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Improving last mile delivery safety

26 April 2022

THERE ARE many challenges facing delivery workers, especially the last mile where workers face many challenges. Graham Sharp looks at how to protect staff from risk of injury through manual handling.

The rise in online shopping has been one of the key retail changes that has come about as a result of the pandemic. Online shopping means door to door deliveries of often heavy shopping or equipment. Even before the pandemic, the latest available statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), showed that improper manual handling costs the UK economy hundreds of millions of pounds each year with more than 480,000 injuries recorded. 

Musculoskeletal injuries account for over 40% of all work-related sickness and HSE data shows that more than 8.9 million working days are lost to this type of injury each year. With job vacancies at an all-time high, businesses simply cannot afford to have staff off work as a consequence of not investing in equipment or processes designed to improve efficiency and minimise risk.

Since the first lockdown in March 2020, the UK’s e-commerce sector has experienced the highest online sales growth in 13 years with total online sales growth for 2020 rising by almost forty per cent year-on-year. This change in customer behaviour, in part forced upon society due to Covid-19 restrictions, has put significant pressure on retailers to stock items and be able to deliver quickly, in many cases the next day, in order to remain competitive.

Last mile delivery innovations

When it comes to ‘last mile’ delivery, retailers are faced with a range of issues, including but not limited to: driver shortages; single-person delivery; gender pay equality; ageing of workforce; and mitigation from Covid-19. The ‘last mile’ process is under enormous pressure and this year is likely to be one of the most challenging ever faced by retailers. Protecting staff from risk of injury through manual handling, while optimising operative efficiency and managing costs, is an area where innovation and smart thinking therefore needs to play a vital role. In the USA, solutions implemented by businesses to protect staff have been shown to lower insurance premiums, as part of efforts to avoid the damaging effects of corporate litigation. In the UK, this approach is being taken by insurers to reduce the cost of motor insurance, by encouraging motorists and businesses to utilise vehicle ‘dash-cams’ and fleet-wide GPS trackers to reduce premiums. I would reasonably expect meaningful efforts to reduce injuries to positively impact on business insurance premiums over the coming years.

Protecting employees

Ground breaking products such as the Sprinter range of powered Stairclimbers showcase the innovation that is going into the efficient delivery of doorstep products, including the health and safety of employees who might be expected to carry heavy loads up and down steps and obstacles as part of the final delivery process. By creating a powered Stairclimber that is light and powerful, the need for two employees to carry heavy products is reduced and the prospect of injury is also reduced. The benefits are being quickly recognised and Stairclimbers are regularly being used by the likes of Asda and Currys. 

Similarly, the use of innovative wearable devices which utilise artificial intelligence (AI) to measure forces on the body and identify hazardous actions are now being trialled. A major benefit of AI is that data can encourage employees to self-manage their wellbeing, and introduce behavioural change, while management can use it to implement wider business improvements. In our experience of supporting customers with such technology, operatives can embed correct handling techniques into their working lives, reduce the risk of injury and help create a culture of safety and productivity

The rise of online shopping has changed the world of retail for good. Technology that makes the delivery process easier is slowly catching up and products which protect employees should now be seen as a priority as businesses learn to adapt and create business efficiencies that do not compromise staff safety.

Graham Sharp is managing director of Stanley