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How can transportation businesses ensure passenger and staff health in a COVID-19 world?

Harry Wood

The large numbers of people using public transport and being close together in confined spaces make hygiene and infection prevention major priorities for operators. People travelling on buses, trains, planes and ferries have to stand or sit close together for long periods, putting them at risk of infection from others via contaminated surfaces or airborne transmission.

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Routes of infection

Public transport passengers can come into contact with multiple surfaces that others touch in places such as where they buy tickets, wait to board, use facilities in a transport hub, move in and out of vehicles and touch railings, grab handles, seats and tables during travel.

Surfaces are also routes of infection from the larger respiratory droplets that quickly fall out of the air and contaminate surfaces near the infected person. Passengers and staff have to share the air in the confined spaces inside vehicles, potentially exchanging respiratory aerosols containing virus particles. These stay afloat – travelling in air currents inside enclosed spaces – and reach people many metres away. Due to their small size they can enter deep into the lungs and potentially infect tissue there. Measures to protect passengers from COVID-19 will also be effective in reducing risks from other diseases such as colds, flu, norovirus and a range of bacterial infections.

There are other risks that are still present during the pandemic, but are sometimes forgotten. Pests including rodents, flies, biting insects and birds are vectors for many diseases – transmitted in filth on their bodies, droppings, nesting material and bites – and can cause physical damage to buildings and fittings.

It’s essential for transport operators to take suitable measures to protect the health of both staff and passengers in all areas of the transportation network and so limit infections spreading to the wider population. As increasing numbers of people return to work, the passenger numbers will increase, too. Both passengers and staff need reassurance that they’re safe from infection.

Here are three areas where transportation companies can take action to protect passengers and staff.

1. Disinfection


When there’s a direct risk of infection from the coronavirus, which is currently the situation in most countries, there’s a need to regularly disinfect vehicles and premises. Coronavirus remains viable on surfaces from several hours to three days, depending on the material and environmental conditions.

Specialist disinfection service providers have the training and equipment to ensure the safety of the operators and the public and provide a higher level of treatment. Different levels of disinfection and precautions will be needed depending on the severity of the risk.

  • Precautionary: when there’s no confirmed contamination but disinfection is needed to reduce the risk of infection to protect passengers and staff. This can include nightly disinfection of buses and train carriages to maintain hygienic surfaces commonly touched during travel.
  • Intermediate: this is similar to the high level treatment but the premises or vehicle has been closed or unused for at least three days. The viability of the coronavirus is greatly reduced in this time, so the biosecurity risk is lower.
  • High level: when there’s known contamination, a rapid response and high level of biosecurity are required, including disposal of contaminated waste. Treatments will be more thorough and a report provided showing effective and legally compliant procedures were followed.

2. Integrated hygiene

Intergrated hygiene

Integrated hygiene is a means to make public and staff areas in a transport network safe from infection – especially in washrooms. There’s not one route of infection for a respiratory virus, so a package of hygiene measures is essential to break the chain of infection at all possible points. The air, surfaces and hands are all routes of infection – each requiring specific products and procedures to keep them hygienic. 

Air hygiene

Ventilation is the first measure to remove contaminated air-borne particles in enclosed spaces, but requires fresh air to be added to the room – which is not always possible in modern buildings – and effective filtration by HVAC systems. Air filtration devices can also be added to a room to remove contaminated aerosols. In washrooms, toilet flushing is the main source of airborne particles and these are contaminated with faecal matter and urine.

Surface hygiene

All touched surfaces need to be kept clean, including door handles, flush handles, taps, counter tops and equipment requiring manual operation. The floor is a major repository for airborne droplets and dirt brought in on people’s footwear. Cleaning staff need suitable equipment and solutions for cleaning, sanitising and disinfecting.

Hand hygiene

Provide suitable handwashing facilities in washrooms. A clean, pleasant environment with soap and hand-drying equipment encourages people to wash their hands. Contactless equipment reduces the number of contaminated surfaces that people have to touch, including taps and dispensers for soap, hand towels and hand sanitiser. Hand sanitiser stations should also be placed in strategic locations for passengers to disinfect their hands after touching potentially contaminated surfaces while travelling.

3. Pest control

Transportation provides multiple opportunities for pests to shelter, feed and breed. Large buildings with complex designs, many hidden spaces and inaccessible places have a wide range of ideal habitats for urban pests.

Pest control

The large, transient human population needs feeding, which places large amounts of food and food waste in easy reach. People also carry food around and discard it where pests can easily access it. We humans are a source of food for biting insects. Some of these fly and others are human and pest ectoparasites that crawl onto their hosts from seating or find shelter and transport in luggage.

The list of pests is longer than you think!

  • Ants: seek food, damage outdoor areas and plants, sting
  • Bed bugs: a blood-feeding parasite that can infest places where people sit or lie for long periods, even on  vehicles
  • Birds (mainly pigeons, starlings and sparrows): foul buildings, damage buildings, are vectors of disease
  • Bees: build nests in and around buildings, pose a hazard from stings and some species damage masonry
  • Cockroaches: food pests, especially near food stores and kitchens, are vectors of disease
  • Fleas: are blood-feeding parasites of humans, rodents and birds, and are vectors of disease
  • Flies: are food pests, especially around food waste, and are vectors of disease
  • Lice: are blood-feeding human and pest parasites, and are vectors of disease
  • Mosquitoes: are blood-feeding and are vectors of disease
  • Rodents: are food pests, vectors of disease and cause physical damage to buildings and equipment
  • Ticks: are blood-feeding parasites and vectors of disease carried by rodents and birds
  • Wasps: build nests in and around buildings, pose a hazard from stings and some species damage wooden structures

Pests are an ongoing, complex problem for transportation operators, requiring integrated pest management solutions to prevent and detect infestations and damage. During a lockdown, however, when fewer people have been travelling and staff numbers have been reduced, pests can take advantage of a lack of disturbance. In this case, targeted recovery pest services will be needed to deal with specific problems.

Protecting public transport from pest and hygiene risks

Pest and hygiene risks come in all shapes and sizes – from microscopic viruses up to rats and seagulls. They can affect all types of public transport, including trains, buses, aircraft and ferries, the stations and terminals and all parts of the transportation infrastructure.

Both pest control and a full range of hygiene measures are critical for protecting the health and wellbeing of staff and passengers, as well as preventing buildings and equipment from being damaged. Rentokil Initial’s disinfection, hygiene and pest control solutions provide transport operators with effective ways to reduce the risks of infection and prevent and eradicate pest problems with industry-leading products and services.

Transportation disinfection: Why it’s essential during the COVID-19 pandemic

Harry Wood
Harry Wood

I am a Content Communications Editor at Rentokil Initial, writing content for all our marketing activities on topics as diverse as pest control, pest-borne diseases, food safety, climate change, wellbeing, hygiene and airborne diseases. I've been an editor and writer for over 30 years in academic and business roles. I started life in the Forestry Commission, moved into tropical forestry and environment in Thailand before migrating to the world of healthcare IT and medical technology back in the UK. My role at Rentokil Initial has given me the chance to return to some of my roots when writing about wood-boring insect pests ... or is that boring Wood writing about insect pests?

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