Tackling Driver Health and Safety Challenges Posed by COVID-19
The COVID-19 outbreak, and attempts to contain it, are creating unprecedented uncertainty across virtually every industry. Maintaining operations during this difficult time isn’t easy and staying updated on the latest information affecting fleet management and transportation is a job unto itself.
At Lytx we’re tracking the latest developments, around the clock, to ensure we provide the best possible information to our transportation industry partners. One way we’re doing that is by relying on the expert advice of trusted industry professionals. Their knowledge and experience are invaluable in helping you address challenges related to monitoring drivers and staff for signs of illness, social distancing, personnel issues created by the containment effort, cleanliness and sanitation, and temporary changes to hours-of-service regulations.
Read on for expert recommendations on navigating this difficult time.
Monitoring driver health and safety
Dedicated employees are reluctant to call in sick to work, but right now it’s more critical than ever that we monitor ourselves and our employees for signs of illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), COVID-19 symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days after exposure. The CDC recommends watching for symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Some people infected with the virus report other non-respiratory symptoms while others report no symptoms at all (asymptomatic).
Long haul co-drivers sharing driving duties on extended runs lasting 70 hours or more might consider taking extra precautions to avoid transmitting COVID-19 or other contaminants to each other. Consider following the cleaning and sanitation guidelines outlined below and monitoring each other for any symptoms of fatigue or illness, such as a high fever, dry cough, difficulty breathing, or sore throat.
Now more than ever it’s critical that all personnel be vigilant and err on the side of caution to contain infections and keep ill drivers off the road.
The minimized activity and closure of businesses, schools, and government offices is driven by the CDC’s recommendation that people keep at least six feet apart from each other to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That’s especially difficult in transportation because so many people are involved in getting a vehicle and its contents from point of origin to delivery destination. The good news is that there are ways to work around some of the most common situations.
Rather than have multiple people touch pens or signature pads to sign for invoices for delivery verification, some companies are allowing drivers to sign on behalf of the recipient.
Unfortunately, accidents still happen. To maintain social distancing after an accident, AAA recommends drivers exchange license and insurance information verbally, and each person write down the other’s details. Alternatively, you can use phones to take photos of those documents without violating the six-foot buffer. In the event a vehicle is towed, avoid riding in the tow truck with the driver and instead arrange for alternate transportation.
Although coaching drivers face-to-face is the primary method used by many organizations, remote coaching can be a good alternative for fleets looking to keep their employees safe, healthy, and productive—particularly during this time.
[Related: A Quick Guide to Remote Coaching]
Video telematics enable virtual ride-alongs that allow managers to see what’s happening (live or replay) in and around a vehicle while it’s in the field. Normally this is a way for managers to strike an efficient balance between time in the field and time in the office, but while COVID-19 containment efforts are in effect it can be used to adhere to social distancing guidelines between managers and drivers.
Company vehicles and personal use policies
Consider reassessing your policies for company vehicle use. Many companies that allow personal use of company vehicles in normal times are now modifying those rules for the duration of the pandemic to avoid cross-contamination between the home and workplace.
Hygiene and fleet sanitation measures
New precautions are being taken to protect people working in warehouses, hubs, distribution centers, and other high traffic areas. Because the virus is known to spread by person-to-person contact, and possibly by surface contact, it’s essential that frequently touched equipment and surfaces be sanitized as frequently as possible (at least several times per day).
Beyond the practices that we’ve all adopted – cleaning hands with soap and hand sanitizers, sneezing or coughing into elbows, not touching the face – effective hygiene and sanitation requires:
The CDC's website includes a list of approved cleaners and disinfectants that can lower potential infections without damaging sensitive equipment. CDC recommended cleaners should be used to clean any vehicles, tools, or equipment used by more than one person in a 72-hour period.
An adequate supply of both latex and non-latex gloves must be available at all times. All fleet personnel should wear protective gloves when refueling and when cleaning equipment and surfaces, and change to a fresh, unused pair of gloves frequently. One emergency medical services group in Florida, Manatee County EMS, has asked its technicians to wear two layers of gloves. When disposing of the gloves, be sure to peel them inside out so that the contaminated areas of the gloves are on the inside.
A cleaning checklist
Vehicle: Using gloves and an appropriate cleaner, wipe down steering wheels, shifters, radio controls, armrests, window buttons, and door handles. Because some cleaners can strip or damage surfaces, be sure to check with the vehicle’s original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to see what cleaners are safe to use on your vehicles’ upholstery, dashboards, touchscreens and other surfaces.
Non-Vehicle: With gloves and the right cleaners for the right equipment and surfaces, clean handheld computers, scanners, toolboxes and tool belts, fuel pump handles and fuel cards, and cart handles.
The 72-hour rule
Although researchers are still learning about the coronavirus, health officials indicate that the pathogen can survive for 72 hours on metal and plastic surfaces. As a result, any vehicles, tools, equipment, or facilities used by more than one person in a 72-hour period should be thoroughly cleaned.
One transportation client shared a 3-stage cleaning process that involves: 1) wiping down the inside of the cab and outside door handles with a CDC-approved cleaner; 2) a second wipe down using a bleach and water solution; 3) and fogging the inside of the cab with a chlorine dioxide-based product such as Vital Oxide using an Areoclave.
Watching for drowsy driving
Drowsy driving is a significant risk in the best of times but poses an even greater risk now as drivers work longer hours with fewer breaks to cover for personnel unable to work due to COVID-19. It’s more critical than ever to combat fatigue by:
Getting sufficient sleep
The National Sleep Foundation issues sleep recommendations by age, but each person is different. Professional drivers need enough sleep to perform. But what qualifies as “sufficient”? Sleep specialist Dr. Meier H. Kryger describes sufficient sleep as, “… the amount of sleep that leaves you wide-awake, alert, in a great mood, and functioning at your best.”
Taking a nap
Many of us reach for coffee when we feel fatigued, but the better option is a nap. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recommends that commercial drivers take a 10- to 45-minute nap when they feel drowsy, then allow 15 minutes to fully wake up afterwards. Even if you don’t feel sleepy, a nap can help prevent future fatigue.
Avoiding medications that trigger drowsiness
Many painkillers, muscle relaxants, antihistamines, antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and even cold medicines can cause drowsiness. Read labels carefully, or talk to pharmacists, to learn which prescription and over-the-counter medications have the potential to make you feel tired. If you need an alternative medication, either short- or long-term, a doctor can work with you to find an alternative.
Practicing good “sleep hygiene”
To give yourself the best chance at a good night’s sleep, researchers at the CDC recommend:
- Being consistent with your sleep schedule
- Keeping your sleep area quiet, dark, and relaxing
- Avoiding electronics with screens
- Cutting off caffeine earlier in the day
- Limiting food consumption right before bedtime
- Taking a brisk walk, stretch or exercise during the day
Stay informed and up-to-date
Business operations are difficult right now, and there’s no shortage of distractions, but safety is as critical as ever. At Lytx we believe the best thing we can do right now is share information and best practices that keep us all safe.
Now more than ever, drivers need to be protected and operations need to run lean. Lytx posts regularly updated information and resources here to help with both: COVID-19 Information and Resources for Fleets