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COVID Regulations and Volunteering

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BigB

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Moderator note - split from this thread:

(1) Post Lockdown re-opening dates for heritage railways | RailUK Forums (railforums.co.uk)

As discussed many times last year, there is a lot to do for many railways to prepare for opening and running a passenger service and if the volunteers cannot currently work on their "branch sets" (it is non essential) then being able to open on say 12th is problematic. There must be a lag between when they can start to prepare engines and stock, reassess staff who's safety competences may have lapsed and run shakedown services to ensure that everything is safe for running passenger services.
In Scotland where we are using data not dates, then we have no clear date for when we can reopen. We had hoped for the end of March but that is now put back - see latest news;

Before we reopen we need to ensure the track is okay (we are main line connected so use the track regularly and it is legitimate to maintain it) but we need to get the steam engines out of storage, and give them a good once over and test. The stock likewise must be fully tested as well as made Covid safe with screens. All staff must be competent in their roles, and this means they need to be reassessed to a degree as it is over a year ago since they were last on an operating service.
We are not alone, all railways will need some form of preparedness runs, which is why just because railways "could" open, they may not be in a position to do so on 12th.

I really welcome your approach of wanting to visit a number of railways this year - I think they all need support if they are to survive, and lots offer a good day out which you can extend by exploring the surrounding area and having your lunch their too. Breakfast at the Avon Valley Railway was one of the highlights of my trip there in 2019 and set me up for the day!

If everyone can visit even 3 or 4 railways this year then that would help enormously. I'm not looking forward to a series of threads about closures...
 
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steamybrian

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As discussed many times last year, there is a lot to do for many railways to prepare for opening and running a passenger service and if the volunteers cannot currently work on their "branch sets" (it is non essential) then being able to open on say 12th is problematic. There must be a lag between when they can start to prepare engines and stock, reassess staff who's safety competences may have lapsed and run shakedown services to ensure that everything is safe for running passenger services.
In Scotland where we are using data not dates, then we have no clear date for when we can reopen. We had hoped for the end of March but that is now put back - see latest news;

Before we reopen we need to ensure the track is okay (we are main line connected so use the track regularly and it is legitimate to maintain it) but we need to get the steam engines out of storage, and give them a good once over and test. The stock likewise must be fully tested as well as made Covid safe with screens. All staff must be competent in their roles, and this means they need to be reassessed to a degree as it is over a year ago since they were last on an operating service.
We are not alone, all railways will need some form of preparedness runs, which is why just because railways "could" open, they may not be in a position to do so on 12th.

I really welcome your approach of wanting to visit a number of railways this year - I think they all need support if they are to survive, and lots offer a good day out which you can extend by exploring the surrounding area and having your lunch their too. Breakfast at the Avon Valley Railway was one of the highlights of my trip there in 2019 and set me up for the day!

If everyone can visit even 3 or 4 railways this year then that would help enormously. I'm not looking forward to a series of threads about closures...
I fully agree as I am also a working member of a heritage railway. You have have amplified what I have said in one sentence in item 5 above.
 

Watershed

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and if the volunteers cannot currently work on their "branch sets" (it is non essential)
There is no part of the UK where volunteering needs to be "essential" to be a reasonable excuse to stay away from home.

Obviously volunteers at many heritage railways tend to be older and thus may decide to reduce their social contact and not volunteer for the time being.

However it is perfectly legal for them to volunteer to undertake any task that can't reasonably be done from home - e.g. track work, fixing/inspecting locos, preparating stock for public service.
 

BigB

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There is no part of the UK where volunteering needs to be "essential" to be a reasonable excuse to stay away from home.

Obviously volunteers at many heritage railways tend to be older and thus may decide to reduce their social contact and not volunteer for the time being.

However it is perfectly legal for them to volunteer to undertake any task that can't reasonably be done from home - e.g. track work, fixing/inspecting locos, preparating stock for public service.
We actually took legal advice on this rather than guess - it is limited what you can do to for the travel to be counted as essential. In a tiered system it has to be essential work to justify crossing health authority boundaries. You also can't just turn up - you must be on a roster. It may be more lax in other areas, but not here.
 

richw

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We actually took legal advice on this rather than guess - it is limited what you can do to for the travel to be counted as essential. In a tiered system it has to be essential work to justify crossing health authority boundaries. You also can't just turn up - you must be on a roster. It may be more lax in other areas, but not here.
Im guessing you’re wales or Scotland?
In England the rule on travelling for work (paid or voluntary), is that you may do so if the task can’t be done from home. Premier inn type accommodation has remained open for those workers who can’t wrk from home and need to be away from home.
I haven’t seen any announcements but the Paignton to kingswear apparently had their trains out on test runs over the weekend
 

Watershed

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We actually took legal advice on this rather than guess - it is limited what you can do to for the travel to be counted as essential. In a tiered system it has to be essential work to justify crossing health authority boundaries. You also can't just turn up - you must be on a roster. It may be more lax in other areas, but not here.
I'm afraid you've been given some pretty poor advice there. There has never been a ban on travelling within or between health authority boundaries based on the essential (or otherwise) nature of the work you're doing. The only requirement is that it can't be done from home.

You will see that the references in the level 4 restrictions only refer to "essential" in the context of:
  • buying goods for the essential upkeep etc. of a household
  • limiting maintenance work in private dwellings to that which is essential
  • limiting volunteering in places of worship to essential activities
Therefore, unless it worships kettles or Tractors, any heritage railway which claims that it can't open when visitors are permitted again, because they "couldn't" undertake volunteering during the lockdown, is at best misinformed!
 

pdeaves

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I'm afraid you've been given some pretty poor advice there. There has never been a ban on travelling within or between health authority boundaries based on the essential (or otherwise) nature of the work you're doing. The only requirement is that it can't be done from home.

You will see that the references in the level 4 restrictions only refer to "essential" in the context of:
  • buying goods for the essential upkeep etc. of a household
  • limiting maintenance work in private dwellings to that which is essential
  • limiting volunteering in places of worship to essential activities
Therefore, unless it worships kettles or Tractors, any heritage railway which claims that it can't open when visitors are permitted again, because they "couldn't" undertake volunteering during the lockdown, is at best misinformed!
I note that BigB is in Scotland; the rules may be different there (or may not, I don't know).
 

Watershed

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I note that BigB is in Scotland; the rules may be different there (or may not, I don't know).
I have linked to the restrictions applying in Scotland. In respect of heritage railway volunteering, the restrictions are no different in any part of the UK.
 

YorkshireBear

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I have certainly not stopped maintenance at my heritage railway and we have carried on throughout undertaking essential maintenance as it is work that cannot be done from home.

My main issue was much of our civils and track maintenance is driven by seasons and so we had a large backlog building up which we would never get on top of so we started to tackle it focussing on essential items for now.

This was also done with one eye on the fact that this would help us reopen as soon as possible depending on government announcements.
 

BigB

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I have linked to the restrictions applying in Scotland. In respect of heritage railway volunteering, the restrictions are no different in any part of the UK.
There have been restrictions on travelling between areas under the tier system in Scotland - that was the point and it has been a constantly moving target. There is the wording of the legislation and the spirit of it. Travelling 45 miles from a Level 4 area to a level 3 just to clean an engine is not in the spirit of the thing, likewise traveling into a level 4 from lower level areas, and we did have members stopped by the Police when travelling in during the tighter restrictions. Grade card holders have been issued with letters stating they were on business so that made that discussion easier. You may also recall that in November travelling out of a level 4 area unless it was "essential" had a threat of prosecution, and people were charged if they breached this.
To keep the right side of the law utilising a roster via HOPS assured that we could restrict people on site and "prove" they were actually doing work. This prevents members turning up ad hoc and breaching any restrictions we have on numbers working in certain areas.

Our advice was sound, it's probably my wording of it that is the dodgy part. Defining essential is the key part of this, and revenue earning is really what I meant when referring to stock and engine maintenance. So a set used on the branch is revenue earning, additional carriages that may one day be used on a special occasion is not essential. Trackwork is essential as we still run trains along the line including for other TOCs if required. Checking electrical safety is essential for safety reasons, and we did this throughout lockdown as we still needed to power the site.

Some people think anything to do with the railway is essential, but lots of things are nice to have. If they are not core to your safety management system they are not essential.

Note that many of us have have been back since June because of how we worked within that framework, and ensured a Covid safe Environment.
This isn't advice we got yesterday as you can tell, and we have continued to follow it because for us it works. The legislation has changed since then including the one linked to, as has the Government restrictions and guidance, but we have kept up with it.

Note that for our railway, maintenance on steam engines has been suspended since April last year - not because we are not allowed to do so, but because of the sheer logistics of doing this with travel restrictions amongst other considerations including distancing. For a steam railway we wouldn't do that if we hadn't properly considered the matter.

In my day job I'm a category 1 worker as defined at the beginning of the outbreak, and have been able to travel to any place my company operates if required throughout lockdown, so do have an understanding of the rules as we keep well up to speed with them. However as Lord Browne, ex head of BP said, "just because you have a right to do something doesn't mean it is right to do so". Okay, he did say this a week before being found guilty of lying to a high court judge, but I think that just proves the point...
 

Watershed

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There have been restrictions on travelling between areas under the tier system in Scotland - that was the point and it has been a constantly moving target.
Yes - but travelling to undertake volunteering that can't be done from home is a reasonable excuse. That has been the case throughout all of the last 12 months.

There is the wording of the legislation and the spirit of it. Travelling 45 miles from a Level 4 area to a level 3 just to clean an engine is not in the spirit of the thing
The Scottish Government imposed plenty more draconian restrictions, but they did not require work or volunteering to be essential (with a handful of non-relevant exceptions, as explained in my post #21). That was an active, conscious decision and so I hardly think it can be said to be outwith the spirit of the law to do something which specifically carved out as a "reasonable" excuse.

we did have members stopped by the Police when travelling in during the tighter restrictions
I can quite believe that. But at no point would they have been forbidden from coming to undertake volunteering that couldn't be done from home.

You may also recall that in November travelling out of a level 4 area unless it was "essential" had a threat of prosecution, and people were charged if they breached this.
See above - there was never a requirement for travel out of the area to be "essential". Any work or volunteering that couldn't be done from home qualified as a reasonable excuse.

To keep the right side of the law utilising a roster via HOPS assured that we could restrict people on site and "prove" they were actually doing work. This prevents members turning up ad hoc and breaching any restrictions we have on numbers working in certain areas.
That seems a perfectly sensible decision.

Defining essential is the key part of this
Not exactly - of course each organisation must make its own determinations, but the only mentions of the word "essential" in the Regulations are not relevant to heritage railway volunteering.

Note that many of us have have been back since June because of how we worked within that framework, and ensured a Covid safe Environment.
This isn't advice we got yesterday as you can tell, and we have continued to follow it because for us it works. The legislation has changed since then including the one linked to, as has the Government restrictions and guidance, but we have kept up with it.
The only thing that has changed in the context of heritage railway volunteering is the requirement to either wear face coverings in indoor communal areas, or to ensure separation by a partition or 2m distancing. Either of which would likely be measures implemented as part of ensuring a Covid safe workplace.

In my day job I'm a category 1 worker as defined at the beginning of the outbreak, and have been able to travel to any place my company operates if required throughout lockdown, so do have an understanding of the rules as we keep well up to speed with them. However as Lord Browne, ex head of BP said, "just because you have a right to do something doesn't mean it is right to do so". Okay, he did say this a week before being found guilty of lying to a high court judge, but I think that just proves the point...
Absolutely true, but see above - the Scottish Government specifically decided not to require work or volunteering to be essential for it to be permitted.

I'm not trying to criticise you, your railway or indeed any other railway that has decided to limit volunteering. That is a decision for each organisation and person to make for themselves. But to rely on the crutch of "it was illegal" or "it goes against the spirit of the law" is simply not true - it is far better to be upfront and to say "we didn't think it was appropriate or safe to do so".
 
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Llanigraham

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There is no part of the UK where volunteering needs to be "essential" to be a reasonable excuse to stay away from home.

Obviously volunteers at many heritage railways tend to be older and thus may decide to reduce their social contact and not volunteer for the time being.

However it is perfectly legal for them to volunteer to undertake any task that can't reasonably be done from home - e.g. track work, fixing/inspecting locos, preparating stock for public service.

That might apply in england, but not in Wales.
 

Llanigraham

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Perhaps you could help me by pointing out where in the Welsh Regulations there is a requirement for work or volunteering to be essential to be lawful...?

(Hint: I think you may be looking for a very long time, because there is no such requirement)

So why has my own railway, and others around here, all said that only close locals can volunteer at the moment? And that advice has been given after advice from WAG.
(And close means those that live in the town, and not 25 miles away, like I do!)

And I also note that other voluntary organisations are saying exactly the same thing.
 

reddragon

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So why has my own railway, and others around here, all said that only close locals can volunteer at the moment? And that advice has been given after advice from WAG.
(And close means those that live in the town, and not 25 miles away, like I do!)

And I also note that other voluntary organisations are saying exactly the same thing.
My railway has also banned volunteers except for essential maintenance. From 29th March it widens to allow volunteers to ready the railway for opening, from April operational teams. This is by roster / appointment only.

June 21st should allow wider volunteering.
 

Llanigraham

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My railway has also banned volunteers except for essential maintenance. From 29th March it widens to allow volunteers to ready the railway for opening, from April operational teams. This is by roster / appointment only.

June 21st should allow wider volunteering.
I'm awaiting further instructions, but considering that the Welsh Government aren't altering things as quickly as Westminster I'm not sure we will be doing much until after Easter at the earliest.
 

Watershed

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So why has my own railway, and others around here, all said that only close locals can volunteer at the moment? And that advice has been given after advice from WAG.
(And close means those that live in the town, and not 25 miles away, like I do!)

And I also note that other voluntary organisations are saying exactly the same thing.
Again, I invite you to point out where such a stipulation exists in the Regulations.

If organisations decide that they don't want to allow volunteering, that is their decision to make, but it is distasteful (to say the least) to falsely claim their hands are tied by the law.
 

Llanigraham

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Again, I invite you to point out where such a stipulation exists in the Regulations.

If organisations decide that they don't want to allow volunteering, that is their decision to make, but it is distasteful (to say the least) to falsely claim their hands are tied by the law.

I will happily accept that the railway I volunteer on have asked for and been given advice from their controlling Government to keep in line with the Covid Regulations in Wales, over what has been said by an individual on an internet forum.
 

Watershed

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I will happily accept that the railway I volunteer on have asked for and been given advice from their controlling Government to keep in line with the Covid Regulations in Wales, over what has been said by an individual on an internet forum.
I have linked to the law. If you don't believe me you are free to check. I just hope for the sake of your railway that it doesn't go bust because of its decision to unnecessarily stop volunteering.

All UK governments have consistently given advice that goes far beyond the Regulations they have seen fit to impose. You should never rely on them to get an accurate summary of the law; much better to have someone who works for you (i.e. your own solicitor) to tell you what the law is.
 

BigB

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I have linked to the law. If you don't believe me you are free to check. I just hope for the sake of your railway that it doesn't go bust because of its decision to unnecessarily stop volunteering.

All UK governments have consistently given advice that goes far beyond the Regulations they have seen fit to impose. You should never rely on them to get an accurate summary of the law; much better to have someone who works for you (i.e. your own solicitor) to tell you what the law is.
So when I tell you that is what we did just that, you suggest that was poor and they obviously didn't have the same grasp you do. Please don't quote legislation that was not in place when that legal guidance was given as if to prove any points.

The legislation deliberately included voluntary work as this would have otherwise prevented many services to the elderly or vulnerable which would have been catastrophic for the care sector. I believe that was explained in Holyrood during a debate.

Again do you seriously think that the number of voluntary organisations who have curtailed their work have just got it wrong and misunderstood the guidance given and should have just carried on regardless?

Anyway, the way forward now requires railways to plan and execute reopening, and it is not clear what social distancing or other restrictions will be in place when they do. June 21st is unlikely to be the date for this regardless of Boris's bravado - so what do railways have to do differently if opening before that? With restricted numbers, one way systems and mandatory booking to manage this, will some railways plan to reopen only once restrictions have passed?

In Scotland, and possibly Wales too but I defer to Llanigraham on this, getting volunteers on site to get services set up may be the bigger challenge for reopening on the first day lockdown ends.
Many older members have been reluctant to travel in the past from their level 2 areas to a level 4 - understandably - even for work that we class as essential so will there be a full complement of station staff and train crew when we return to tiers? Will volunteers - now a year older - want to return to public facing roles even once vaccinated? Will younger members yet to be vaccinated want to do this just now?

We still intend to install screens in rolling stock, including for the main line, and keep them afterwards too as they are discrete and help to reduce noise for passengers. This may also help public confidence as I see this as a major challenge for attractions going forward.
We also hope to run railtours again in summer, restrictions allowing, we just need to have enough train staff to do this, and hope there is a demand too.

Anyway enough of this - I have work to finish at home on non-essential Gresley coach parts, and prepare materials for fitting new gangways and ETS to mail line Mk1 coaches on site in the morning following their offsite repainting.
 

Llanigraham

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I have linked to the law. If you don't believe me you are free to check. I just hope for the sake of your railway that it doesn't go bust because of its decision to unnecessarily stop volunteering.

All UK governments have consistently given advice that goes far beyond the Regulations they have seen fit to impose. You should never rely on them to get an accurate summary of the law; much better to have someone who works for you (i.e. your own solicitor) to tell you what the law is.
Frankly that suggests you have little experience of volunteering on a narrow gauge railway.
The work that I am involved with is not currently considered essential. Non essential travel is banned in Wales. Therefore I cannot travel there anyway.
The work I am involved with makes it difficult to provide the required 2 metre seperation, there it cannot be done.
 

LowLevel

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In our case volunteers have not been permitted on site in the latest lockdown to carry out general "cosmetic" work.

They have however been carrying out along with some paid staff security patrols, essential work on rolling stock and the infrastructure to keep it serviceable to the usual standards, loco and carriage restoration and engineering work (paid staff only in the case of restoration work, volunteers have been permitted to keep their serviceable vehicles in that condition only) and running occasional trains to keep the signalling working reliably and discourage trespass.

Also any contract work such as vehicle testing has been taking place as normal.

It is worth remembering that many railways now are effectively employment businesses in their own right with many different functions and are still permitted to trade.
 

island

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Unfortunately, a lot of organisations (and their solicitors or other advisers) have over-interpreted regulations to “be on the safe side” or “be extra careful”. Such is life under Covid.
 

Bikeman78

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Frankly that suggests you have little experience of volunteering on a narrow gauge railway.
The work that I am involved with is not currently considered essential. Non essential travel is banned in Wales. Therefore I cannot travel there anyway.
The work I am involved with makes it difficult to provide the required 2 metre seperation, there it cannot be done.
Plenty of work involves getting closer than two metres. Last summer the council were resurfacing a road near my house. Workmen quite happily standing around in groups chatting, not to mention sitting in vehicles together to get to and from work. One rule for your railway, another for Cardiff Council by the looks of it.

I'm looking forward to going back on preserved lines but I'll probably only do so when the need to pre book goes away.
 

Watershed

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Frankly that suggests you have little experience of volunteering on a narrow gauge railway.
If anything, being narrow gauge gives your railway more leeway (see below). But of course we all know that there is a Llanigraham exception to every rule...!

The work that I am involved with is not currently considered essential.
The legislation is not interested in whether volunteering is essential, only whether it could be done from home. The vast majority of volunteering work at heritage railways will require physical presence.

Non essential travel is banned in Wales.
No it isn't. Leaving home without a reasonable excuse is banned, as it is in other parts of the UK. Undertaking volunteering, where you can't reasonably do so from home, is specifically defined as a reasonable excuse. If non essential travel were banned, then how are the Welsh manufacturing or construction sectors still getting their employees to and from work?

The work I am involved with makes it difficult to provide the required 2 metre seperation, there it cannot be done.
That is an oversimplification of the law; in Wales, workplace managers must take all reasonable measures to ensure 2m social distancing. The Welsh Government has issued statutory guidance, which acknowledges that there are some workplaces or situations where it won't be reasonably practicable to ensure such a distance is maintained:
The purpose of requiring all reasonable measures to be taken to maintain 2 metres distance between people is to minimise the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. As maintaining distance is not the only way to do this, and may not always be reasonable
...
there are situations in which it might not be possible or appropriate for people to stay 2 metres apart or at least not to stay 2 metres apart at all times. Examples include:
  • tasks that require two or more people to undertake them safely, including heavy lifting or carrying dangerous chemicals, although there may be measures that can be adopted elsewhere in the workplace
  • participating in activities where people may spend short bursts of time within 2 metres of each other, such as team sports
  • taxis and public transport
  • where dual working at less than 2 metres apart is necessary to ensure safety
  • working in confined spaces, for example repairing infrastructure for utilities
Therefore, as long as acceptable alternative measures to 2m distancing are implemented - some examples of which are listed in the Regulations - such tasks can continue. In the context of a narrow gauge railway (as compared to a standard gauge one), clearly there will be more circumstances where 2m distancing won't be reasonably possible. That doesn't mean they have to shut up shop.

As with the "as low as reasonably possible" test for Health and Safety more generally, financial and practical considerations are part of the equation:
When considering what measures are reasonable you may consider, among other things, the following factors;
  • Cost – is the cost of the measure proportionate to the number of people whose risk is reduced by the measure? For example, it would generally not be proportionate to extend a premises or to require additional fleet vehicles, but splitting shifts could probably be done at minimal cost.
  • The nature of the workare the measures practical, or would they so undermine the delivery of the service or undertaking of the business that they would be counterproductive?

Workplace managers must take regard of the guidance, so I really hope that the managers of your railway don't have the same mistaken understanding of the law!
 

Llanigraham

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Last word from me on this matter.
As far as I am concerned the management of the line I volunteer on know better than some unknown person on an internet forum,. They have decided that having followed OFFICIAL advice they are not allowing volunteer work of the type our gang undertake.
And I note that ours isn't the only line in Wales that has taken exactly the same line.
 
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