The Government has produced guidance to help operators in the transport sector across all modes of transport to understand how to provide safer workplaces and services for both workers and passengers
Update - The Government guidance was updated on 24 June 2020 to reflect a relaxation of the 2m social distancing guidance in England to 1m plus risk mitigation where 2m is not viable, and to include references to support bubbles where relevant. The updated guidance also stresses the requirement for employers to complete a risk assessment which takes account of COVID-19.
The guidance encourages actions co-ordinated with other transport providers. The guidance does not replace or modify existing health and safety duties, but should be considered by employers when assessing risk and implementing control measures. As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risks to their health and safety.
Given the legal requirement that businesses assess their workplace operations in terms of the risks to the health and safety of employees and others, and put in place measures to eliminate, or control those risks, those assessments also need to be reviewed when new hazards present themselves such as Covid-19. The guidance recommends that it is used as a guide to ensure that risk assessments address the risks of coronavirus. Consultation is key to the success of any control measures – it will help to achieve buy in from staff, future compliance and avoid possible claims further down the line. In essence no risk mitigation measure will have the same impact if it does not make sense for those expected to adopt and implement it. Employees should be encouraged to identify, speak up and feedback on risks and control measures. Organisations need to ensure that the measures put in place as a result of the risk assessment do not disproportionately impact those with protected characteristics (e.g. the disabled, the elderly and pregnant women).
Who should go to work
The guiding principle at the moment is that everyone should work from home if they can. The Government guidance is designed to address the travel needs of those who cannot do that and, by definition, those who provide public transport and employ people who drive and manage that transport.
Social distancing and face coverings
The guiding principle is to maintain social distancing (2 metres) wherever possible. Transport providers should aim to provide a mechanism for this. It is recognised that this will be challenging and perhaps not achievable at all times. In those circumstances, closer contact should be limited to the shortest time possible and the increased risk may be reduced by the wearing of face coverings. However the benefit of face coverings is described in the guidance as 'marginal' and only likely to have benefits if worn by a COVID-19 sufferer who is still asymptomatic. Employers should advise staff and passengers on ways of working to keep their distance from other people as much as possible. The guidance sets out what organisations should consider including clear rules for interacting with passengers, receiving goods and testing equipment, organising the workplace to ensure social distancing can be followed, for example through the use of barriers, bench style seating to eliminate face to face seating, repositioning of workspaces and reducing occupancy of group interaction spaces.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings
Workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect against coronavirus where it is not ordinarily worn. Wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure but remains optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace. Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one.
The guide aims to help protect workers in the workplace e.g. by staggering arrival and departure times, reducing queuing by having more entry points, floor markings and signs, hand sanitation at building entry points, limiting passengers in business vehicles, collaborating with other organisations in shared areas, assigning fixed groups of workers to the same transport routes, shift patterns and providing additional safe facilities for runners etc.
To protect passengers social distancing is essential including in car parks, airports and platforms. Consideration should be given to queues that may occur and ensuring all passengers can queue safely. Contingency measures to consider include communications to passengers and planning in respect of areas of congestion and crowd management. It is also important to plan for what to do if someone develops symptoms of coronavirus in a transport setting for example, communication of the need to self-isolate and for others to wash their hands if they have had contact with someone who is unwell.
Touch areas (i.e. physical furniture needing or likely to be touched by multiple people, staff or travellers such as doors, door handles, handrails etc.,) across the transport network should be particular areas of focus for increased cleaning. The guide considers how to clean areas before increased capacity or re-opening as well as how to keep areas and modes of transport clean. Organisations should also consider how to increase ventilation and air flow. Where possible, transport operators and businesses should ensure that a fresh air supply is consistently flowing through vehicles, carriages, transport hubs and office buildings. This may include increasing the recirculation rate of air conditioning systems, opening normally sealed windows and other measures such as filters (which may need expert technical support). The obvious challenges for air travel are likely, in time, to generate specific and updated guidance.
Where HSE identifies employers who are not following guidance to control public health risks, it will consider taking a range of actions to improve control of workplace risks including enforcement notices. But the guidance is exactly that; it is not prescriptive. The acid test is whether transport operators have a suitable and sufficient risk assessment in place and are implementing it to best effect. If it does not work adequately to address the identified risks, enhanced measures will be necessary.