On May 14, OSHA issued a short guidance document for the car and ride service industry to reduce risk of exposure to coronavirus for its workers. The guidance is issued to rideshare, taxi, and car service workers, although many such drivers are independent contractors and not covered under OSHA’s jurisdiction. Even for workers who are in an employment relationship, the guidance is not a binding regulation, although rideshare, car service, and taxi companies should still consider these suggestions as good practices. (Note that the CDC issued much more comprehensive guidance on April 17, 2020 available here, and many rideshare companies have also published COVID-19 pandemic response plans.)
The OSHA guidance includes some of the usual advice we have heard for months, including masking, disinfecting, and encouraging sick workers to stay home – but it also makes a few novel suggestions to take note of, such as assuring adequate air flow by advising drivers to open windows. The guidance suggests some practices and requires others. Items that are phrased as a mandate include:
- Ensure “routine” cleaning and disinfecting of vehicle door handles and inside surfaces (with a qualifying coronavirus-killing disinfectant);
- Advise drivers to lower vehicle windows to increase airflow;
- Provide drivers and riders with alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol;
- Provide drivers with disposable towels and qualifying coronavirus-killing disinfectant; and
- Provide drivers and riders with tissues and trash receptacles.
The following additional practices are encouraged or suggested by OSHA:
- Encourage drivers to stay home if they are sick.
- Allow drivers to wear masks over their nose and mouth to prevent spread of the virus, and ask customers to do the same.
- Limit the number of passengers drivers can transport at a single time, and install plexiglass partitions between driver and passenger compartments where possible.
- Encourage drivers to report any safety and health concerns
Given how widespread drivers for taxi, rideshare, and car service businesses tend to be at any given time throughout the day, accommodating all of these guidelines quickly may be a challenge. However, in order to demonstrate a commitment to driver safety and potentially limit liability for potential future claims (whether a government citation or a private claim made by an employee or independent contractor), service providers should consider how to integrate some or all of these practices into their business model, if they have not already done so. Some possible measures to adopt may include:
- Draft employee communications regarding cleaning, masking and staying home when sick, and circulate through multiple avenues such as emails, texts, phone messaging, and/or signs posted at dispatch stations and/or driver centers.
- Provide signs for drivers to place in their vehicles to remind both driver and rider of safe practices such as masking and frequent sanitizing/hand-washing – both in hard copy and in digital form (if drivers want to print them at home).
- Supply packages of coronavirus prevention supplies such as hand sanitizer, paper towels and disinfectant, tissues and trash receptacles, and perhaps even face-coverings (some of our clients in other industries are providing complimentary branded face coverings, to hand out to workers and customers alike – of course this is limited by cost and by the ability to order and procure supplies quickly).
- Consider when a plexiglass or other type of partition may be appropriate and feasible to install or reimburse for. (Various manufacturers are already working on developing partition solutions to fit a variety of situations.)
- Examine how dispatch centers and apps can adjust their ride-matching practices to limit cross-contamination and reduce exposure.
- Assure that there is a robust protocol for reporting safety and health concerns, ideally through multiple methods, and retrain all drivers on those methods.
As states begin to reopen, more and more customers will be hailing rideshares and taxis. All efforts taken to preserve safety during the pandemic should be amply documented, including communications to drivers, purchase orders for safety supplies, distribution checklists, and documentation of quick investigation and resolution of driver reports of safety and health concerns. Monitor state and local guidance and regulations and CDC guidelines for further tips. And if you need assistance with drafting employee communications, policies, investigating concerns, or managing an OSHA inquiry, please contact any member of Jackson Lewis’s COVID-19 or Workplace Safety teams.