A look at the key principles in the Covid Secure guidance Working safely during Covid-19 in or from a vehicle to provide a practical guide for hauliers and other operators on how to work safely during the current pandemic.
In its Covid-19 Recovery Strategy, published in May 2020 and updated in July at www.gov.uk/government/publications/our-plan-to-rebuild-the-uk-governments-covid-19-recovery-strategy/the-next-chapter-in-our-plan-to-rebuild-the-uk-governments-covid-19-recovery-strategy--2, the Government set out a three-step approach to bringing England gradually out of lockdown, with the first stage involving a return to the workplace for those who are unable to work from home. It emphasised that this is dependent on employers and their staff agreeing that this can be done safely. In that context, the Government produced a series of guidance documents giving advice on how this aim can be achieved in various sectors and industries.
Working safely during Covid-19 in or from a vehicle offers guidance to people who work from vehicles, including couriers, mobile workers, lorry drivers and those using on-site transit and work vehicles. It should be noted that this guidance has been updated to take account of the national restrictions introduced in England on 5 November 2020 (see www.gov.uk/guidance/new-national-restrictions-from-5-november#travel).
Three points need to be made clear at the outset.
Each business will need to translate this information into the specific actions it needs to take depending on the nature of the business including the size and type of business, how it is organised, operated, managed and regulated.
Nothing indicated here supersedes an operator’s normal obligations relating to health and safety, non-discrimination and equalities legislation.
In applying this guidance, account must be taken of agency workers and contractors as well as the organisation’s own employees.
1. Carry out a coronavirus risk assessment
Given that operators should be aware of the “normal” risks that apply to their business, their focus in the present circumstances must be on the unprecedented problems posed by Covid-19. While recognising that it is impossible to completely eliminate the risks associated with the coronavirus, the assessment must take account of all reasonably practicable steps. The Government has said that this means identifying sensible measures and has emphasised the need to consult staff at this crucial stage in preparing for a return to work. Operators must share the results of their risk assessment with their workforce, if possible by publishing the results on their website (they should certainly do so if they employ more than 50 people).
Risk assessment templates and completed examples are available here. Any such risk assessment is expected, where possible, to enable social distancing of two metres, or one metre with risk mitigations (where two metres is not viable). The mitigations already in place, or to be introduced, should be recorded in the risk assessment.
The risk assessment should include an up-to-date plan in case there is a Covid-19 outbreak on the firm’s premises. This plan should nominate a single point of contact where possible, who should lead on contacting local Public Health teams (using www.gov.uk/health-protection-team).
Employers must also consider the need for extra support for workers in high risk groups. According to Public Health England (PHE), these include those who:
are older males;
have a high body mass index (BMI);
have health conditions such as diabetes; or
are from certain black, Asian or minority ethnicity (BAME) backgrounds.
HSE has provided specific guidance on protecting these groups which can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/working-safely/protect-people.htm.
2. Manage the risk
As the Government has insisted since the earliest days of the pandemic, the simplest and most effective action is regular handwashing, to which the operator must add regular and careful cleaning of premises and vehicles (with particular reference to surfaces that are subject to repeated touching such as handles, fuel pumps and vehicle keys).
Another message that has been repeated on a daily basis by the Government is the need for social distancing. Not only should operators ensure that this requirement is emphasised through training and the use of posters, it should ensure that floor signs, barriers and other indicators are put in place to make it as simple as possible for people to follow the advice and stay two metres apart.
Meaningful consultation with employees about returning to the workplace should include a discussion of the timing and phasing of any return and any risk mitigations that have been implemented. It is vital employers engage with workers to ensure they feel safe returning to work, the Government emphasises, and they should not force anyone into an unsafe workplace. During the national restrictions introduced in England on 5 November, the Government has returned to the instruction that all those who can work from home, should do so.
3. Is this job necessary?
If it is not possible for a task to be carried out while staff maintain a two metre distance, then the first consideration must be to ask whether the job actually needs doing, and in that form or location. If it is essential, then other mitigating measures must be introduced to keep the employees as safe as possible.
This could mean:
keeping the activity time involved as short as possible
introducing screens or barriers to separate people
increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning
using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible
reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using fixed teams or partnering (so each person works with only a few others).
Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity can be redesigned to maintain a two metre distance or one metre with risk mitigations where two metres is not viable. The above measures would count as mitigating factors in such circumstances.
4. Staying on top of the problem
It will be important to plan for the minimum number of workers needed on the premises and deployed in the field in order to operate safely and effectively. Their health and well-being must be monitored, without forgetting their colleagues who are still working from home.
The organisation must be aware of those of its employees who are considered to be clinically vulnerable individuals, at higher risk of severe illness. Assuming that they cannot work from home, they must be given the safest available on-site roles, enabling them to stay two metres away from others. Particular attention should also be paid to people who live with clinically extremely vulnerable individuals. See www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-review-of-disparities-in-risks-and-outcomes for guidance on those who might be at higher risk of Covid-19.
5. All things being equal
Operators must communicate appropriately with workers whose protected characteristics might either expose them to a different degree of risk, or might make any potential roles inappropriate or challenging for them.
The need to deal with the specific problems presented by Covid-19 must not divert attention from the legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to avoid disabled workers being put at a disadvantage, and to assess the specific health and safety risks for new mothers. Expectant mothers, as always, are entitled to suspension on full pay if suitable roles cannot be found.
It is also important to note that any steps taken do not have an unjustifiable negative impact on some groups compared to others, for example, those with caring responsibilities or those with religious commitments.
6. On the move
Particular attention needs to be paid to times when sites and depots are at their busiest. Operators should consider the following wherever possible.
Staggered arrival and departure times.
The provision of additional parking, to avoid crowding, or facilities to help people walk, run or cycle to work.
Assigning fixed groups of workers to the same transportation routes where sole travel is not possible.
Restricting the use of works vehicles such as minibuses to avoid over-crowding.
Scheduling goods deliveries away from rush hours and loading and unloading where possible without involving the driver.
Providing sufficient quantities of hand sanitiser/wipes within vehicles to enable workers to clean hands after each delivery.
Setting clear use and cleaning guidance for showers, lockers and changing rooms.
Avoiding two-person deliveries, even if this means delaying the supply of heavier items. Where this is not possible, keep the same two people together as a team.
Reminding drivers of the importance of good ventilation (driving with a window open).
Identifying areas where people have to directly pass things to each other (such as job information, spare parts, samples, raw materials) and finding ways to remove direct contact, for example, by using drop-off points or transfer zones.
Briefing drivers and temporary staff on a regular basis, communicating new arrangements to customers and providing in-vehicle guides and reminders.
Maximising use of electronic paperwork and reviewing procedures to enable safe exchange of paper copies where needed (required transport documents, for example).
Encouraging drivers to stay in their vehicles where this does not compromise their safety and existing safe working practice.
If an accident or an emergency such as a fire occurs, the response will over-ride the measures put in place to deal with the current crisis. Attention should be paid to this possibility, ensuring for example that any barriers introduced to promote social distancing do not make it difficult to leave the building in an emergency.
People involved in the provision of assistance to others should pay particular attention to sanitation measures immediately afterwards including washing hands.
The Government states: “When managing the risk of Covid-19, additional personal protective equipment (PPE) beyond what you usually wear is not beneficial.” While, employees may if they wish wear a face covering, they should be encouraged to do so properly:
washing their hand before and after using the covering
changing it if it becomes damp or has been touched
cleaning the covering after use or disposing of it properly.
The official advice has recently been updated to recognise the growing evidence that wearing a face covering in an enclosed space helps protect individuals and those around them from Covid-19. People are now being encouraged to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces where there are people they do not normally meet.
It may be necessary to provide more waste facilities and more frequent rubbish collection, using non recycling bins to dispose of single use face coverings and PPE. Guidance is available on how to dispose of personal or business waste, including face coverings and PPE, at www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-disposing-of-waste.
It pays to advertise
There is a Government poster, Staying Covid-19 Secure in 2020, which operators may want to download and display to demonstrate that they are complying with official guidance. It also offers a useful reminder of the key methods of mitigating the risk of transmission:
Encourage people to work from home if possible;
Introduce rigorous cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures;
Maintain a two metre distance in the workplace; and
Where a two metre distance is not possible, ensure that at least one metre distancing is practised with all mitigating measures in place to manage transmission risk.
Areas under local lockdown
It is probable that, when the current national restrictions are lifted, parts of England will return to the tiered system. Employers must be ready to review risk assessments regularly to ensure they remain relevant and appropriate as the circumstances change in particular areas.
Workers who have symptoms of coronavirus or workers living in a household or support bubble with someone showing symptoms of coronavirus should self-isolate, stay at home and arrange to have a test to see if they have coronavirus. Those who may have had contact with a colleague who has been diagnosed with coronavirus may be contacted as part of the test and trace service and in such cases would also need to self-isolate if directed to do so. The fine for breaching self-isolation rules start at £1000. This could increase to up to £10,000 for repeat offences and for the most serious breaches, including for those preventing others from self-isolating.
Public Health England (PHE) guidance on self-isolation can be found at www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/stay-at-home-guidance-for-households-with-possible-coronavirus-covid-19-infection. In the case of employees returning from a country which is not exempt from the UK’s quarantine restrictions, see www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-how-to-self-isolate-when-you-travel-to-the-uk/coronavirus-covid-19-how-to-self-isolate-when-you-travel-to-the-uk.