This article was originally published here
Ann Work Expo Health. 2022 May 14:wxac030. doi: 10.1093/annweh/wxac030. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: Age-standardized mortality rates for taxi drivers, chauffeurs, bus and coach drivers show that public transport workers were at high risk at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, the public transport sector was required to continue services throughout the pandemic.
OBJECTIVES: This paper aims to develop a better understanding of the experiences of organizational leaders and workers within the UK public transport sector (bus, rail, and tram). Specifically, it aims to explore the perceived balance of risk and mitigation of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, report on their perceptions of safety in public transport during the pandemic and in the future, and consider how these perceptions and changes impact on long-term worker health and wellbeing.
METHODS: This study formed part of a larger stakeholder engagement with the public transport sector. Organizational leaders and workers were recruited (n = 18) and semi-structured interviews carried out between January and May 2021. Data were analysed thematically.
RESULTS: Overarching and subthemes were identified. Themes relating to perceptions and impacts of risk of COVID-19 for employees included: acceptability of risk for workers, perceptions of risk mitigation effectiveness, changes to working practices and their impact on morale and wellbeing, issues with compliance to mitigations such as social distancing and face coverings in passenger and co-worker groups alongside a lack of power to challenge behaviour effectively, and the roles of leadership and messaging. Themes related to long-lasting impacts of COVID-19 on working practices and effects on health and wellbeing included: continuing mitigations, impact of increasing passenger numbers, impact of vaccination programme, and impact of changes to business structure.
CONCLUSIONS: Most public transport employees reported feeling safe, related to the extent to which their role was public-facing. However, data were collected during a time of very low passenger numbers. Current mitigation measures were thought effective in reducing the risk of viral transmission, although measures may have a detrimental effect on worker morale and wellbeing. Issues relating to non-compliance with guidance and ‘in-group’ behaviour were identified. Impacts on wider business sustainability and individual wellbeing of staff should be considered when developing responses to any future pandemics. Recommendations are made for prioritizing employee engagement with colleagues, and the importance of strong leadership and clear messaging in promoting adherence to behavioural mitigations.