As the UK economy prepares to return to work in a post-lockdown environment, many companies are looking to restart furloughed staff and mothballed fleets. However, the time in lockdown may have had a negative effect on vehicle and driver performance – checks have gone undone and old habits have been lost and skills degraded. Furthermore, as the world adapts to working in an evolving pandemic, there are new rules that need to be followed.

RoSPA has said that now is the time to start preparing for the return to work, and that means performing vital vehicle checks and driver training, both to ensure old standards are adhered to along with new ones.

FACTS spoke with RoSPA occupational health and safety policy adviser Dr Karen McDonnell about what training needs to be done, how to have conversations with workers, and how the companies can use this as an opportunity to find new, better ways of doing things.

“The saying I’ve heard used quite a lot is building back better,” Karen said. “Industries will have to change as a consequence of thinking about new things and new ways of working – like robust vehicle sanitisation for mothballed fleets.”

New world, new risks

After over two months of lockdown, there is a danger that drivers will have become used to a ‘new normal’ – less traffic and fewer pedestrians. The RAC has recently pointed to a number of serious speeding offences taking place during the lockdown.

“People might not be using the road in the same way as they were before just because they can drive faster due to less traffic,” Karen said. “Some have suggested that people are driving faster simply because nobody is driving at the speed limit.”

Even when drivers are not actively speeding, Karen noted that drivers, professional or not, could see their standards slip as fewer trips during the lockdown could result in lower driving standards across all road users. One bad driver can potentially put multiple road users at risk.

However, Karen pointed to the significantly fewer vehicles on the road making fewer journeys during the lockdown being balanced against the increase in home deliveries causing an upsurge in recruitment for delivery drivers. This could lead to an influx of new, less experienced drivers and increase pressure, and stress, on drivers.

“Haulage vehicles are not competing with commuting traffic at the moment,” Karen noted. “But when there is more traffic on the roads, there’s a challenge around how everybody’s risk perception may have changed.”

An additional challenge is maintaining high driver standards against new health and safety rules. Additional safety procedures, increased awareness of the danger to physical health, and the impracticality of old solutions (such as having multiple people in a vehicle cab) will also make driving operations more difficult. “Any modifications can impact on the health and safety of drivers. People are thinking very carefully about how they can keep people safe yet still fulfil their service.”

Conversations

With old and new rules to follow, it is important for managers to prepare their teams for working in a post-lockdown world. “It’s all about having a conversation with drivers,” Karen said. “Furloughed drivers may need a reorientation to improve their driving style, for example.”

Mothballed fleets can undergo more stringent maintenance while they are off the roads, to ensure that weeks of storage have not damaged the vehicles and to ensure that they are in the best possible order.

Dr McDonnell advised performing “robust checks by a technically competent people to ensure optimum vehicle performance are essential however on this return to work the importance of vehicle sanitisation and good hygiene also need added to the list”

“Irrespective of what is happening around us, unsafe practices cannot be sanctioned,” Karen added. “We cannot sanction vehicles being used in unsafe conditions. So we are looking for people driving for work to adopt a risk-based approach – completing daily driver checks, and organisations considering how vehicle monitoring systems could be used more effectively”

“This is perhaps an opportunity to really think through how we could make major steps with road safety, given that we have the opportunity to modify infrastructure and enhance people’s understanding of the challenges that the driving population has.”

For more information: RoSPA’s COVID-19 resources or advice on Accident Free, Avoid A&E