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Concerns over protective screens in Cornwall's buses

Concerns over protective screens in Cornwall's buses

Published by Sarah Yeoman at 6:12am 16th April 2020. (Updated at 7:31am 16th April 2020)

Written by Ed Oldfield, Local Democracy Reporter

A bus union says new flexible screens fitted to drivers’ cabs are like a ‘shower curtain’ and claims they will do little to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The union RMT says the screens fitted by First South West, which runs services in Cornwall, are “the most inept steps they have ever seen from an employer to protect their workers from Covid-19.”

It says screens screwed to cab ceilings hang short of the windscreen, allowing passengers to pull them aside to talk to drivers.

The union has released a video and photograph of the screens in cabs of buses in Cornwall and Somerset as evidence to support its concerns. 

One official said drivers are afraid of dying and fear that they could pass the virus to passengers and family members.

The union has called for sturdy plastic barriers to be fitted as part of measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

In Cornwall, the company removed hard plastic anti-assault screens from some buses supplied from other parts of the country to fit in with the local fleet which does not have them.

It has now fitted flexible screens to cabs as part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are confident that these flexible screens are of a sufficient quality to help keep our drivers and customers safe.

"We’re adjusting a few screens to ensure they’re fitted correctly.”

Operator Cornwall by Kernow

The company says the safety and welfare of staff and customers are its top priority and it is following Government guidelines to protect passengers and staff and prevent the spread of the virus.

Measures include extra cleaning of vehicles, social distancing, and urging passengers to use cashless payment.

Nine bus workers, including a driver from Bristol, are reported to have died after infection with Covid-19. A driver from Plymouth was reported to have been seriously ill in hospital with the virus.

Bus companies are running reduced services for key workers and for others to make essential journeys.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash highlighted in a letter to First South West that hard plastic screens had been fitted at supermarket checkouts.

He said: “I would urge you to reconsider your approach to this matter and show that you can step up to protect your staff in this time of national emergency.”

“Our members are very concerned about their safety, it is very real and members are affected so much by the fear of contracting coronavirus that they feel under so much pressure it is affecting their well-being.

“They report that they are afraid of dying and that they believe that they could transmit this terrible virus to family members, those they live with, care for, or the public.”

RMT regional organiser Barry West

RMT has also raised general concerns over the bus industry’s approach to safety of staff with Public Health England which is reviewing transport in relation to Covid-19.

Mr Cash said: “RMT also has other concerns about the bus industry including issues for engineering staff in depots and the facilities provided for employees in mess rooms. 

“Many bus drivers on rural routes have no access to facilities to wash their hands – a key risk control measure as advised by Public Health England.”

“The safety and welfare of our passengers and drivers during this unprecedented pandemic is our utmost priority; it’s now even more important than ever before. 

“That’s why we’ve been working tirelessly and have introduced an extensive range of robust measures based on government guidance and industry best practice to keep our customers and colleagues as safe as possible while we deliver this essential service.

“Cornwall by Kernow was amongst the first bus operators to issue each and every driver with hand sanitiser as well as gloves as part of their personal protective equipment.

“And in accordance with current government guidance it also  increased its vehicle cleaning regime with daily disinfection of the driver cab and all grab rails, poles and other touchpoints.

“In fact, from the moment drivers and other staff arrive to the depot, at every stage and in every work area, we’ve introduced specific social distancing and other evidence-based measures to do whatever possible to keep our colleagues safe.

“Bus operators in Cornwall and neighbouring counties including Devon and parts of Somerset normally don’t have integrated protective screens fitted on their buses, so we have introduced temporary screens that act as a barrier between drivers and customers, and we are also encouraging passengers to pay by contactless or via our app. 

“We are confident that these flexible screens are of a sufficient quality to help keep our drivers and customers safe. We’re adjusting a few screens to ensure they’re fitted correctly.

“The bus operator is keeping its safety measures, including the temporary flexible screens, under constant review and will introduce further measures as and when government guidance or circumstances changes.”

A spokesperson for Cornwall by Kernow

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