In 2020, CIRAS members have risen to challenges on a scale they could never have predicted, as Covid-19 has changed the way we all live, travel and work. And the easing of lockdown brings new issues and obligations, as the country starts to get moving again. There’s lots of talk of a ‘new normal’ when, in fact, we are going to be in transition for some time to come. We invited members to come together to share how they are preparing for life after lockdown.
Whether it’s creating a safe workplace for staff to return to, helping people to stay mentally well during the transition, or supporting those who remain at home – businesses are being called upon to adapt and learn, finding the way forward that is right for them. In our summer rep learning events - the first we have run online - we invited speakers from Keolis Amey Cymru/Transport for Wales Rail Services, VolkerRail Ltd, Arriva UK Bus, MTR Elizabeth Line, TransPennine Express and Morson International to share their thoughts with our members. Here’s a look at the themes which emerged.
The similarities outweigh the differences
Although our speakers came from a range of sectors within the transport industry, it was striking how similar their challenges were, and solutions share a lot in common too. For example:
- All our speakers spoke about the importance of constantly evolving risk assessments and putting controls in place to manage the transition back to work as lockdown eases.
- Common measures being deployed to avoid infection include: checking staff for symptoms on arrival (such as temperature checks); signage and one way systems in offices, work sites, stations and on vehicles to maintain social distancing; procedures for dealing with staff at work who develop symptoms; and enhanced cleaning regimes.
- For transport operators, an emerging challenge is what to do when passengers don’t comply with requirements such as wearing face masks. Responses includes advice on how to deal with these situations and support for any staff who experience workplace abuse.
- Our speakers emphasised how important relationships with unions have been in helping them respond effectively to Covid-19. The unprecedented situation helped unite managers, workers and unions alike. The hope is that that joint learning from this experience will help maintain these relationships after lockdown is lifted.
It’s not all about the virus
The last few months have been very much about one health and safety issue – Covid-19. But as the number of people back at work ramps up, and operations return to some semblance of normality, it’s important not to forget that other health and safety issues that existed before Covid-19 are still important. Anecdotally, some of our members have experienced strong growth in health and safety reporting relating to Covid-19. The question is how this positive behavioural trend can be maintained and expanded across all types of concerns, as the pandemic subsides. Others report a dramatic drop in reports, and the challenge is to encourage people to start reporting again.
Get agile and stay agile
Our speaker from MTR Elizabeth Line spoke of how, while they had contingency and crisis plans in place, in the end they found they were only of limited value because the scale and speed of change involved in dealing with Covid-19 was beyond anything they could have anticipated. Crisis management teams set up to convene weekly quickly found themselves meeting every day to enable them to respond to the pace of change. It’s been a period of intense learning in how to deal with a major unplanned disruption, and an opportunity to reinforce resilience and business continuity plans. The general feeling was that rapid and continuous change will be a feature of life at work for the foreseeable future and the ability to respond in an agile way will be critical.
Supporting mental health through change
Protecting mental health has been a priority for many members throughout the pandemic, and as people return to work, fresh challenges are arising. While some are keen to return, other may be experiencing fear and anxiety. And those who remain furloughed may be struggling with mounting concerns about their future. Our speakers talked about the need to recognise this range of emotional responses in the support they provide. Some examples of good practice included:
- one to ones with staff to reassure them about the working environment and PPE
- a ‘return to work’ video setting out the measures in place to protect staff
- ‘witness statements’ – where those who have returned to work talk about their experience to reassure their colleagues.
Speakers also talked about ensuring that those furloughed or working from home have equal access to support channels and communications platforms. Many managers are contacting staff at home regularly to maintain a connection and provide vital reassurance.
Supporting vulnerable colleagues
The pandemic has prompted companies to identify colleagues who are physically or mentally vulnerable and ensure support is in place for them. One member spoke of a ‘keeping in touch team’ comprising volunteers from across their business. Each volunteer is buddied up with vulnerable colleagues and checks in on their welfare at a frequency agreed with each of them. It’s worked so well the member plans to continue once lockdown has eased.
The challenge of regional variation
Finally, as the pandemic progresses, different legislation and guidance has emerged in the different nations of the UK. This poses challenges for businesses who operate across the UK. Passenger transport operations that cross national borders such as Transport for Wales, may see rules change in the space of a single journey. Clear, consistent and timely communication was seen as a necessity to help stay on top of this.
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