23 March 2020

The state of play of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK is developing rapidly. Demands to resupply critical medical provisions, panic buying and driver/retail employee shortages (from illness and precautionary isolation) risk a shortage in essential medical equipment, medicine, food and other supplies.

As part of its response, over the course of last week the government issued temporary relaxations to EU and GB drivers’ hours rules for the drivers of vehicles involved in the delivery of:

  • food, essential non-food (personal care and household paper and cleaning), and over the counter pharmaceutical products (see the government’s announcements here and here); and
  • all other sectors (see the government’s announcement here).

The changes, which are summarised in each of the government’s announcements, comprise increases to daily and periodic driving limits and reductions to rest and break requirements. Implementation of any relaxations will need to be agreed between employers and employees / driver representatives.

The temporary relaxations will last for the following periods:

  • for the delivery of essential items to retailers, Wednesday 18 March 2020 until Thursday 16 April 2020;
  • for consumer deliveries, Friday 20 March 2020 until Friday to 3 April 2020; and
  • for all other sectors, today (Monday 23 March 2020) until Tuesday 21 April 2020, save that the continuation of the relaxations past 5 April 2020 will be subject to a specific review.

The government has also issued guidance on these drivers’ hours relaxations, available here.

Impact on operators’ health and safety obligations

In granting relaxations, the government has made clear that:

'…driver safety must not be compromised. Drivers should not be expected to drive whilst tired - employers remain responsible for the health and safety of their employees and other road users.'

HSE is aligned with this, and has issued its own guidance on coronavirus-related temporary arrangements for drivers, including the government’s temporary relaxations, here.

Relaxing drivers’ hours rules does not change an individual’s liability to fatigue. It also does not alter business’ obligations under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to manage risk. Risk assessments for driver fatigue remain just as important to reduce risk so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employers planning to take advantage of any of the relaxations will need to bear in mind that risk assessments should be reviewed and revisited as necessary to ensure driver safety. Particular care is needed where incremental changes are planned: as the risk profile evolves so must the corresponding assessment of that risk.

There will be numerous employers and drivers who will want to agree longer driving shifts to ensure the UK receives essential medical equipment, medicine, food and supplies in these uncertain times. Particular care will be needed to stay safe – coronavirus is the obvious danger at the moment, but it is not the only risk we need to guard against. 

Ann Metherall specialises in advising key players in the transport sector on all aspects of civil and criminal health and safety law. Please contact her directly if you would like to discuss this article further.

Key contact

Ann Metherall

Ann Metherall Partner

  • Head of Dispute Resolution
  • Head of Health and Safety
  • Transport

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