Hopefully, the issues with Brexit and COVID19 will both be resolved in the first half of this year. Until then, however, freight companies are going to have to be particularly careful to avoid unnecessary risks. These include standard health and safety issues, which may have been exacerbated by Brexit, along with COVID19-specific issues. To explain further, Andrea Easton, Head of Finance and Operations at Walker Movements, provides her view on how the freight industry can pull through these current times.

Keep on top of your drivers’ mental health

It has been widely reported that COVID19 has had a major impact on mental wellness. Freight drivers not only have to cope with this but also have to deal with everything Brexit is currently throwing at them. They are therefore at serious risk of mental health issues. Employers should take this into consideration and, if at all possible, act proactively to address them.

As an absolute minimum, employers should remind staff that they are there to support any employee with mental-health concerns. These reminders should be sent out regularly, at least while these conditions are ongoing. Make sure employees know where to go if they need help and that there is a process in place for getting them the support they need.

Employers might also wish to consider investing in mental-wellness resources for their employees’ use. Probably the best-known of these is the Calm App. This offers discounts for team subscriptions. There are also several well-regarded alternatives at a lower price. The cost of investing in these apps is likely to be much lower than the cost of losing even one driver to mental-health issues.

Make sure drivers self-isolate when they should

This is simple in theory but may take a little effort in practice. There is a shortage of HGV drivers. This means that the absence of a single driver can have a significant impact on schedules. Drivers may therefore feel obliged to come into work, especially if they are asymptomatic. Make it clear that they need to stay home.

Control your own site

Social distancing, robust cleaning and digitization are the orders of the day. The first is probably the most challenging. What’s more, you may need to update your procedures for enforcing it in line with what is going on in your business. Likewise, the more people are on-site, the more robust your cleaning will need to be and the more handwashing/sanitizing products you will need.

A lot of companies will have implemented digitization long before COVID19. If, however, you are still running analogue processes, now is definitely the time to update them if you possibly can. There are often a lot of business advantages to doing so and you will continue to benefit from them long after COVID19.

Make sure vehicles are appropriately managed

Ideally, drivers should be allocated their own specific vehicles and equipment. Even so, everything should be cleaned thoroughly and regularly. If drivers do have to share vehicles or equipment, then these need to be thoroughly cleaned between uses. What’s more, the equipment used for cleaning will probably need to be cleaned between uses.

Regardless of how much pressure your business is under, you need to make sure that maintenance is continued to at least the usual standard. Basically, you do not want to put your drivers at unnecessary risk through vehicle breakdowns. You also want to avoid anything which could make getting through border crossings even more complicated.

With Brexit, another consideration will be making sure that you have the appropriate paperwork in place. Admittedly, it is not always clear what this is. You should, however, do your utmost to keep up with the rules and comply with them.

This will help to protect your drivers from stress. It should also help to reduce the number of people with whom they come into contact and hence their exposure to COVID19. As a helpful bonus, it should also help to keep your schedules viable and your business running as smoothly as possible.

Keep on top of employee monitoring

Employee monitoring is an important health and safety measure at the best of times. It’s currently more important than ever. You need to be able to act effectively at the first sign that an employee is unfit to continue working for any reason. This means that you need an effective monitoring system in place.

Remember that employees may not be aware that they need help and may therefore not call in for it. You, therefore, need to check in on them proactively. You need to have protocols to cover foreseeable situations particularly employees showing the warning signs of COVID19. You also need a robust escalation process to cover unforeseeable situations.

Provide facilities for drivers to take their own food

There are currently two important reasons for enabling drivers to take their own food on trips. Firstly, eating in communal areas increases their risk of exposure to COVID19. Secondly, for that precise reason, many food outlets are closed at present. It’s also worth noting that being able to “graze” at least a little can help keep drivers’ energy levels topped up. This helps them to maintain their focus on the road.

With Brexit now in place, you may need to keep tabs on what is and isn’t allowed in various European countries. Current indications are that plant-based foods are acceptable. Meat is not and presumably; this would include poultry and fish. Even with plant-based foods, it might be wise to stick to packaged goods as much as possible.

Educate staff on current best practices

The rules and guidelines around COVID19 are complex. They change frequently and can vary from place to place even within the UK. They can also be worded very loosely. For example, there is currently widespread confusion about what, exactly, counts as local.

As an employer, you need to keep on top of what is expected of you. You then need to educate all your staff on what is expected of them. Drivers may need extra guidance since they may need to comply with different sets of rules depending on their route.

You may also need to think about how you’re going to provide them with clear guidance in simple terms when they are on the road. Emails are convenient but people do not always see them. Even if they do, they do not necessarily understand them. This means that it’s advisable to follow through with a phone call.