Blog Entry

Time To Travel? Looking At The Risks In The COVID-19 Era


As pharmaceutical and healthcare organizations prepare to edge back to something resembling normality within the time of COVID-19, the risks around travel need to be assessed (given the relative ease of infectivity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus). There will be visits required to conduct Factory Acceptance Tests, to review contract laboratory facilities, to review new technologies and so on. A foremost concern should be with ensuring that the measures taken on-site are applied to the travelling employee. An effective way to achieve this is through a risk assessment. The key criterion should be with travel, accommodation, site visits and return to work. This is after the question ‘Is the travel really necessary?’ has been posed and satisfactorily answered.

Pharmaceutical and healthcare organizations have been grappling with the novel coronavirus throughout 2020 (the starting point varies depending on the country, although on 11th February 2020 the World Health Organization declared a pandemic and officially named the disease caused by the SARS-CoV02 virus as COVID-19, short for “coronavirus disease 2019.”

It is useful to remind ourselves, what the main vectors of viral contamination are:

  • Inhalation of droplets from people who are infected sneezing or coughing.
  • Inhalation of aerosols carried in air currents.
  • Touching infected surfaces.

Coronaviruses are mainly transmitted by large respiratory droplets and direct or indirect contact with infected secretions. In addition to respiratory secretions, other coronaviruses have been detected in blood, feces and urine. These routes of transmission are outlined in a paper written by the author for the Journal of GxP Compliance  (“Consideration of Covid-19 Prevention Measures For Those Working In GMP Pharmaceuticals And Healthcare Facilities”).

Viral transmissibility can be considered using different measures. One approach is to assess the reproduction number, which is a measurement of the number of people a contaminated person can transmits the virus to within a given population. The higher the number calculated then the more transferable the virus is considered to be and hence the risk to the general population becomes greater. Such data also indicates the speed of the spread of a virus, since each person infected has the potential to infect the same high number of people.

In response of the vectors of transmission, the hierarchy of protective measures is:

  • Do not visit.
  • Maintain social distancing (at 2 meters or greater).
  • Sanitize hands regularly.
  • Wear appropriate PPE, including surgical facemasks.

While there are a variety of different disinfectants that can kill the coronavirus (see: “The Survival of Coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 On Surfaces and Designing Disinfection Strategies to Eliminate the Virus” in the Journal of GxP Compliance), the key assumption is that for people travelling, the only safe disinfectant to travel with is alcohol. The minimum alcohol content is 61%, with a kill achieved in 30 seconds. Here the best alcohols are ethanol or iso-propyl alcohol (IPA)

In terms of social distancing measures, this varies by country. The optimal distance to maintain where practicable is 2 meters based on the potential distance that droplets projected from a sneeze can travel. At 1 meter, the chance of becoming infected by someone with COVID-19 is 13 percent; at 2 meters, this drops to 3 percent. There are other factors that affect the distancing concept. One is time. No matter what the distance, the longer a person spends in close contact with an infected person, the bigger the risk. the risks emerge more greatly after a three-minute period.

With face masks, these should be surgical masks and worn for no longer than 4 hours. Used face should be regarded as contaminated waste.

Factors to consider by employers

When presented with a travel request, a manager should:

  • Review the trip
  • Consider if the trip can be replaced by the use of video conferencing or other forms of digital technology (see the IVT blog entry “Digital Transformation of Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare”).
  • Cancel all unnecessary trips
  • Conduct a risk assessment.
  • Cancel upcoming trips that do not pass the risk assessment
  • Create any specific guidelines in addition to the risk factors below on allowable trips

Some guidance for conducting a risk assessment is outlined below. As well as the risk assessment, employers should consider and have in place the following:                 

  • Consult with staff (assess if the employee feels that it is safe to travel).
  • Making the risk assessment available . Each version of the risk assessment should be version controlled.
  • Encouraging people to follow the guidance on hand washing and hygiene    This is central to the risk assessment and fundamental to viral control.
  • Providing hand sanitizer.
  • Encouraging personnel to frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly         
  • Encourage home working in lieu of travel.   
  • Ensure the employee understands the importance of social distancing

Factors to be considered by employees

Before embarking on travel, employees need to assess:

  • Whether the need for the trip can be met by digital technology
  • When away on business - Wash your hands frequently, after going out, and before eating. Wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds or more.
  • Do not go travel if you have flu-like symptoms.
  • Outside of single occupancy hotel rooms, wear a face mask in to protect others around you, and also to be in keeping with local community.
  • Wear a face covering when travelling on:
    • bus or coach
    • train or tram
    • ferry or hovercraft
    • aircraft
    • cable car
    • boat
  • Practice social distancing.
  • During business activities, keep 2 meters distance away from others.
  • Take good care of your health by prioritizing your sleep and a healthy diet.

Personnel need to take with them on all business travel journeys:

  • A supply of face masks in sufficient quantity to cover the journey and time at different premises, based on maximum four-hour mask use (and single use).
  • An infectious waste bag for mask disposal.
  • A plan for the journey
  • Ability to make contactless payments by card
  • Mobile phone, in order to communicate with your line manager
  • Workplace provided hand sanitizer, in sufficient quantities for the time away
  • Workplace provided hard surface sanitizer, in appropriate quantities
  • Essential medicines
  • Tissues

It should not be assumed that a hotel or business premises can provide the above materials.

Outlined below is a suggested risk framework for looking at different modes of travel, together with advice in relation to accommodation and when visiting another workplace. With the table, risks have been qualitatively assessed as high (red), medium (yellow) and low (green), based on the author’s judgement.

Sandle Blog Table (1).jpg


The above table are suggestions of factors to consider when weighing up the options of travel for employees. The most important point is weighing up ‘why go?’ The digital transformation that many businesses have gone through has negated the need for travel and this should stand as an important consideration given the continuing risks from the coronavirus. When travel is essential, then good employers should conduct a risk assessment. This blog has provided some ideas to consider together with some important factors to weigh up when looking at the different measures that need to be put in place to maximize employee health and welfare.

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