Managing COVID-19 exposure risks: Travelling in vehicles

Managing risks of employee exposure to COVID-19 when using vehicles for work.

Directions and industry requirements are regularly updated

This guidance is correct as at time of publication, however, Victorian Chief Health Officer (CHO) Directions and industry requirements are regularly updated. Readers of this guidance need to check the latest Victorian CHO Directions for applicability.

Restrictions apply across Victoria

Depending on your industry your workplace may:

  • be required to close temporarily for on-site work
  • remain open for on-site work with a completed COVIDSafe Plan in place
  • be subject to restricted operations or industry specific obligations

It is mandatory for every Victorian business with on-site operations to have a COVIDSafe Plan.

COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria may be updated at any time. You must stay up to date with changes for your industry.

How are my occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations impacted by the restrictions?

There is no change to your obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) as a result of the Directions issued by the Victorian Chief Health Officer (CHO).

Preparation of a COVIDSafe Plan forms part of the development of a safe system of work. However, having a COVIDSafe Plan and complying with the Victorian CHO Directions does not necessarily mean you have complied with all of your duties under the OHS Act and OHS Regulations.

You must follow any health directions that apply to how your business must operate, and ensure that you are meeting your obligations under the OHS Act. Employees must also comply with their duties under the OHS Act.

COVID-19 and using vehicles

COVID-19 can cause mild to severe respiratory illness. 

Researchers are still learning about COVID-19 and its long-term effects.

Current research suggests that COVID-19 spreads through:

  • droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks or sings – these can enter your eyes, nose or mouth when you are in close contact 
  • touching objects or surfaces (such as door handles) contaminated with droplets
  • airborne aerosols generated by actions like coughing, sneezing, talking or singing – these can stay in the air for some time, especially in indoor spaces with poor ventilation

There may be a risk of exposure when employees travel together in a vehicle or share use of vehicles.

Employers must provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees. This includes preventing risks to health, including psychological health, and safety associated with potential exposure to COVID-19.

Employees must take reasonable care of their own and others' health and safety in the workplace and cooperate with their employer's actions to meet requirements of the OHS Act and OHS Regulations 2017.

This guidance details the recommended arrangements for travelling in light vehicles (less than 4.5 tonnes) for work purposes, for example travelling between or within worksites. It does not cover employees travelling to and from work.

Identifying risks

Employers must identify hazards and, if necessary, assess the level of risk to the health of employees from exposure to COVID-19 at their workplace. This must be done in consultation with health and safety representatives (HSRs), if any, and employees, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Sources of risk of employee exposure to COVID-19 may include:

  • travelling when displaying common symptoms listed above
  • travelling close together in a vehicle
  • using the recirculation mode for air ventilation or air conditioning
  • time spent in the vehicle with others
  • high-touch surfaces such as door handles, seats, seat belts, headrests, steering wheels and fuel filler lids, caps and fuel pumps when refueling
  • handling belongings, tools and equipment in and out of vehicles
  • shared keys, iPads or touch screens, keypads, customer signing devices, any kind of written log books with shared pens, as well as equipment control panels

Controlling risks

Face masks in workplaces

Directions from the Victorian CHO about face masks are in place across Victoria. For more information see the guidance Managing COVID-19 risks: Face masks in workplaces.

Employers must provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees. This includes preventing, and where prevention is not possible, reducing risks to, health or safety associated with potential exposure to COVID-19.  The first step is to identify the hazards and then implement risk controls using the hierarchy of controls, to prevent exposure or reduce risks of infection.

Control measures should include implementing a safe system of work to eliminate unnecessary travel. If travel is necessary then maximise physical distancing, practise good hygiene and increase environmental cleaning.

Consult with employees

Employers have a duty to consult with employees, independent contractors, and any HSRs, so far as reasonably practicable, on matters related to health or safety that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect them. This includes consultation on identifying hazards or risks and decisions about how to control risks associated with COVID-19. The consultation should be conducted in accordance with any agreed consultation procedures.

If an employee develops symptoms

The symptoms of COVID-19 to watch out for are: fever, chills or sweats, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose and loss or change in sense of smell or taste.

Some people may also experience headache, muscle soreness, stuffy nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

If an employee develops any of the symptoms of COVID-19, however mild, they should not travel in vehicles for work and should:

  • self-isolate immediately and not attend the workplace, seek advice from their doctor or the Victorian Coronavirus Hotline on 1800 675 398, and get tested as soon as possible
  • stay at home until rest results are received
  • tell their employer as soon as possible, follow the procedures their workplace has in place, and update their employer if their situation changes (for example if they receive a positive COVID-19 diagnosis)

An employer's duty to eliminate or reduce risks associated with exposure to COVID-19, so far as is reasonably practicable, includes ensuring that:

  • employees know what to do or who to notify if they feel unwell or suspect they have COVID-19, according to the information provided by DH
  • any unwell employee does not come to work, including unwell employees who have been tested for COVID-19 and have received a negative test result
  • employees do not attend the workplace if they have been tested for COVID-19 and are awaiting their results, or if they have been confirmed to have COVID-19

In the event of a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case at the workplace, Directions from the Victorian CHO may also require employers to take specific response actions.

More information is available on the DH website.

Notifiable incidents and COVID-19

From 28 July 2020 new temporary regulations under the OHS Act specify when employers and self-employed persons must notify WorkSafe of a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 in the workplace. For more information see the guidance Notifiable incidents involving COVID-19.

Physical distancing

Physical distancing of at least 1.5 metres needs to be implemented wherever possible. If it is not possible, then distance between people needs to be maximised, and all other practicable control measures listed below need to be used.

Employers should consider whether work-related travel can be eliminated, for example by using video or teleconferencing rather than face-to-face contact.

If travel cannot be eliminated, employers need to review and adjust their systems of work to ensure the number of employees travelling in and sharing vehicles at the workplace is kept to a minimum. For example:

  • use additional vehicles to allow fewer employees per vehicle per trip
  • stagger schedules for travelling between workplaces or undertaking work-related travel
  • reduce the number of different employees using each vehicle – consider allocating vehicles to individuals (for example, keep drivers in the same truck) or small groups of employees, to reduce the risk of cross-contamination
  • if using workforce bubbles, ensure only employees from the same bubble travel together

To achieve physical distancing in vehicles, the number of people in the vehicle per trip should be limited – for example, to two employees in a five-seat vehicle, and one employee in a single-cab vehicle. When minimising numbers, employers need to take into account:

  • the size of the vehicle, the number of rows of seats, and how distances can be maximised in the space (for example, the driver with a passenger sitting in the back)
  • the duration of the trip
  • the additional control measures in this guidance

If two or more employees have to travel together in a vehicle, employers should undertake a risk assessment to determine appropriate distancing measures and whether face masks should be used.

DH recommends wearing face masks when driving with other people for work.

The vehicle should be adequately ventilated for the duration of the trip, for example by setting the air conditioning to external airflow (rather than recirculated), and/or keeping windows open if practical.

Clear guidance and instruction should be provided to employees on the requirements relating to physical distancing and air circulation in the types of vehicles used.

If control measures introduce new health and safety risks, these must also be managed. Physical distancing measures may mean:

  • work vehicles are on the road more frequently
  • more employees are driving and for longer periods than usual (if driving by themselves)

Because of this, employers need to review procedures and policies for vehicle maintenance and driver safety to ensure they are effective and address all OHS risks that arise when employees drive for work purposes (such as driver fatigue).

Hygiene

  • Consider driver and occupants using and returning to the same seating positions in vehicles that are used over a work shift. This includes limiting the rotation of drivers, unless on longer trips.
  • Ensure all employees practise good hygiene, including washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, coughing and sneezing into a tissue or their elbow or upper sleeve and avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitiser in all vehicles.
  • Employees should wash or sanitise their hands before and after each vehicle use.
  • Provide sealable bags in the front and back of vehicles where appropriate to enable hygienic disposal of rubbish such as used tissues immediately after use. Employees should use hand sanitiser after they dispose of their waste and take their rubbish bags with them to dispose of when they leave the vehicle.
  • Where possible, employees should load and unload their own belongings, tools and equipment.
  • Employees should avoid eating in vehicles.
  • If deliveries are being made to other workplaces, sanitise hands before and after handling packages.

Cleaning

  • Increase vehicle cleaning regimes for any shared vehicles. Ensure that vehicles are cleaned following each use by an employee and that high-touch surfaces are cleaned and disinfected regularly or prior to the vehicle being used by another person.
  • If cleaning is undertaken by employees, ensure appropriate time is allocated for this task, and that employees are given information, instruction or training about cleaning procedures.
  • Regularly clean belongings, tools and equipment carried in vehicles. Avoid sharing tools and equipment where possible. If they must be shared, then clean and disinfect between users.

Cleaning needs to be conducted in accordance with the DH information on cleaning and disinfection for workplaces.

Access to facilities for mobile employees

Employers need to ensure that mobile employees, such as delivery drivers, have access to toilets,  hand washing facilities and hand sanitiser.

This includes making arrangements for employees to have access to facilities at client premises. If this is not possible, provide employees with information about publicly located facilities. Employers need to consider any additional risks that may be raised when public facilities are used.

Delivery routes and schedules need to be developed in a way that provides adequate opportunities to access the facilities.

When employees access facilities at client workplaces they need to follow all COVID-19 safety protocols in place.

Legal duties

Employers have duties under the OHS Act, which include that they must, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors
  • provide adequate facilities for the welfare of employees and independent contractors
  • provide such information, instruction, training or supervision to employees and independent contractors as is necessary to enable those persons to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health
  • monitor the health of employees
  • monitor conditions at any workplace under the employer's management and control
  • provide information concerning health and safety to employees, including (where appropriate) in languages other than English
  • ensure that persons other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the employer's undertaking
  • consult with employees and HSRs, if any, on matters related to health or safety that directly affect or are likely to directly affect them

A person with management or control of a workplace must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it are safe and without risks to health.

Employees also have duties under the OHS Act, which includes that they must:

  • take reasonable care for their own health and safety
  • take reasonable care for the health and safety of persons who may be affected by the employee's acts or omissions at a workplace
  • co-operate with their employer with respect to any action taken by the employer to comply with a requirement imposed by or under the OHS Act

The OHS Act gives HSRs a role in raising and resolving any OHS issues with their employer, and powers to take issues further if necessary. For more information see the guidance on powers for HSRs.