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TfL responds to publication of UCL research that strengthens fight against the virus

New research commissioned by TfL has been published by UCL's Institute of Health Equity, informing London's continuing focus on protecting bus drivers from coronavirus

This is the second phase report in a two-part study looking at the impact of coronavirus on London bus drivers.

TfL has led the way in the transport industry by commissioning pioneering research so that the latest expertise is being used to keep drivers and passengers safe, and to ensure TfL learns any lessons in real time about further actions it could and should be taking.

Previous findings informed changes such as rapidly sealing up the driver's cab across all 9,000 buses in London, which UCL analysis found substantially reduces the risk of drivers contracting coronavirus.

Cutting-edge expertise

The first phase of the report into coronavirus related fatalities amongst London bus drivers, which covered March to May last year, was published last July.

This found that many of these drivers had underlying health conditions and characteristics, such as being from a black and minority ethnic background and lived in areas of deprivation, which contributed to their risk to coronavirus.

Crucially, it showed the first national lockdown was an effective measure in saving lives, with most of the drivers who tragically passed away in this period having stopped work 10 days either side of 23 March. It concluded that more lives would have been saved if lockdown had happened earlier.

Further cutting-edge expertise led to the improvement of ventilation systems on 2,000 buses. It ensured fresh air from outside the bus goes into the driver's cab, across the whole bus fleet.

Based on the latest evidence on the benefits of improved fresh air inside buses, TfL is now looking to innovate again, improving air flow for passengers with a programme to fit a novel block on bus windows to enhance ventilation. Installation begins this week and is expected to be completed later this spring.

Keep drivers safe

TfL is committed to ensuring that everything possible is being done to keep drivers safe from the virus. This latest piece of work by UCL looks again at the data from the start of pandemic and surveyed bus drivers on measures to take to protect them. The recommendations include:

  • Continued adherence and promotion of social distancing and masking wearing in driver facilities
  • Early interventions on ill-health, particularly to help address the problem of obesity in younger drivers
  • Continuing to build on TfL's work to address the issue of fatigue amongst bus drivers who experienced coronavirus symptoms
  • Recognising the need for ongoing financial, clinical and psychological support for drivers with "Long Covid" by government and employers
  • Clear communication and enforcement of the coronavirus safety measures, such as passengers wearing face covering as the city unlocks and passenger numbers increase
  • More consistent recording of the ethnicity of bus drivers in line with the NHS
  • Improving air quality on London's roads after drivers reported issues of ongoing breathing problems after experiencing coronavirus symptoms

TfL moved quickly in the pandemic to ensure the bus companies it contracts have taken extensive action across the network to stop the spread of the virus. This has included a relentless focus on cleaning with long-lasting anti-viral cleaning fluid and limits on the number of customers onboard buses.

Staff facilities have been reconfigured to enable better social distancing and temporary 'portacabin' facilities have been constructed to enable staff to spread out. Throughout the pandemic, TfL and the bus companies have followed PHE and Government advice as it has evolved.

Lilli Matson, TfL's Chief Health, Safety and Environment Officer, said: 'This awful virus has taken much-loved colleagues from us, leaving devasted family and friends behind.

'It is our duty to do everything humanly possible to keep bus drivers safe in this pandemic. This report helps to reinforce what we are doing and shows where we can redouble our efforts.

'We will work closely with the bus operators to ensure that those suffering or at risk from coronavirus will continue to receive support, with vulnerable drivers having to shield being able to stay at home, with sick pay for those with symptoms and access to a range of services.

'Further measures to improve ventilation on buses are being introduced, and we are working to drive a more proactive approach to drivers' health and wellbeing.

'In addition, we continue with our strong measures to ensure social distancing and the wearing of face coverings, and with our wider radical work alongside the Mayor to improve London's air quality.'

Pioneering study

Following the previous pioneering Loughborough study, all bus companies have needed fatigue risk management systems in place to be given a contract by TfL since August 2020.

Fatigue awareness training, which started last year, will be rolled out at pace in the coming months, and the recently launched £500,000 Fatigue Innovation Fund, which bus operators can bid for, will now be broadened to include innovation that could also improve health and wellbeing of bus drivers.

TfL will also ensure consistent reporting of ethnicity across the industry that is in line with the NHS.

TfL continues to take tough action against the selfish minority who refuse to wear face coverings on public transport. Enforcement officers have stopped around 140,000 people from boarding public transport, the vast majority on buses, until they put on a face covering, and fined around 2,000 for refusing to comply.

These operations will continue as long as mask wearing on public transport is mandatory. It has also been made easier for drivers to report passengers not wearing masks via a text messaging service on buses, which is then used to target our enforcement activity.

Notes to editors

  • A full copy of the UCL report can be found here: https://content.tfl.gov.uk/phase-2-assessment-of-london-bus-driver-mortality-from-covid-19.pdf
  • TfL's response to the report can be found here: https://content.tfl.gov.uk/tfl-response-to-ucl-phase-2-report.pdf
  • A tripartite forum between TfL, Unite the union and the bus operators was established before the pandemic, which helped to develop the Health Bus, an additional occupational health service to bus workers. The service provides a rapid health diagnosis in an easy to understand format that drivers can access at their work environment free of charge. The assessment measures height, weight, body mass index, body fat percentage, blood pressure, heart rate and hydration level. Lifestyle factors including sleep, smoking, relaxation, home life, work life, stress, diet, alcohol and exercise are also assessed. Following their screening, the Occupational Health Technicians provide each employee with guidance and lifestyle advice
  • Protective film to cover communication holes was added to the screens in drivers' cabs in early April 2020, and UCL analysis found this greatly reduces the risk to drivers of contracting coronavirus from passengers. Temporary middle door boarding was introduced in April 2020 to increase the distance between drivers and customers, and to allow for further safety measures to be added to the driver cabs. Analysis by UCL has found that closing up the remining gaps around the screens to 5mm or less reduced the risk to drivers significantly and enabled the return to front-door boarding along with collaborative work with Unite the Union and bus operators
  • Based on the latest evidence from UCL on the benefits of improved fresh air and air movement within the saloon we have started to introduce 'window blocks' on the opening 'hopper' windows across the fleet to improve the airflow. These blocks prevent the windows from fully closing at any time, yet prevent rain from blowing in, and will be rolled out by mid-May 2021
  • Enhanced sick pay is available for those suffering from coronavirus symptoms, or having to self-isolate for up to 14 days because someone in their household has symptoms. This means drivers can take the necessary time off without fear of financial implications
  • Following the recommendations of the first stage of the work by the UCL Institute of Health Equity, TfL has ensured the contingency plans to protect vulnerable drivers are deployed consistently. A "Covid-19 age" risk assessment process or equivalent has been introduced across the bus operators, identifying more vulnerable drivers with appropriate adjustments offered
  • There have been 65 deaths of London bus workers reported as being due to coronavirus, 51 of whom were bus drivers. This study covers the deaths of 27 of those drivers in the period March to May 2020
Channel website: https://tfl.gov.uk/

Original article link: https://tfl.gov.uk/info-for/media/press-releases/2021/march/tfl-responds-to-publication-of-ucl-research-that-strengthens-fight-against-the-virus

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