Last reviewed 13 July 2020
A look 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, 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.
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
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.
Beware that any control measures identified do not affect existing risk controls for general health and safety management.
With the Prime Minister warning that the new rules applying to Leicester will be applied elsewhere in the event of local increases in rates of infection, operators should note that the public are being advised against all but essential travel to, from and within areas under local lockdown. While transport operators providing services through or within such areas should continue operating services as normal, they should review risk assessments regularly to ensure they remain relevant and appropriate.
Risk assessments should include an up-to-date plan in case there is a Covid-19 outbreak in the organisation. This plan should nominate a single point of contact (SPOC) where possible, who should lead on contacting local Public Health teams. (See 10. Outbreak below).
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 continuously by the Government is the need for social distancing. Not only should operators ensure that this requirement is emphasised through training and reinforced by 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 wherever possible.
Under the latest government guidance, a “one metre plus” rule can be applied, where the distance is reduced but other mitigating measures are introduced such as the use of face coverings or ensuring that people do not sit face-to-face. In any event, the time spent on an activity involving close proximity between individuals should be kept as short as possible. Finally, operators should advise people to avoid loud talking, shouting or singing.
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).
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.
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.” However, employees may if the wish wear a face covering but 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.
9. Shift working
As far as possible, where people are split into teams or shift groups, these should be fixed so that, if contact is unavoidable, it happens between the same people. In particular, employees who work together in one vehicle should be in a fixed pairing whenever possible.
Operators are asked to assist the test and trace service by keeping a temporary record of staff shift patterns for 21 days and to assist NHS Test and Trace with requests for that data if needed. This could help contain clusters or outbreaks. Further assistance on this matter can be found on GOV.UK.
In the event of a Covid-19 outbreak in the workplace, the relevant part of the risk assessment (see 1. Carry out a coronavirus risk assessment, above should be brought into play. If there is more than one case of Covid-19 associated with the workplace, the operator should use this link contact their local PHE health protection team to report the suspected outbreak.
Assuming that team declares an outbreak, the operator will be asked to record details of symptomatic staff and assist with identifying contacts. It is important, therefore, that all employment records are up to date. The PHE team will provide information about the outbreak management process to help the operator to implement control measures, assist with communications to staff and reinforce prevention messages.
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
where people cannot be two metres apart, do everything practical to manage transmission risk.