Coronavirus (COVID-19) and using vehicles
Common symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are:
- chills or sweats
- sore throat
- shortness of breath
- runny nose
- loss of sense of smell or taste
In some circumstances headache, muscle soreness, stuffy nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea may also be symptoms.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) is most likely to spread from person-to-person through close contact with an infected person or touching objects or surfaces contaminated by a person with coronavirus (COVID-19).
When employees travel together in a vehicle, or share use of vehicles, there may be a risk of exposure.
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 coronavirus (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 the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (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.
Employers must identify hazards and, if necessary, assess the level of risk to the health of employees from exposure to coronavirus (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 coronavirus (COVID-19) may include:
- travelling when displaying common symptoms listed above
- travelling close together in a vehicle
- recirculated air conditioning
- time spent in the vehicle
- high-touch surfaces such as door handles, seats, seat belts, headrests, steering wheels and fuel filler lids and caps 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
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 coronavirus (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 coronavirus (COVID-19). The consultation should be conducted in accordance with any agreed consultation procedures.
If an employee develops symptoms
If an employee develops any of the symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), however mild, they should not travel in vehicles for work and should:
- self-isolate immediately, seek advice from their doctor or the DHHS 24-hour coronavirus hotline on 1800 675 398 and get tested
- 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 coronavirus (COVID-19) diagnosis)
An employer's duty to eliminate or reduce risks associated with exposure to coronavirus (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 coronavirus (COVID-19), according to the information provided by DHHS
- any unwell employee does not come to work, including employees who have been tested for coronavirus (COVID-19) or who have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19)
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.
If staff can work from home, they must work from home. 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
To achieve physical distancing, numbers should be limited to one person per vehicle trip where possible. If that is not possible, numbers of employees in a vehicle per trip need to be minimised. 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
Clear guidance and instruction should be provided to employees on the requirements relating to physical distancing in the types of vehicles used.
If more than one employee has to travel together in a vehicle, then the vehicle should be adequately ventilated for the duration of the trip, for example by setting the air conditioning to external (rather than recirculated) airflow, and/or keeping windows slightly open if practical.
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).
- 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 need to 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.
- 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.
- 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.
More information about cleaning
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.