Bus driver becomes 45th Transport for London worker to die from Covid

Bus driver becomes 45th Transport for London worker to die from Covid as union calls for better safety measures

  • TfL boss Andy Byford said that he was ‘desperately sad’ and ‘it breaks my heart’
  • Mr Byford told Sadiq Khan he knows ‘it does resonate personally with you, Sadiq’
  • Trade union Unite called for improvements to vehicle safety to protect its drivers

The latest death of a bus driver from coronavirus has brought the number of fatalities among Transport for London (TfL) workers during the pandemic to 45.

TfL boss Andy Byford said he was ‘desperately sad’ and ‘it breaks my heart’ that another employee has died.

He told Mayor of London Sadiq Khan – whose father was a bus driver – that he knows ‘it does resonate personally with you, Sadiq, to have lost another colleague’.

Mr Byford, who did not name the person who has died, went on: ‘We are putting every effort into making sure that lessons learned from the early part of the pandemic are embedded and we’re putting a huge focus on making sure that we’re fully prepared for the second wave which does appear to becoming apparent.’

Trade union Unite, which represents more than 20,000 London bus workers, has called for improvements to vehicle safety to better protect drivers and passengers as the virus continues to spread.

It wants to ensure all screens and seals are properly installed, health and safety reps are stood down from normal duties to monitor safety in garages and for a review and enhancement of cleaning regimes.

TfL boss Andy Byford said he was ‘desperately sad’ and ‘it breaks my heart’ that another employee has died (file photo)

TfL has updated its death in service policy so that travel passes for a friend, partner or relative living at the same address as an employee are extended for six months after their death.

‘I think that’s entirely legitimate,’ Mr Byford said. ‘They’ve made the ultimate sacrifice, this is the very least that we can do for wonderful people who through no fault of their own were exposed to this deadly and awful virus.’

During the peak of the pandemic, eight London bus drivers died after contracting the virus in just three days. 

Elsewhere in the country, bus drivers have died in the north-west, Nottingham and Bristol. Union officials said hundreds of depot staff have also fallen ill.

Other transport workers including Tube and rail staff have also lost their lives while at work during the pandemic.

Just weeks into the lockdown in March, drivers complained buses were not being efficiently cleaned.

One driver claimed Transport for London (TfL) placed the responsibility of cleaning on the staff.

There were also reports of a firm in the West Country using a ‘shower screen’ across the cab window to act as a barrier.

London bus driver Mervyn Kennedy, (pictured) 67, died from Covid-19 in April. His devastated family blamed a ‘lack of personal protective equipment’

Other staff members had to use scarves and swimming googles to protect themselves.  

On April 7, London bus driver Mervyn Kennedy, 67, died from Covid-19. His devastated family blamed a ‘lack of personal protective equipment’.

The dad-of-three, who had no underlying health conditions, was rushed to hospital with breathing difficulties and died the following day.

His daughter Ellen wrote on Facebook: ‘No more families need to grieve the loss of a loved one due to the lack of PPE.’

And the daughter of driver Ranjith Chandrapala, 64, called for a public inquiry into how the bus workers are protected.   

Mr Chandrapala died in May after driving the No 92 bus on the Ealing hospital route from the start of the crisis.

His daughter Leshie told the Guardian: ‘We need an initial inquiry to find out what’s gone wrong so more drivers don’t die if there is a second wave of Covid-19 and we also need a public inquiry to see why bus drivers like my dad died and for the necessary parties to take accountability for that.’

Ranjith Chandrapala, (pictured)  64, died in May after driving the No 92 bus on the Ealing hospital route from the start of the crisis

The union Unite has called on TfL to do more to protect both drivers and passengers. 

Currently just a clear plastic screen is a barrier between drivers and passengers. 

But Unite, which represents more than 20,000 London bus workers, wants to see all screens and seals installed properly.

They also suggest health and safety representatives abandon normal duties to monitor garages, and are calling for a review and enhancement of cleaning regimes.

Unite officer John Murphy said: ‘The death of Kofi Opoku is a terrible reminder of the horrible human cost of Covid-19. Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.  

‘With infection rates rising swiftly and the knowledge we have gained from the first wave, it is absolutely essential that all these safety measures are introduced to protect bus drivers and their passengers.

The union Unite has called on TfL to do more to protect both drivers and passengers and are calling for a review and enhancement of cleaning regimes

‘During the first lockdown London bus drivers played a vital role in keeping the capital moving, and for that too many paid the ultimate price.

‘Significant safety procedures have been already introduced, but action needs to be taken to reinforce those measures.’

Claire Mann, TfL’s director of bus operations, said there had been a ‘relentless focus’ on cleaning to keep drivers safe.

‘Our thoughts are with the friends and family of Kofi Opoku at this awful time’, she said.  

‘We will continue to do everything that is humanly possible to protect transport workers and customers.

‘This is why we worked with Unite to deliver safety improvements and continue to work closely with them to ensure drivers continue to be as safe as possible while at work.

‘All bus operators have safety measures in place, which includes a relentless focus on cleaning and the introduction of long-lasting anti-viral cleaning fluid.

‘To give drivers extra reassurance this is happening, we will carry out inspections at sites where concerns are raised.’

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