The coronavirus known as Covid-19 is affecting the whole world. It has been described as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, and governments everywhere are taking measures to combat the virus in order to safeguard people and limit deaths.
TSSA is asking members to follow public health advice and to keep in touch with our union on any workplace or employment related matters.
Our officials are in direct contact with the government, the Department for Transport and employers across the rail industry. A committee has been established consisting of all key rail employers, our TSSA General Secretary and the General Secretaries of other rail unions - Rail Industry Coronavirus Forum (RICF). Members will receive regular updates from this forum.
To ensure that our union can keep in touch with you, please make sure we have the correct email address and phone number for you. You can update these via My TSSA or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Advice around the coronavirus pandemic is constantly changing as the rules change. Rules may also be different in each country. The union will update this page and add new guidance when it is available.
This TSSA advice to reps relates to ORR's 'Guidance for dutyholders reviewing controls that have been introduced to mitigate COVID-19 transmission'.
The UK Government published its Roadmap out of Lockdown in February 2021 that involved a cautious step by step approach to relax measures in England introduced in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Based on a strategy reliant on four criteria including increasing vaccinations and any surge in infection rates not putting unsustainable pressure on the NHS, the fourth and final stage of the Lockdown was supposed to have taken place in June, but was deferred for four weeks until Monday 19th July 2021.
Despite the third wave surge in Covid cases since May, with over 40,000 positive cases reported on 14th July alone (42,302 positive tests on 14 July, 245,830 in the seven days up that date, an 53% increase in hospital admissions and a rising death toll (229 in the seven days to 14 July). Website viewed at 1035 on 15th July 2021), the Government has confirmed that, from 19 July, it will be removing most of the legal restrictions that underpinned the measures that had been put in place to cut virus transmission and protect each of us.
At the same time as taking this decision, a situation compounded by a vaccination programme that is far from complete, the Government is urging restraint and caution (Updated 12th July 2021 and viewed at 1041, 15th July 2021), acknowledging that the pandemic is not over and its decision does not mark a return to normal. Instead, cautious guidance will remain in place.
UK Government Guidance (applies in England only)
The UK Government has provided some cautious guidance for individuals, businesses and the vulnerable that applies whilst Covid-19 prevalence remains high and which includes:
- whilst Government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can, Government expects and recommends a gradual return over the summer;
- Government expects and recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded areas such as public transport;
- being outside or letting fresh air in; and
- minimising the number, proximity and duration of social contacts.
What is happening in Scotland and Wales?
The Scottish Government has announced that the nation will move to Level 0 at 00:01 hours on Monday 19 July 2021. This will mean that whilst social distancing and other measures will continue, some changes have been made. Subject to progress in suppressing the virus, measures could be relaxed completely from 9th August 2021. More details can be found at:
In Wales, the First Minister has published a statement in which he advises the nation that from 17 July 2021 it will move to Alert Level One and that, subject to the delta variant spread, a new Level 0 will come into force on 7th August. Details of what this means can be found at:
Office of Rail and Road: “Guidance for dutyholders reviewing controls that have been introduced to mitigate COVID-19 transmission.”
With the withdrawal of legislation supporting Covid-19 measures in England, many of the agreements on things like social distancing and face masks previously agreed and implemented through the Railway Industry Coronavirus Forum will come under review because their legal standing and enforceability has changed.
In recognition of this situation, TSSA and the other railway trade unions have been involved in a series of discussions with the ORR and employers in relation to a guidance document that the Railway Safety Regulator (at the ORR) will use to ensure the railway industry complies with its Covid-19 health and safety duties and responsibilities.
On the evening of 15 July 2021, the unions discussions with the ORR were concluded and reps receiving this document will also find a copy of the guidance attached.
Key messages that TSSA wants to highlight before looking at some of the elements in the ORR principles document are:
A gradual change or easing
The purpose of the document is to ensure health and safety is maintained as gradual easing or changes are made to Covid-19 measures;
No tolerance of a gung-ho approach
TSSA will not tolerate a "gung-ho" approach to withdrawal of Covid measures which we are aware has been the case with a few employers. Those issues have now been dealt with. However, our clear statement to employers is that where our members’ health and safety is endangered and we find it necessary, we will report the matter to the Rail Safety Regulator for his intervention. TSSA will also consider balloting members for industrial action and our members have the legal right to stop what they are doing and withdraw to a safe area if they feel in imminent danger;
Use of the word 'should'
At many points in the ORR’s document the word 'should' is used which means that an employer has a high bar to cross in justifying change. Justifications have to be health and safety related and we believe would be extremely difficult at a time of rising infection;
Change must mean you can continue to work safely
If members feel that their health and safety is endangered, we recommend that you should follow legal protections and the company’s Work Safe arrangements, withdrawing to a safe place (see later);
Full involvement of TSSA reps in reviewing risk assessments
The agreement is predicated on reviewing risk assessments in the light of the current situation in which, apart from a change in the Government’s approach, there has been a dramatic increase in infections and the potential for transmission of the virus. Those reviews must take place with the full involvement of trade union reps. In the event that there is a a failure to consult with you as a TSSA rep of affected staff, you should report it to your TSSA organiser.
How to use the ORR document
The ORR document contains a set of three overriding principles and under each of these are a series of factors to consider.
The three principles are:
Principle A: Use of risk assessments
Any change to CV19 controls – including those that may not have been the subject of prior risk assessment – are now only to be changed following a review of the risk assessment.
Crucially, sufficient time needs to be allowed for completing the reviews and communicating the changes to employees, before implementing any changes. This may take some weeks and must include consulting with union reps “in good time” (see later) which means that the rep must have a chance to consider the risk assessment and be able to speak to their colleagues.
Following Principle A are a series of factors that should be considered, including where maintaining them could provide wider benefit. You will notice that the word ‘should’ appears a lot which is why we have emphasised it on the previous page.
One such example is that of the continued use of face coverings which remain mandatory for transport services operated by Transport for London, Transport Scotland, Transport for Wales, Merseytravel, etc. Furthermore, it is UK Government guidance that it expects and recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded areas such as public transport (see above) but equally that could apply in other workplaces.
Another example is the continuing use of screens and barriers. These have proven to be a significant asset in protecting members from transmission of the virus where staff have had to either work close together (as in a vehicle) or with each other in offices or Control Centres. For staff involved in customer facing roles, they also provide additional benefits like protection from assault which has been recognised by the RSSB as a growing issue for staff on stations in particular.
For those staff in staff in customer facing roles who have to deal with a public that no longer wear face coverings and do not observe social distancing, TSSA would additionally argue that the risk from CV19 is increasing, and risk assessments need to not only remain in place but also ramp up protection.
The ORR document also describes how risk assessments should include consideration of other factors such as the effect of changes on staff whilst also ensuring that there is a process in place to monitor and review changed measures.
Principle B: Keeping pace with Government measures and scientific research
This principle is essentially concerned with the company being ready with emergency plans in case a resurgent Pandemic means the need to restore controls. At the same time, there is a requirement for employers to continue to seek to reduce opportunities for the spread of the virus by considering the use of ventilation systems and engineering controls.
Principle C: Collaboration between duty holders and with trades unions and employees
A collaborative approach between trade unions, employers and the ORR has underpinned how the railway industry has been able to work through the Pandemic to date. The ORR document seeks to reinforce this requirement and goes onto describe the need for consultation at local level but aligned with agreements made at a higher level. This aspect is in the document to prevent rogue employers trying to avoid the requirements of the agreement, perhaps by simply withdrawing all Covid control measures without risk assessment (a breach of law) or consultation with trade union reps (also a breach of law).
Similarly, the agreement references ‘consistency’ across the industry and explains how the ORR will drive that aspiration. Reps and members who become aware that inconsistent approaches are being adopted within their company (eg, perhaps in relation to screens and barriers or the use of face covering) or to a neighbouring employer, should, in the first instance report that to their TSSA organiser.
Additional advice to reps
One of the things that has been highlighted from recent discussions with a railway employer has been the need to ensure a consistent approach by TSSA reps within a firm. On some occasions, this has been compounded by inexperienced reps being pressured by management into agreeing measures that aren’t consistent with what has gone on elsewhere. For this reason, TSSA strongly recommends that reps within each company should ensure they remain in contact with one another (and their TSSA organiser).
Where bargaining structures and agreements allow, reps should consider arranging for risk assessment discussions with employers to be conducted by a senior or lead representative accompanied by the local reps.
Alternatively, and where agreements are not in place, reps should approach their employer about nominating one of their number (perhaps a Company or Divisional Council Rep) to act as the lead person for risk assessment matters and who would then attend such meetings with the relevant local reps (who has the expertise and connections with the people affected) to ensure consistency.
Consultation with reps: the law on risk assessments
What should happen when an employer wants to implement or review a risk assessments is that they must first consult the relevant union reps.
Consultation under a law known as the Safety Reps and Safety Committee Regulations 1977 (SRSC Regs) 1977 should take place with the recognised trade union’s health and safety reps. TSSA’s position – and as advised to all members – is that staff reps should be included when safety reps are not available (or perhaps do not have the relevant knowledge of the subject of the risk assessment).
Where employees are not covered by collective bargaining, the requirements of the Consultation with Employees Regulations 1996 is that ether the affected group nominate a rep or all members of the group are consulted.
The important point under both bits of legislation is that consultation takes place in “good time” which means that reps and staff – those who often know the job and its pitfalls really well - should be involved from an early stage in putting the risk assessment together.
It is not good enough – and breaches the official Code of Practice and the law – if an employer presents what is in essence a fait accompli or fails to consult at all.
TSSA takes this matter very seriously and will engage with the Rail Regulator at the ORR over any breaches of legislation. We will also consult our members over industrial action where members’ health and safety is put at risk by failures in this area.
Further guidance is available in the TSSA Reps Bulletin on Consultation on Risk Assessment which appears on the Union’s Website. Reps are also recommended to contact their TSSA organiser for support and guidance over risk assessments to ensure that their employer does the right thing.
Stopping or Refusing to Work
You have the legal right to refuse to begin a task or continue with a task if you believe that to do so would place you or your colleagues in serious and imminent danger of potential infection by the Covid-19 virus (or any other health and safety issue). The general right originates from Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Your employer must have a procedure in place that allows you or those you represent to do this (for instance, in Network Rail it is called the Worksafe Procedure). Check on what your employer’s procedure is and familiarise yourself with it.
If you are unable to find such a procedure, report that to your TSSA organiser or contact the TSSA Helpdesk.
If you do refuse to commence work or stop working under these circumstances, you should immediately report this to your TSSA organiser or the TSSA Helpdesk.
Tell us what is happening where you work.
If you are in a non-operational role, please complete the Safe at Work form on our website.
Call: 0800 328 2673. The Helpdesk is open 9am-5pm Monday to Thursday and 9am-4pm on Fridays.
Or you can fill out a website form at any time.
The Office for Rail and Road (ORR) has issued legally-binding guidance for dutyholders who are reviewing controls that have been introduced to mitigate COVID-19 transmission.
Purpose and scope
1. This guidance sets out key principles which should be followed when considering the easing of COVID-19 related risk controls, as the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments (‘the Governments’) change guidelines and legislation mitigating the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
2. This guidance is principally aimed at the assessment of COVID-19 risks in the workplace, for employees and contractors, while COVID-19 is still defined as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the Governments.
3. Whilst this guidance is not intended to be used for the management of risks and controls relevant to passengers in relation to transmission of COVID-19, dutyholders should take account of the risk of transmission from passengers to employees and contractors.
4. In April 2020 ORR published ‘Practical guidance for operators on implementing COVID-19 public health advice on trains, trams and stations’. Subsequent revisions have aligned the approach to keep pace with government guidelines and legislation. These principles were enhanced, through a collaborative tri-partite approach by trades unions, dutyholders and ORR. More detailed principles were developed from the analysis of key tasks at workshops reporting to the Railway Industry Coronavirus Forum (RICF). However, these principles were only available to the mainline industry, even though they had clear relevance to all sectors in the GB rail industry.
5. COVID-19 is now a risk in the general population which we are unlikely to eliminate. We are still in a pandemic, however, evidence is now indicating that the mass vaccination programme is having a significant effect on the consequences of contracting COVID-19.
6. The controls put in place by rail industry dutyholders have been driven by risk-assessment. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires that a risk assessment is reviewed where “there is a significant change in the matters to which it relates”. Where controls are directly linked to COVID-19 related legislation and guidance, and the Governments remove these requirements (as more effective means of mitigating the risk of infection are in place), dutyholders should similarly review the risk assessments in light of these changes.
7. This approach needs to be consistent across all sectors of the GB rail industry, supported by trades unions and employees, and therefore ORR is publishing these principles, developed in collaboration with dutyholders and trades unions, to facilitate this consistent approach.
Using risk assessment to review COVID 19 controls following changes to government guidance and legislation.
All risk assessments which are associated with the hazard of COVID-19 transmission should be reviewed whenever there is a change to the Governments guidelines and legislation which removes, modifies or introduces COVID-19 controls and restrictions.
Any control which has been introduced directly to comply with government guidelines and legislation, and not as a result of a risk assessment, (but not relating to requirements for passengers on board trains) should now use risk assessment to consider any risks associated with changing that control.
As the Governments announce changes to guidance and legislation, dutyholders will need to undertake the risk assessment reviews, consult on any changes, collaborate with other dutyholders (to ensure a consistent approach where necessary).
Sufficient time needs to be allowed for completing the reviews and communicating the changes to employees, before implementing any changes.
When considering changing any controls, dutyholders should:
- identify whether there are benefits to retaining the controls permanently or for an extended period, beyond controlling the risk of COVID-19 transmission;
- review risk assessments on a rolling basis as information and data emerge on the impact of relaxations and the effectiveness or otherwise of the controls;
- ensure that the risk assessment is suitable and sufficient and the changes are planned and managed; and
- consider the risk to employees who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, recognising that it may not always be possible to determine an individual’s vaccination status.
Dutyholders should consider gradual easing of any restrictions, particularly with the need to keep service provision at current levels even if infections are increasing in the community.
Further information to support Principle A
COVID-19 controls which may have wider benefits
10. Controls which have been introduced to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 may now have wider benefits which should be considered in the risk assessment reviews. This includes:
Cleaning and hygiene
11. There is wide acceptance by dutyholders, trades unions and the regulator that the cleanliness and hygiene regimes on stations, driving cabs, trains and in the workplace should continue while we are still in a pandemic. Whilst recognising that timetable enhancements may, on occasions, make it challenging to provide time in rosters to support cleaning, dutyholders and trades unions should collaborate on alternative arrangements to ensure that the level of cleanliness will continue to offer some control over COVID-19 transmission and a wider benefit in the control of infections such as common-cold and flu.
12. Maintaining the standard of cleanliness that has been achieved through the pandemic may provide reassurance to passengers and employees and restore confidence that the railway is a healthy and safe mode of travel and place to work.
Ventilation and air filtration
13. Continuing to maintain the changes made to enhance air circulation rates and filtration. (See Principle B, also).
14. Where tasks have been re-designed to facilitate social distancing, but a wider health and safety benefit has been introduced, for example mechanising lifting tasks, continuing with that improved method of working.
Controls to facilitate social distancing
15. Dutyholders should consider retaining barriers and screens which have been introduced to protect staff where social distancing may be compromised, for example in road vehicles, ticket offices and information points, as they may also provide other risk benefits, such as improved safety and security to employees.
16. Some dutyholders have found that clear wayfinding, separating pedestrian flows, has improved the way people move through stations and this may have reduced the risk of slips, trips and falls. Managing crowd density on platforms, including the despatch corridor, has facilitated train dispatch which should improve risk control and may lead to fewer delays.
17. Continuing to provide hand sanitisers, particularly at locations where effective risk control requires people to ‘hold-on’, may encourage people to use escalator and stair handrails, with the assurance they can clean their hands after use. Some train operators predict this approach will reduce the number of falls at these locations.
18. Dutyholders should recognise that some staff may gain reassurance for their own health and well-being from continuing to wear face coverings, and not prohibit the wearing of face coverings.
Information and guidance to passengers
19. This guidance does not cover requirements for passengers on board trains (social distancing and face coverings) however, dutyholders have introduced improvements such as announcements and posters to allow passengers to make informed choices about when they can travel on services which are typically less popular.
20. Some operators have identified key services which are routinely busy and targeted maintenance and availability of vehicles to ensure these trains are not cancelled or formed from fewer vehicles than planned.
21. These activities will continue to help manage crowding on services and should be considered by other operators, particularly while we remain in a pandemic. However, passenger loadings should be regularly monitored to ensure the plans and information keep pace with demand.
22. Where the Governments have different legal requirements and restrictions, dutyholders may need to make arrangements to ensure employees and passengers understand that different restrictions may apply during their journey.
Other factors to consider during risk assessment reviews
23. Dutyholders should check that there has not been skill-fade for employees, in managing situations which they may not have had to deal with since the start of the pandemic. Employees need to be supported, ensuring they still understand what they need to do to manage risks, such as crowding, and managing their own health and safety during activities such as undertaking revenue protection on busy trains.
Monitoring the effectiveness of any changes
24. The risk assessment review should include a plan to monitor the effectiveness of any changes implemented and act on the findings.
Maintain plans to react and adapt, keeping pace with government measures and scientific research, to control COVID-19 transmission
The experience of maintaining and operating the railway, whilst protecting staff and passengers, during a pandemic should not be lost by dutyholders. Emergency plans for dealing with COVID-19 variants and other high risk viruses should be maintained, so that dutyholders are in a state of readiness to restore or adapt established controls.
Dutyholders should, so far as is reasonably practicable, look towards engineering solutions which reduce the likelihood of transmission and make adaptions to existing fleets.
Further information to support Principle B
25. Where the risk assessment reviews, set out in Principle A, conclude that controls may be changed, dutyholders should consider whether they may need to be restored promptly to keep pace with any changes in the Governments guidance or legislation. This may see a reintroduction of controls, such as social distancing and it may be appropriate, for example, to make continued provision for the reintroduction of previously used controls.
26. Dutyholders should continue to look for solutions which reduce the risk of COVID 19 transmission. Research into technological solutions to reduce transmission of COVID-19 and similar viruses through ventilation systems, should be prioritised. Concepts such as UV light treatment, improved filtration, modifying air flows and increasing air circulation rates should be explored.
27. Rolling stock owners should continuously look to reduce the risk of transmission, so far as is reasonably practicable, by making adaptions to the train crew and passenger compartment ventilation systems in existing rolling stock and new train fleets, as technology becomes available.
Collaboration between dutyholders and with trades unions and employees
The level of collaboration that has driven the successful introduction of COVID-19 risk control in the rail industry, through industry working groups and local consultation and engagement, should continue.
This is necessary to ensure a consistent approach and workable solutions for all ongoing activity around removing, adapting or introducing new controls to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
Further information to support Principle C
28. Dutyholders should engage with trades unions and with each other, at a local level and national level, through risk assessment reviews and timing of activities, to ensure consistency of approach across interfaces. ORR inspectors will continue to work with all parties to help resolve any issues, share outcomes and drive this consistency, particularly where there would be a benefit across sectors.
29. Within organisations, local consultation around risk assessment and controls should align with any agreements and outputs from higher level negotiations. Timescales for implementing any changes may vary between dutyholders, depending on the state of readiness to effect the change effectively within each organisation.
30. Where employees of more than one dutyholder share a facility, the dutyholders will need to collaborate to ensure that any risk controls and restrictions are applied by all parties, and complied with by all employees using the facility.
DOCUMENT.CATEGORY: Reps' Resources
Face Covering Updated Guidance for Employees from Rail Industry Coronavirus Forum (RICF) 1 December 2021
DOCUMENT.CATEGORY: Health and Safety
RICF covid guidance on face coverings and working from home
Reps advice: ORR's "Guidance for dutyholders reviewing controls [...] to mitigate COVID-19 transmission."
DOCUMENT.CATEGORY: Health and Safety
Covid-19: advice to reps on ORR's guidance.
ORR guidance for dutyholders reviewing controls that have been introduced to mitigate COVID-19 transmission.
DOCUMENT.CATEGORY: Health and Safety
Covid-19 guidance from the Office of Rail and Road.
Presentation on Covid-19 and BAME from the TSSA Black and Minority Ethnic Conference.
PDF File Covid 19- January 2021 TSSA Guidance on National Lockdown.
DOCUMENT.CATEGORY: Health and Safety
DOCUMENT.CATEGORY: Health and Safety
DOCUMENT.CATEGORY: Health and Safety
TSSA submission to Dáil Éireann Special Committee on Covid-19
Member advice from our Helpdesk
If you are a TSSA member and are looking for advice or assistance in connection with your employment or membership, you can contact our Members’ Helpdesk.
We can advise on a range of workplace issues including; discipline and grievance hearing, maternity rights and redundancy.
Helpdesk opening hours: 09:00 - 17:00 Monday - Thursday | 09:00 - 16:00 Friday
Please note: we cannot undertake to provide advice to non-members, to members of other unions, or to members on behalf of their partners/friends. If you are not yet a member, please join TSSA online.