One of the positives to come out of the recent jolt to the market has been the eagerness of companies across the industry to share their advice to others on how best to adjust to the so-called new normal we are all facing.

Case in point, a webinar hosted by Dubai Chamber and supported by RoadSafetyUAE last month that brought together a wide selection of fleet and operations managers to discuss how they are the introducing new practices to ensure their drivers and workforce can stay safe and healthy during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Syed Atif Ali, program manager CSR, Dubai Chamber, said he wanted the event to get member companies to share then steps they taking to protect their employees and, in particular, their drivers from exposure to COVID-19.

“The aim (of this webinar) is to address the health and safety of commercial drivers as they are likely to be at higher risk during this pandemic due to the exposure they get,” said Atif Ali. “They are the unsung heroes delivering critical medical and food supplies in this time of crisis.”

Having spread from the Chinese city of Wuhan at the turn of the year, the UAE first began introducing measures to tackle the spread of the virus in March before enforcing a lockdown of the country on Saturday, 4 April. Firms were suddenly forced to implement measures that meant an unprecedented strain on their day-to-day operations such as infection control and safe work practices; the acquisition of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to prevent worker and driver exposure; while addressing the need to keep vehicles out on the road sanitised.

“Since this is an ongoing situation, we are all learning how to deal with it,” Atif Ali sums up. “We recognise that our member companies are committed to comply with regulatory requirements and have adopted industrial practices to the best of their knowledge.”
Roshan Menon, quality and safety manager, Emirates, stressed that social distancing will become the ‘new norm’ even in the travel and hospitality sectors.

He added that the famous brand is looking at the use of synthetic partition and isolators that segregate the passenger and driver as way of enabling the safe sharing of vehicles.
In the aftermath of the outbreak the world it has issued instructions within its Transport Services set-up asking providers to improve their vehicle sanitisation practices and driver management processes to safeguard colleagues and passengers.

“As a precautionary control, providers have been instructed to create and monitor infection control procedures that include daily health monitoring of drivers (using thermal scanning) at their accommodation and workshops, and increased cleaning with alcohol-based products,” he explained.

Part of the sanitisation measures include explicit advice to ensure every vehicle is wiped down at the start of every shift. Drivers are also being frequently briefed on good hygiene practices that follow WHO (World Health Organisation) and Dubai Health Authority guidelines. If a driver has been quarantined or asked to do a health check, the assigned vehicle must be isolated and washed down.

“The Transport Services Health and Safety team are validating this through periodic audits,” he said.

Fenu Rehana is a manager at Dulsco’s own health and safety executive. To protect its 14,000-strong workforce and the communities they serve, he said the services company is, “actively implementing our business continuity plan and implementing all the health and safety measures for our staff and communities first. We at Dulsco have a motto of powering better communities and we believe that this is the time are to stand and deliver.”

According to Rehana, the key to successfully implementing its own Covid-19 safety programme is transparency, flexibility and resilience.

“We are taking this head-on,” affirms Rehana. “We have a Covid Action Group which meets daily and discusses all proactive measures to mitigate the risk. We also have a our HSE training team which is commissioned to do sanitisation. (They are) very important at present for transportation where we have a lot of buses.”

The company started early with its anti-coronavirus strategy in March; setting up hundreds of sanitiser facilities throughout its offices and employee accommodation, as well as implementing sanitisation programmes for its fleet. You cannot now enter a Dulsco facility without passing through a disinfectant zone and buses used to carry workers have been fitted out with sheeting to protect drivers and passengers.

With their vehicles ventilated and cleaned using disinfectant before each shift, drivers are being checked to see if they have a temperature before going out onto the road. They are furthermore responsible for the safety of passengers.

“They are being asked to take the lead and ensure everyone boarding the bus is being checked for a temperature,” he revealed.

Getting information on the risks being posed by Coronavirus out into the workforce was critical during the early stages within Dulsco, he added.

“Prior to this pandemic, we started escalating with a lot of sessions done by doctors close to our accommodation. We have done a lot of training in terms of cleaning and sanitising.”
Much of this training is now being conducted online and workers can access pages of information in a multitude of languages to ensure that it is easy for everyone to understand the precautions they need to take.

“We have started online and offline platforms and toolbox of is one of the most important to communicate all these messages to drivers as basically one-to-one or face-to-face training is not allowed and it is difficult to get training done,” he said. “When they go out to the communities in vehicles and buses, we want to give them the right brief on how to sanitise and how to get their PPE ready. We provide waste management PPE and safety glasses to all employees.”

In addition to these measures, the company is using posters as part of the ongoing awareness drive to keep people safe.

“Everybody is aware of the preventive measures in place and the new guidelines that needs to be followed which on a daily basis we get from the government and the authorities. Transport, buses and waste management vehicles are mobile environment prone to the spread of infectious diseases such as cold and flues. And specifically in terms of Coronavirus, it is very important to sanitise those vehicles.”

Sundarmoorthy Hariharaiyer, manager, Warehousing & Transportation at Transworld said the logistics and shipping company was now closely guarding its facilities against the threat posed by the outbreak.

“Our security personnel at the Entry/Exit gate post check the temperature of all visitors, customers and employees. If their temperature is above 37°Celsius they do not allow that person inside the premises and advise them to go to a medical clinic,” he began.

Hand sanitiser dispensers have been installed throughout all locations and employees have been advised to regularly use sanitiser during the day to reduce risk of infection. All employees are meanwhile asked to wear medical masks and hand gloves to protect against infection. Drivers must run through a series of check and sanitise the vehicle completely, “before he starts the vehicle.”

Like Dulsco, briefings have become a daily ritual at the company with the Group HR CSR team playing a vital role, he added: “By educating our employees and revealing the importance of Safety Health, and routine basic medical check ups are conducted at our premises for everyone.”

“The basic medical check-up is free for employees who work on the floor,” Hariharaiye commented. “So they all are well aware about the precautions that need to be taken. On top of that, within the company, we have a dedicated doctor who visits once a month to our office and guides all of our employees and understand their problems.”

At the start of the lockdown over two-thirds (70%) of the Transworld staff were forced to work from home but the company was able to fall back on its cloud-ordering system to keep sales, warehousing and logistics operations connected.

“We were the first in the industry to switch to cloud… Everything is digitalised. No customer needs to call; with the click of a button they can get the details: for instance, if they need a stock report or if they need to know where the vehicles are. We also provide an app to all the drivers who can inform the customer when the product is going to be delivere by clicking a link to upload the details.

“This is a difficult time. We all are working together to overcome these current challenges but we are very much optimistic that this is a temporary period.”
Tristar Group operates in 20 countries within business verticals of shipping and is one of the region’s leading road hauliers.

“We are already involved in many initiatives and work with local authorities like the RTA to keep our drivers safe on roads,” remarked Arundhan Alphones, AGM-Operation RTW, Tristar Group. “You all aware of challenges in road transport but now we have another challenge to ensure our drivers remain and deliver product essential for our survival.”

According to Alphones, Tristar drivers complete 25.3 million km per year in the UAE alone.

“That is the equivalent of 30 round trips to the moon, so you can imagine the risks involved in road safety and we have aligned drivers with our values in our day-to-day operation.”
He continued: “Our drivers are in close contact with our customers and away from offices; and so we quickly developed a control framework that this is in line with the UAE government as well as the information what we are receiving from the WHO.”

With the flood of information on how to properly remain operational, he explained that, initially, there was some confusion on what the best measures to implement across its vast operation would be. He said the solution was to set-up Mission Control, a team that can cascade advice down through the firm and into its operations.

Soon drivers were learning about the importance of thermal screening as well as why and how their entire vehicle and accommodation were to be sanatised. Basic PPE for the drivers and the employees was also made available with social distancing the key to keeping them and anyone they came into contact with safe.

“A permit is issued to the drivers every day after they are checked while boarding the bus at their accomodation – if he is sick he is isolated in a separate room,” he explained.
With drivers moving between cities and borders, Tristar also began releasing a Daily

Bulletin that detailed the precautions needed to be taken before driving but also border information – local information – on work permits, PPE requirements, and more.

“We get it daily around 6-7 o’clock AM. I’m amazed how it is being captured. They work the entire night and publish in the morning to get the fresh news out,” he enthused.

With personal hygiene and strict adherence to new guidelines now a must, Alphones said the drivers are the best way to judge how the company is adapting to a new way of working.

“You can see the change day-by-day,” he remarked. “COVID-19 is giving a new life for everyone to learn the importance of safety. We were struggling when we first started road safety awareness but now I can see each and every driver’s caution. Transportation should not come to a standstill in this kind of situation.”

Suneeth Mathew works as sales support and SHE officer for the UAE subsidiary of one of the world’s biggest FMCG brands Nestlé. He said, as always, for the company people are at the heart of its business and it is working hard to keep its employees, partners and communities where it operates safe during the coronavirus outbreak.

He explained that all the Nestlé factories are in the region and other parts of the world are up and running, but it has placed additional safety measures across its factories, offices and distribution centres.

“We work closely with our supply chain distributors and retail partners to implement appropriate infection control measures and ensure continued production and delivery of our products across the world,” said Mathew. “We are determined to ensure the continued availability of food.”

Nestlé UAE froze international travel at the start of the lockdown and asked pregnant employees or those with underlying health issues to work from home. It also introduced thermal checks for all the employees coming into its office with drivers given access to complete a thermal check if they are feeling unwell.

“An awareness communication was rolled out in all the offices across UAE and has been displayed on all the monitors,” he added. “So, employees are seeing the hygiene measures sent out by the DHA and the Nestlé sites.

“Proper guidance was given to the cleaning star to ensure the safety of our employees in offices, and also in the factories they were told to increase the times they clean the premises (using proper hygiene measures and sanitisers). A subsequent awareness communication was sent to all the employees using different platforms like workplace solution the through a Facebook emails and WhatsApp, he explained, adding that special instructions have been handed to those transporting its products.

“For me, my drivers are basically merchandisers who make sure Nestlé products are available in supermarkets and hypermarkets for all of us,” he remarked. “We have given them safety kits, like masks and sanitisers and gloves for their safety. So, even when they use their own cars, they are protected and encouraged to use sanitisers for their safety.”