The UK government has produced "Covid-secure" guidelines for those working in or from vehicles.
Unlike the other Covid-19 secure guidelines which apply to designated workplaces, the vehicles guidelines apply widely to anyone whose job requires them to be in vehicles all or some of the time, including couriers, mobile workers, lorry drivers, on-site transit, field forces and similar occupations.
The guidelines recognise that some businesses of this type had to suspend services when Covid-19 control measures came into force, although many operated as usual, or were even busier, during lockdown, particularly when they involved delivery of essential goods.
Although the vehicles guidelines are not legally binding at this stage, employers and the self-employed are encouraged to implement the recommendations as soon as possible to minimise the risk of enforcement action from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Businesses operating within this environment should considering the following key principles:
1. Covid-19 risk assessments
Notwithstanding the risk assessments already deployed for work activities involving vehicles, a Covid-19 risk assessment will need to be undertaken, ideally before operations resume, or without delay for businesses that have been operating throughout lockdown.
Employers must make sure the assessment addresses the risks of Covid-19 and that suitable control measures are implemented to reduce workplace risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level.
Employers should consult their workers and a health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union, or a representative chosen by workers, although there is no further guidance on what to do if risk assessments cannot be agreed.
The vehicles guidelines make clear the HSE will seek to take enforcement action against businesses that do not have robust risk assessments in place.
Once the risk assessment has been prepared and agreed, the guidelines stipulate that employers must share the results with their workforce and are encouraged to publish the results on company websites. This becomes an expectation for employers with more than 50 workers.
2. Working from home and knowing your work force
Government guidance remains that people should work from home, where they can.
Some staff in vehicle-based roles will be able to work from home, such as office staff, and should be encouraged to do so. Employers should make every reasonable effort to adopt working from home practices for staff that can practically do so (for further advice on safeguarding the health and safety of remote workers, please see our previous guidance).
However, a large proportion of vehicle-based workers will not be able to work from home, and for these workers, every effort should be made to comply with social distancing guidelines (discussed further below).
Employers should identify clinically vulnerable individuals (CVIs) and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (CEVIs) in their workforce.
CEVIs have been advised not to work outside the home and employers should abide by this.
CVIs are at higher risk of severe illness and if CVIs cannot work from home, they should be offered the option of the safest available on site-roles, enabling them to stay two metres away from others.
If they have to spend time within two metres of others, careful assessment is needed as to whether this involves an acceptable level of risk, although it is unclear what this means in practice and in reality will be a subjective assessment.
3. Social distancing
For vehicle-based businesses, there will be a large number of individuals required to undertake activities on business premises and in vehicles used to perform their roles.
The default position is that any on-site work activity must be undertaken at a social distance (i.e., two metres away from other people), although the government recognises it will not always be possible to keep a distance of two metres inside vehicles.
Many in-vehicle tasks need more than one person for safety reasons and changing a vehicle's configuration would not be practical in most cases.
The vehicles guidelines do not provide further clarity on this point, but stipulate that where social distancing cannot be followed in full for a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between staff.
Mitigating factors may include:
- Limiting passengers in corporate vehicles and maintaining a social distance wherever possible;
- Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible;
- Reducing the number of workers at depots or distribution centres;
- Staggering times for collection of goods to avoid overcrowding;
- Picking goods ahead of collection and loading onto vehicles without interacting with the driver;
- Devising strategies for social distancing in vehicles, such as using screens or other barriers in vehicles where it would not compromise safety, sitting side by side and increasing ventilation and single person refuelling;
- Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using fixed teams or partnering to prevent transmission among large groups of people;
- Increasing the frequency of handwashing, hand sanitisation and surface cleaning;
- Scheduling deliveries and collections at times which may limit exposure i.e., outside rush hours;
- Where possible, having one person load a vehicle; and
- Maximising use of electronic paperwork where possible.
Work areas and equipment should be kept clean to prevent transmission by touching contaminated surfaces. This should be incorporated into the Covid-19 risk assessment.
There should be frequent cleaning of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, such as door handles, fuel pumps, driver cards and vehicle keys using regular cleaning products, and there should be carefully planned waste disposal procedures in place.
Workers should be encouraged to wash or sanitise their hands regularly, particularly before boarding and after leaving their vehicle. Hand sanitisation equipment should be made available to drivers and other workers to regularly clean their hands following delivery/drop offs. The interior and exterior of vehicles should also be cleaned on a regular basis.
There has been widespread condemnation following reports of haulage drivers being refused access to toilets at service stations and petrol garages during the height of the pandemic.
The vehicles guidelines stress that drivers should have access to appropriate toilet facilities at all times and state that this will actually help decrease transmission risk.
Once a business has undertaken all these measures, they can download and display a notice to say that they have complied with the government's guidance.
It is not yet known whether the HSE will use these notices as a precursor for investigations/enquiries into health and safety standards in a workplace, but the focus is likely to be initially on businesses that do not display this notice.
The vehicles guidelines are to be welcomed for providing clarity on recommended safety standards for vehicle-based roles and businesses.
Their application is wide and many businesses that offer vehicle-based services may need to consider the vehicles guidelines along with other Covid-secure guidelines if they have more than one working environment.
Some businesses, such as haulage operators, delivering essential goods have been working tirelessly during the lockdown and the usual laws and regulations that apply to them have been temporarily amended in light of their changing working patterns.
There is a risk that operators may feel overwhelmed by constantly evolving regulation in this area and may miss the recommendations as outlined in the guidelines.
If you have any health and safety-related questions or concerns about your business in light of the coronavirus outbreak, Fieldfisher's health and safety team will be happy to discuss your specific circumstances with you.
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