the phasing out of natural gas affect Paul's work? He is confident it won't. “The network is still there. And as long as the pipes are in the ground, they need to be looked after and protected. Because we may be able to use them to carry other forms of energy." He laughs: "If we get that right, the pipes will not start leaking any longer due to corroding material.”