The COVID-19 Restrictions and Specific Impact on Distribution and Delivery Businesses

27 May 2020

The UK COVID-19 lockdown has seen multiple businesses having to close their doors, with some ‘non-essential’ businesses being asked to close indefinitely. In line with Government advice, the delivery and distribution industry contains a number of ‘essential businesses’. These are vital in order to keep business open and jobs secured.  In addition to the business disruption, staying open during this pandemic brings with it a number of challenges and poses some significant questions. How will distribution and delivery businesses continue to function through an extended lockdown period and how can businesses ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees, complying with the relevant health and safety legislation in the face of a pandemic?

To this end the government published guidance for businesses on the 7 of April, and this guidance was updated on the 4 May 2020. In line with previous advice it has been recommended that:

For logistics, distribution and delivery businesses:

  • Businesses should continue to operate in accordance with the social distancing guidelines where possible. This is in order to ensure the safety and welfare of employees.

  • Where it’s not possible to follow social distancing guidelines in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether a activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the transmission risk between staff.

  • Businesses should put up signage and floor markings in the warehouse, encouraging a 2 meter distance from colleagues where it is at all feasible.

  • If a 2 meter distance cannot be maintained, staff should work side by side, or facing away from each other, rather than face to face if possible.

  • Businesses should consider adding additional pop-up handwashing stations or facilities, providing soap, water and hand sanitiser.

  • Businesses should regularly encourage staff to wash their hands with soap and water as often as possible and for a minimum of 20 seconds every time.

For delivery services:

  • No goods or food should be physically handed over to the customer. There should instead be a set drop-off point agreed in advance.

  • After ringing the doorbell, the driver should maintain a safe distance from the door and oversee the delivery of the goods. The goods should not be left unattended.

  • Businesses should introduce a way for customers to notify the business that they’re self-isolating or unwell in advance of the delivery. In such a circumstance, a driver shouldn’t enter the customer’s property.

  • To minimize the risk that a customer does not answer the door, sensible steps such as setting an approximate delivery time and gaining a contact number should be taken.

  • Drivers should wash their hands for 20 seconds as regularly as possible, and drivers should be given hand-sanitiser to be carried at all times and used after each delivery.

  • Workers and drivers should be reminded daily to only come into work if they are well and no one in their household is self-isolating.

In addition to the government advice and previous HSE guidance, the HSE has put into place temporary arrangements to protect drivers. There has been a temporary and limited relaxation of drivers’ hours rules, and drivers must now also have access to welfare facilities at work. A recent statement from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) confirmed that in line with its duties under the Act, it would continue its   ‘regulatory oversight of how duty holders are meeting their responsibilities in the context of the current public health risk.’ Despite the various restrictions, as outlined above, duty holders must continue to ensure so far as reasonably practicable, the health safety and welfare of employees but the pandemic presents clear challenges in certain industries.

While each business is of course different, by following the government guidance and HSE advice, delivery and distribution businesses are able to appropriately adjust and stay operational without putting their workers and drivers  at risk. Businesses are also able to undertake specific risk assessments and modify their existing procedures / operations where necessary, to adequately address the risks posed by COVID-19.  Additionally, employers should try to ensure that all workers asked to undertake their delivery and distribution duties are properly trained, informed and aware of the health and safety measures that need to be taken during their work. Businesses should also be monitoring the new COVID-19 procedures and ensuring that new and existing procedures are followed.  Employees should also be kept informed with the latest and most relevant information concerning their health and welfare at work including social distancing, working hours and PPE.

We have already seen the demand for delivery and distribution services, in sectors such as online food ordering, grow[1], however, businesses need to continue to ensure the health and wellbeing of their drivers are protected, and not overlook HSE or government recommendations / requirements, in order to fulfil orders and deliveries. It is clear regulators will continue to enforce health and safety standards within their own limitations

While the latest guidance from the government and HSE is useful in limiting employees` potential exposure, it is for business to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and to follow government and trade guidance.  This is presenting huge challenges to employers in the current climate. Businesses should be looking to not only adhere to the various guidelines but also implement their own additional safety mechanisms particular to their business to ensure that their employees` welfare and health is protected. While, this guidance from the Government and the HSE is of course to be welcomed given its broad reach across the distribution and delivery sector, it should be seen as general guidance. It is for individual business to ensure the health safety and welfare of its staff is protected and the risk of exposure to Coronavirus at work is controlled as far as possible.

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Disclaimer: This document does not present a complete or comprehensive statement of the law, nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight issues that may be of interest to customers of BLM. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in any particular case.

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