Can Fleet Safety Procedures Be Harmful to Driver Health?

Can Fleet Safety Procedures Be Harmful to Driver Health?

By Jasmine Glasheen

May 2020

Safety has always come first in the fleet industry. However, the coronavirus outbreak has encouraged fleet leaders to put safety culture at the forefront of their list of priorities. Organizations with a great safety record do so with a culture of safety-present as policy. Many fleet organizations have had to enact stricter safety protocols to prevent pathogen spread in fleet vehicles. The CDC suggests that drivers disinfect vehicles with a “diluted bleach solution,” or a solution comprised of 70% alcohol.

Cutting-Edge Solution
The MTA in New York City, on the other hand, is rolling out 230 far ultraviolet-C lamps to clean some of its busier buses, trains and facilities. UV-C is a short-wavelength, ultraviolet light that is germicidal––it breaks apart germ DNA, leaving it unable to function or reproduce. Jon Montgomery, a co-founder of startup Arrow Robotics Ltd., described UV-C light, “UVC is highly effective but its limitation is that it’s only line-of-sight effective. In a typical vehicle interior, the UV treatment will kill almost all of the virus, but not all of it. That’s why Arrow uses a two-stage procedure: UVC light as well as electrostatic disinfectant misting—using CDC approved disinfectants—to kill what the light misses. By using this approach, the need for conventional wipe-downs is dramatically reduced, saving time and labor cost.” He adds, “In essence, we can shrink down our equipment package to suit the volume of a vehicle’s interior instead of a jetliner cabin.”

The Most Popular Disinfection Methods
It would be neglectful to assume that disinfectants used to deep-clean fleet vehicles between uses wouldn’t also pose a risk to driver health when not orchestrated correctly. Is “the cure is as bad as the cancer,” for driver health when fleet managers sanitize vehicles?
Bob Mossing, Director of Global Fleet Administration at STERIS Corporation, has the same concern of many fleet managers in the industry today: what to do with a vehicle if an employee (or family member allowed to use the personal use vehicles) contracts the virus? Fortunately, STERIS Corporation’s accident management company had already stepped up to the plate.
“As it turns out, Fleet Response, our accident management company, has partnered with Stanley Steemer and ServiceMaster to sanitize vehicles with ‘EPA-registered and approved disinfectants.’” This gives us an immediate solution should we have to deal with a vehicle that may need cleaning. Since our vehicles are primarily at our drivers’ homes, they can be cleaned there.”
Cleaning fleet vehicle in the Covid era isn’t just a one-and-done proposition. Stephen Dunn, Founder and CEO at PURIFYD says that to disinfect a fleet vehicle, it is most important to take a systemic approach.
“You need to address surfaces, interior air quality and the air handling systems,” Dunn says.
“Fogging is an ideal solution for that provided you follow a well-structured treatment protocol and have a fogger that is sized appropriately for your vehicles.”
Ronald Gitelman, Senior Fleet Administrator at Yale University, says that his team has started a weekly disinfecting routine for the fleet vehicles currently in service, but adds that his business is basically shut down until at least June––or longer.
“Our highest concern is the public safety vehicles on campus,” Gitelman says. “I have two vendors handling the disinfecting at about $80 per vehicle (CT is a high-priced state - it might be cheaper in TN). Each vehicle takes about one hour- you clean the vehicle, then spray the inside, it has to sit, then wipe down, and let the vehicle sit so any fumes are out of the vehicle.”
Gitelman adds that as far as driver health is concerned, “They use EPA-approved disinfectants which are also approved by our Health and Safety department. They are cleaning about 25 vehicles weekly between the two vendors and completing the cleaning in a day.”
Stephen Dunn, says that on the transport side, his team is contemplating using a Ryobi fogger/mister, which sells for about $100.00 with a product like Sanizide Plus.
“It complies with OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard,” Dunn says, “and it is non-corrosive, EPA-registered and a quaternary ammonium compound. I would recommend not soaking, just a mist letting it air dry to allow the product time to work.”
But not everyone can get their hands on the best foggers and misters, as they’re currently hot-ticket items and selling out fast. Ronald Gitelman cautions that while products such as the Ryobi mister are known to be effective, “The problem is availability.”
“You need a good solution and most sellers of acceptable solutions are showing long back orders,” Gitelman says. “The (Ryobi) mister is showing up to a 12-week backorder.”
“When the immediate crisis has passed,” Gitelman continues, “we are looking at a company called Bio-One. They have an application they say lasts up to six months and you can get the disinfectant in spray bottles to touch up over the six months. There are other companies and you might find one near your location (Atlanta, Nashville, or even Ohio may have companies that do this work). The pricing is about $180 per vehicle which is only $30 per month. They mess up, they will pay the price and we are absolved of liability.”
It’s not just about legal liability, however. Fleet drivers––many of whom are uninsured and might have pre-existing health conditions such as obesity or diabetes––are rightfully concerned about their health.
Gitelman adds, “Another consideration is if your organization handles the application of the solution and disinfecting it could be subject to a legal liability if not done correctly (fumes in vehicle making people sick, not wiping down properly, etc.). If you have a health and safety department, they should be able to guide you through the training and you might want to check with your General Counsel for liability issues.”

Long-Term Considerations for Driver Health
Fleet leaders need to demonstrate to drivers that they are taking the proper precautions to ensure their health and safety in order to retain their frontline workers in an environment where companies are competing for delivery drivers. So, could the very disinfection products being used to protect drivers from airborne illnesses such as Covid also be having a negative long-term impact on driver health?
Steven W. Saltzgiver, Director of Business Development at Mercury Associates Inc., says that the health effects of sanitizing services on drivers after the application are difficult to know at this time.
“But like any viable product the majority will be certified by a regulated agency like the EPA. The EPA-certified products require appropriate labeling with instructions and warnings for application and use.”
To mitigate any unknown impacts of air sanitization procedures on driver health, some fleet agencies are requiring a mandatory “wait time” between fleet vehicle cleaning and when a driver uses the vehicle(s).
“I’ve seen wait times from fleet managers ranging anywhere between 45 minutes to 24 hours.,” Saltzgiver says. “But, most importantly measures should be taken to understand the product uses and to read the directions carefully on each cleaning product label which could differ.”
Saltzgiver says fleet leaders need to be thorough in reading the detailed instructions on the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of each cleaning product before application and usage. “The MSDS information is required and managed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and can be found by reviewing this website.”
He adds that additional vehicles may need to be brought into service to accommodate
any added time requirements if vehicles need to stay off the line for an “air-out” period.
“Following the MSDS guidelines for training and the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is critical,” Saltzgiver says. “As a fleet chooses a disinfecting product, they must consider many independent factors like, effective contact duration time, PPE requirements and residue exposure to employees, and the long-term impact on all types of vehicle surfaces being disinfected (rubber, metal, plastic, etc.).”
“Additionally,” he adds, “it is critical to review the MSDS for information about the toxicity, corrosivity, finish degradation and drying effect… to understand how long the vehicle should sit before attempting to disinfect and clean vehicles. Some fleet agencies reported that they had to quarantine vehicles up to 72 hours before cleaning with a disinfectant. The CDC guideline says, wait 24 hours or as long as practical before beginning cleaning and disinfecting vehicles.”

Organizational Liabilities to Heed
So, where does organizational liability end and driver liability begin? Should employees/potential vehicle users need to assert they are not allergic, asthmatic, or otherwise negatively affected by the chemicals used in fleet cleaning before using the vehicles? Steven Saltgiver weighs in: “Each fleet needs to review the MSDS information that will have the majority of specific guidance related to any adverse effects of the product being used. It’s important that fleet management understand the MSDS and communicate these instructions and warnings to all employees who might be involved in operating, moving or cleaning the vehicles.
“A company can inadvertently put itself in jeopardy of negligence if it doesn’t make sure application won’t do more harm to the driver because of pre-existing conditions,” Saltzgiver continues. “It would be highly irresponsible not to follow all precautions as a manager. This is why it’s critical to protect yourself (company, management and employees) by following the directions and product protocols contained on the MSDS information provided by each product manufacturer prior to any use.”
Now more than ever, fleet leaders need to be aware and adequately communicate safety protocols to other members of the organization. Whether using UV-C light, fogging, or misting vehicles, it’s critical to follow instructions and to refrain from using vehicles until the residual impact of each treatment has dissipated.
 Gitelman adds, “We don’t know what will happen in six months -- will the virus spike again as predicted by health experts or will it fade? We don’t know, but as a fleet manager it is our responsibility to ensure people are as safe as possible in the vehicles.”

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