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Author: Julie Jarvis

Published date: 2020/06


Following the publication of the government’s post-COVID-19 recovery strategy, employers are considering how they can safely reopen their workplace for employees whose roles cannot be performed at home. 

As discussed last week, employers must undertake a health and safety risk assessment to identify current potential hazards in the workplace, taking into account the threat of virus transmission between employees. 

While employers are taking action to minimise internal risks, what about those from outside of the workplace? Employees who rely on public transport will undoubtedly be concerned about safety, especially with government advice to drive, walk or cycle where possible. Additionally, they may be anxious about the availability and frequency of public transport, especially if reduced timetables remain in place. The big question is, does an employers’ duty of care extend to daily commutes? 

First thing’s first

Government advice is clear: Where possible, employees should avoid all work travel until there’s an available vaccine for the virus. This includes commuting and any trips to different sites during working hours. 

Of course, the most effective way of keeping travel to a minimum is through employees working remotely, which has led to home working becoming a permanent fixture in some businesses. Such a move requires the right infrastructure in place to ensure digital communication and collaboration, as well as a culture of trust that employees will remain productive. 

Where remote working isn’t possible

While common law duty of care doesn’t extend to an employee’s commute and would be a huge overstep for employers, there are still steps you can take to help employees reduce risk of infection during their commute. 

A good place to start is by conducting a travel audit for all employees so you can gain some transparency of the risk of exposure to the virus. You can find an example travel audit in our Ensuring a COVID-Secure Workplace guide that’s free to download. 

Your COVID-secure travel plan

Once you’ve gathered this information, consider putting a workforce travel plan in place. Remember, this is just guidance for your team to follow rather than enforced rules. Here are some tips on building your COVID-secure travel plan:

  • Share the results of the travel audit with employees. They have a right to know how other people are commuting, and it also reinforces that you’re being transparent and putting the work in to reduce their exposure to the virus. 

  • Explore all options. Encourage workers to consider all other forms of transport before using public transport. Tread carefully here as it’s easy to ruffle feathers, e.g. an employee who gets the train from Liverpool to Manchester for work isn’t going to cycle or jog up the M62. Your workers will have undoubtedly considered options themselves so always reinforce that this is advice coming directly from the government.

  • Lift sharing. If employees are comfortable, try introducing a lift-sharing scheme to help those who have no choice but to use public transport. To keep this as safe as possible, employees should share a journey with the same people every day with employers keeping a record of it. 

  • Public transport timetables. Gather and share all of the latest transport schedules with the team. Consider staggering shifts so workers can avoid busy rush hour periods. Any discussions around the changing of shifts should be carried out directly with employees to find out if it’s possible and something they actually want to do. 

  • Share advice. Any worker using public transport must understand the steps they can take to maintain their safety and that of others. Keep sharing the latest travel guidance from the government and perhaps consider placing printed advice throughout the workplace as a reminder. 

  • Look at your facilities. If you’re encouraging workers to consider running, walking or cycling then take a look at the changing and storage facilities you have in place for this, ensuring they are as safe and hygienic as possible. 

Keep talking 

Remember that many workers will still be anxious about returning to work, particularly those using public transport. Additionally, employees who work alongside those travelling by public transport might feel apprehensive too. It’s therefore imperative to address all concerns, both as a team and individually, to make sure everybody feels safe and understands the measures you’re taking and why. Consider daily COVID updates explaining the steps you’re taking to reduce risks and hosting small (socially distanced) group talks that allow employees to share their thoughts on the new workplace and offer suggestions on what can be improved. 

Support when you need it

​Our Ensuring a COVID-Secure Workplace blog series and accompanying guide aims to deliver the latest findings and insights to help employers safely reopen their doors. While every business will face their own unique challenges, we hope the series will go some way in helping you get back up and running safely.