A report commissioned by waste management company Veolia has found that keeping refuse collection vehicles ventilated is “key” to preventing the spread of Covid-19 among crews.
Released yesterday (March 4), the study began in August 2020 in partnership with Veolia’s teams and vehicle manufacturers.
Carried out by University College London, it focused on the risks of drivers and loaders catching Covid-19, considering issues of vehicle operation, staff bubbles, hygiene practises and the challenges of wearing face coverings while working.
The report shows that while it is widely believed infection can occur through contaminated surfaces and droplets from coughs and sneezes, there can also be transmission through small aerosols suspended in air, especially in indoor environments like vehicle cabs.
Veolia said that providing as much fresh air as possible and keeping the vehicles well ventilated “is key” for reducing these aerosols.
As awareness of airborne transmission indoors has grown, the report says modifications in vehicle operations to manage airflow have taken place, which includes keeping cab windows open by at least 10cm during use.
According to the report, doing so will help guard against aerosol transmission, and also help crew alertness by keeping CO2 levels lower in the cab.
By combining this with other measures, such as employee bubbles, Veolia said that the waste sector can “further support key workers” to maintain better Covid security.
Commenting on the research Richard Hulland, chief risk and assurance officer at Veolia said: “The safety of our teams is at the heart of everything we do, and this report marks a significant step forward in our understanding of this type of virus.
“We have taken a scientific approach all the way through the pandemic, and can now further enhance the Covid controls already in place and protect our key workers from it. By gaining greater knowledge of the cabin airflow and surface contamination, and implementing vehicle, operational and cleaning regime changes, we have also made an important contribution for the future welfare of our teams.”
The first phase of work for the report reviewed Covid-19 measures on the existing vehicle fleet, including recommendations on cleaning practices, ventilation and operational strategies.
The second phase of analysis looked at the ventilation of the vehicles, which included carrying out microbiological assessments.
Co-author of the report, Liora Malki-Epshtein from UCL, said that following many years where energy-saving has “dominated the agenda”, there has been a slow transition towards designing airtight indoor spaces, where indoor spaces circulate “stale air”.
“Environmental sustainability.. needs to be achieved in novel and creative ways, achieving a healthy balance between good air quality indoors and outdoors”
She continued: “This seems to be even more true for vehicles, where standards of ventilation do not exist in the industry, and results in energy and emissions savings being made at the expense of fresh air. We now understand this to be poor design that is putting our health at risk from airborne infectious diseases. Environmental sustainability is vitally important for our future, and it needs to be achieved in novel and creative ways, achieving a healthy balance between good air quality indoors and outdoors.”