Social distancing at work

I have been made aware that training courses are taking place and concerns have been raised that those involved (students and trainers) may not be compliant with social distancing. My first thought was that we encourage regular hand washing, no more shaking hands, high-fives or social hugging and the Trust operates a Temperature checking system at all locations and anyone who has an increased temperature is sent home. I recently collected much-needed training equipment from a course location in Norwich and conveyed it to similar in St Neots. There were no issues raised at either location and all concerned were in good spirits.

Social distancing has certain limitations and if looked at from a pragmatic viewpoint, there are simple ways that we can achieve the aims without preventing essential tasks from being carried out or making them harder to perform. If meetings or interviews take place, they could be held in large rooms with fewer attendees all sitting remote from one another or with virtual attendees linking in via video calls. In crew rooms and kitchens, we could actively reduce the number of members using the facility at any one time. In ambulances we have no option other than to work in the crew cab with our crew partner.

In AOCs they have an increased problem due to the “nature of the beast”; a call handling facility designed to house large numbers of terminals to manage the volume of incoming calls and facilitating their dispatch to ambulances. The construction of these call centres was designed to accommodate a high number of staff and this has created its own issues which are being addressed.

With regard to training courses, there is a need for students to be together when learning is taking place and this is particularly so when practical training such as manual handling and CPR is being conducted. These skills are the same that are being performed on a daily basis by our crews and students benefit from additional learning by observing others who are performing tasks.

The same applies to the Driver Training Unit; daily checks on arrival to ensure that everyone is well and exercising personal discipline with regard to visits to the kitchen, If it is occupied, wait outside. Once in the ambulances they experience the same level of social distancing to that of the qualified crews out on the road.

The Fleet mechanics are constrained by the physical layout of their workshops, the hoists and lifts, and certain tasks require two or more technicians to carry out the job safely. The workshops operate a restricted entry policy which is intended to reduce the number of persons from entering a potentially hazardous area and this is part of their social distancing from other people. AFAs and MROs likewise have their own work areas that others should respect and avoid unless it is absolutely necessary or authorised. Restricting access to their area, socially distances them from others but enables them to carry out their functions.

At the Holding Centre where the additional ambulances are being gathered, a small number of staff are working in a large open building taking stock of deliveries, sorting equipment and preparing the various ambulances with medical equipment in readiness should they be required. They are all wearing a hi viz jacket and exercising social distancing relevant to their working environment whilst carrying out this vital role.

On a daily basis I am witness to a high number of “breaches” in respect of social distancing, but these are by members of the public, not ambulance employees. Outside of our service, it is as if a “phoney war” was taking place, comings and goings as per normal, neighbours visiting neighbours, popping in for a chat and a cuppa, walkers engaging in greetings and hugs with friends, family gatherings and social drinking in gardens still going ahead. 

Those who flaunt the social distancing are often offensive or aggressive towards anyone that might dare to remind them, so few people bother to remind them or point out the errors of their ways, not wanting to rock the boat or affect neighbourly relationships.

Social distancing can be achieved in a number of ways that will enable life to continue, not in the normal way we are used to, but in a way that can be tolerated and easily achieved. If anyone does have any issues with regard to social distancing in their workplace, it should be raised with the supervisor or manager as a matter of course and in line with health, safety and wellbeing of all concerned.