Transport for London (TfL) has responded to the publication of an independent review by UCL’s Institute of Health Equity into the tragic deaths of bus drivers during the pandemic.
TfL asked academics at the Institute of Health Equity to explore the pattern of infection with, and deaths from, coronavirus in the London bus worker population to inform recommendations on any additional occupational health measures that should be put in place to protect them.
The report’s findings include:
* Many of the London bus drivers who died from coronavirus were suffering with underlying health conditions particularly high blood pressure
* Among the bus drivers who died, most stopped work in the 10 days either side of lockdown on 23 March, suggesting most of them became infected before lockdown. The report finds that after lockdown, death rates came down among drivers reinforcing evidence that lockdown was an effective measure in saving lives.
* A high proportion of drivers who died had a number of personal characteristics which enhanced their risk to coronavirus, such as their ethnicity, and living in areas with above average levels of deprivation in London boroughs with the highest coronavirus death rates in April 2020.
Lilli Matson, TfL’s Chief Safety, Health and Environment Officer, said: “We have been devastated by the tragic deaths of our colleagues during this pandemic. We commissioned this independent study so we could urgently understand what more we can do to reduce the risk of others contracting coronavirus. It’s clear that frontline workers across the country have disproportionately suffered from coronavirus, which is why we worked closely with all London bus operators to introduce measures to help keep the capital’s drivers safe.
“This included enhanced daily cleaning using hospital-grade disinfectant in the drivers’ cabs, the parts of the bus regularly touched by customers and in staff welfare facilities, as well as providing more separation from passengers. This was done, firstly, by taking the seats nearest a driver out of use and sealing up holes in the partition between drivers and passengers, and then by introducing middle-door boarding so passengers didn’t need to stand for any length of time next to drivers.
“The recommendations in this report provide a roadmap for action to further protect bus drivers. It is clear from this piece of work and others that there are certain characteristics that make people more vulnerable to coronavirus. We will work with our bus operators to ensure that they consistently carry out risk assessments and appropriate support is given to those that need it. We know that those with underlying health conditions, such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease, are at higher risk. In response we will extend wellbeing initiatives, such as the Health Bus, to reach more drivers. And we will work with the bus operators to prepare a response plan to help us make immediate, consistent interventions in the event of further outbreaks.”
Previous separate work by UCL’s Centre for Transport Studies and the Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering assessed the risk to drivers in their cabs. The analysis found that the steps that TfL has taken – by adding a film layer to screens and sealing off gaps around the screen as a whole, including around the Oyster reader – substantially reduced the risk to drivers of contracting coronavirus from customers.
From 17 March TfL started funding enhanced sick pay for bus staff who were suffering from coronavirus symptoms, or had to self-isolate for up to 14 days because someone in their household has symptoms. This was to ensure drivers didn’t feel forced to attend work for financial reasons when they shouldn’t. This arrangement remains in place. TfL also wrote to all of London’s bus operators urging them to do the right thing by vulnerable employees and, like TfL, provide sufficient financial support so that they could minimise any exposure to coronavirus.
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.