The road to Utopia?

17 April 2017

HGV driver safety is multi-faceted, focusing on issues as diverse as load stability and driver concentration. Technology can help but there is the danger of over-reliance, while the focus must also be on people and work culture. 

The double-edged sword of HGV driver safety is technology. Over the years, global technology and knowledge has advanced so immensely that the world only a few decades ago is almost unrecognisable. And while these advances can bring us on leaps and bounds in safety, they can also present a huge level of distraction.

Gethin Roberts, managing director of Drivers Direct, explains: “The downside is undoubtedly the rise of mobile technology’s distraction. Since December 2003, it has been illegal to drive in the UK while using a hand-held phone. Hands-free devices weren’t included in the ban, but the law is not that simple - the use of hands-free devices will be investigated should an accident occur and employers will be punished if it is found that employees felt pressured to use it.  

“The bottom line is that the safest course for employers is to instruct employees not to use a mobile device for any interactive function while driving and, like us, ensure that all our drivers are highly trained and aware of the rules and regulations applicable to them.”

Of course, technology has also brought about huge leaps in driver safety in the form of telematics. Not only does telematics technology aid fleet management and increase customer trust and satisfaction, but it increases the safety of both driver and freight on transit through GPS tracking. If drivers are ever to run into problems, they can get the help they need from their headquarters or another vehicle can be sent immediately to their exact location. 

“If employers need any more incentives to see the benefits of telematics, not only does it increase driver safety but also helps to reduce insurance premiums costs tremendously,” adds Gethin.

“For our part, we are always looking to invest in the latest technologies and invest in the latest training to ensure that our drivers feel secure on the roads and perform to their best abilities.”

The load in focus

Of course the driver’s work does not begin and end behind the wheel. Checking to make sure loads are secure is a key responsibilty of the driver (and the company more broadly). This is an issue that drivers and health & safety and operations managers need to take more seriously.

The Health & Safety Laboratory has been helping to train police officers how to carry out vehicle inspections and determine if loads are secured correctly. This task has been traditionally carried out only by The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). With more people on the roads who can now carry out inspections, this is an issue companies will need to address to avoid potential fines.

Often companies have good intentions regards securing loads, but not every company is great in terms of follow though.

Nina Day, senior engineer at The Health & Safety Laboratory explains: “One company told lorry drivers to put straps on HGVs. However, drivers only literally did this. They placed the straps on the sides of the loads, not actually securing the load. This example shows the importance of not relying on dictates, you must supervise staff make sure health and safety measures are put in place, rather than lip-service paid.”

Nina outlines a number of key points to consider: “I’m a mechanical engineer by trade, where possible design out the human element, first, look to eliminate risk, if possible.” Nina also urges managers to examine the condition of equipment: “Good practices include talking to equipment manufacturers; questioning the ‘it’s the way we’ve always done it’ mentality; educating / training; monitoring / reviewing; and inspecting equipment, with and repair or replacement to follow if necessary.”

The HSL advocates a ‘short and sweet’ approach to paperwork, with a one page risk assessment advised, tackling key questions - what is it the load? How is it secured? Why do we think its safe?

“The HSE is looking more broadly at company practices when an incident occurs, not just looking at the driver. Often the driver is not the one in charge of the load, so it is unfair to focus solely on him or her,” explains Nina.

“Near miss reporting can be your best friend. It is difficult to record because people don’t like to admit mistakes but it is important to remember that issues don’t come out of the blue. If people are saying there is a problem, look into it.”

Not just about the driver

As well as driver safety, there is increasing emphasis on the dangers posed by lorries to cyclists and pedestrians in urban areas.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is driving much of this, for example, announcing plans to remove the most dangerous lorries from the capital’s roads by 2020. 

TfL’s Direct Vision Standard will use a ‘star rating’ from 0 to 5 stars to rate construction and HGVs based on the level of vision the driver has directly from the cab. 

Only HGVs meeting 3 stars or above – ‘good rating’ in the new Direct Vision Standard - would be allowed on London’s roads by 2024. 

Recent data shows that HGVs were involved in 22.5 per cent of pedestrian fatalities and 58 per cent of cyclist fatalities on London’s roads in 2014 and 2015, despite only making four per cent of the miles driven in the Capital. The restriction of drivers’ field of direct vision by vehicle design has been proven to have contributed to many of these fatalities.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, said: “I’m not prepared to stand by and let dangerous lorries continue to cause further heartbreak and tragedy on London’s roads. The evidence is clear – HGVs have been directly involved in over half of cycling fatalities over the last two years, and we must take bold action to make our roads safer for both cyclists and pedestrians."

The Freight Transport Association (FTA), the largest membership body representing the freight sector, reacted with concern to the Mayor of London’s consultation paper regarding the introduction of new, London-specific requirements for direct vision from the cabs of HGVs.

FTA’s Head of National and Regional Policy Christopher Snelling says: “Direct vision is clearly a benefit in safety and FTA has advised operators for many years to procure vehicles with the best possible sightlines. However, there are limits to the benefits, which means regulating in this way may not be the best answer to improving safety on our roads.

“Research for Transport for London (TfL) has shown that no amount of direct vision would help in most cyclist incidents. Technology may prove a better route to minimising casualties as quickly as possible. Vehicle design is a global industry and these discussions are best carried out at a European or UN level. But if London is to proceed with this approach, it needs to be ready to make the plan work for logistics so that small hauliers are not pushed out of business.”