Health and safety in the haulage yard

Every employer has a duty to conduct suitable and sufficient risk assessments under health and safety legislation. This article by Grainne Kelly focuses on recent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecutions or initiatives that indicate the range of hazards that an employer with a haulage yard should include in their risk assessments to meet this standard.

Loading and unloading

Minimising the risks associated with loading and unloading activities can require the development of multiple assessments. For example, the hazards may vary depending on the type of vehicle involved (eg rigid container, curtainsider etc), where it is being loaded or unloaded (eg at a dock, in the middle of the yard) and the type of load involved (eg is it being handballed, does to have to be moved using a mechanical aid?). For risk assessments to be “suitable and sufficient,” the organisation needs to consider all of these permutations so that it can develop safe systems of work (sometimes known as standard operations procedures or work instructions) to ensure every worker understands how that activity should be carried out to minimise health and safety risks.

In January 2017, this requirement was demonstrated by a case involving a worker who was loading bags of fertiliser onto a truck. The HSE investigation found that the employer had instructed workers to climb onto the bulk bags carrying the fertiliser to help a telehandler hook onto the bags to move them to the transport waggon, but that the task could have been performed from the ground if the right equipment had been identified and provided. Unfortunately, because the worker followed the training he had been given, he fell from the top of the bags, fracturing and dislocating his pelvis. The employer was prosecuted under the Work at Height Regulations and was fined £86,000 with £6363.74 costs.

Another recent example resulted in the prosecution of DFS. A worker who was unloading wooden furniture was struck by an unsecured furniture arm falling from an unstable load — it knocked him unconscious and he suffered neck and head injuries. The HSE investigation found that DFS failed to adequately manage the risks of heavy loads being moved between manufacturing sites and the company was fined £1 million with £15,099 costs.

Storing goods safely

There have been several significant recent prosecutions due to failures to store goods safely.

  • A worker died when poorly stacked plastic bales, weighing 703kg, fell on him. The employer was fined £2 million with £32,595.10 costs after the HSE provides that they had failed to implement a safe system of work, train workers how to stack bales safely or monitor the area in which the bales were stacked.

  • A recycling company was fined £160,000 with £2917 costs after a worker was crushed by 400kg cardboard, suffering a cracked skull and brain haemorrhage. The HSE investigation found the company had not developed a safe system of work for stacking bales and therefore the system used resulted in heavy and unstable stacks. The employer was prosecuted under the Work at Height Regulations.

Systematic risk assessments of haulage yard activities will identify the different methods of storage used by the organisation — this may involve the use of storage equipment, such as containers and racking as well stacking. Identifying the different types of goods that are stored may indicate that there are specific hazards associated with their storage need to be considered when developing standards, for example, their ability to bear weight or the stability of the stack.

Separating vehicles and pedestrians

In 2015/16, 19% of fatal accidents in the workplace involved pedestrians being hit by moving vehicles — this is the second largest cause of workplace accident fatalities in the UK. Employers have duties to manage this hazard under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (WHSWR) which include various requirements to keep vehicles and pedestrians apart, such as Regulation 17, which requires workplaces to be organised so that pedestrians and vehicles can circulate safely. This Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) that supports the regulations specifies that enough routes of sufficient size are provided and that pedestrians and vehicles have different doors and/or gates to access/egress both the premises and buildings. In addition, the ACOP indicates that additional controls should be considered such as speed limits, use of mirrors (where there are sharp or blind bends) and one way systems.

A recent case demonstrates both the moral and legal consequences of failing to meet these standards. After one of their workers was hit by a large shovel loader while he was walking across the yard, a landfill company was fined £180,000 with additional costs in excess of £7000. The worker had to have both legs amputated as a result of the accident.

Hazards are not just about safety …

The first stage in the HSE’s five steps to risk assessment is to identify the hazards, where the definition of a hazard is anything that can cause harm — this includes anything that can affect a person’s health as well as their safety. In 2016, during the launch of their new five-year strategy, the HSE unveiled what many saw as shocking statistics — that although about 150 employees are killed every year during workplace accidents, approximately 13,000 people a year are dying from work-related health problems. They used these figures to validate the major theme of health in their new strategy.

Health hazards in the haulage industry can be related directly to the company’s core activities, for example, exposure to diesel fumes. Short-term exposure to these fumes is known to cause irritation when breathing or to the eyes. Long-term exposure can lead to respiratory problems such as coughing, chestiness and breathlessness and may also increase the risk of lung cancer.

Another common activity in the haulage industry that causes ill health is manual handling — well known as the biggest cause of Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) reportable lost time accidents.

Following the launch of the new strategy, it is likely all HSE visits will involve a review of how each business is managing health hazards — checking that these are identified through their risk assessments and any action that is required to comply with specific health-related legislation (such as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) for diesel fumes exposure) or the Manual Handling Operations Regulations) is in place.

Not all hazards involve operational activities

If maintenance or cleaning activities are carried out in the haulage yard, these must also be assessed, since they often involve hazards that are not associated with routine operational activities. Examples include refuelling forklift trucks (eg battery charging, replacing propane cylinders or filling diesel fuel tanks), using high-pressure water hoses and detergents to clean vehicles or carrying out vehicle maintenance activities.

Volvo was recently prosecuted when one of their workers was repairing the driver’s access rope for the cab on a large delivery vehicle when he fell, striking his head and losing consciousness. He was placed in a medically-induced coma for two weeks. The HSE investigation found the step ladder being used by the worker was damaged and was not being checked. Volvo was prosecuted and fined £900,000 with costs of £5,820.58. At the time of the prosecution, the injured worker still suffered from ongoing complications and had been unable to return to work.

Conclusion

Carrying out risk assessment is a fundamental activity in managing health and safety risks in a haulage yard, but in order for it to be effective, employers have to employ sufficient resources to ensure that foreseeable risks have been identified and the process has evaluated whether those risks are being managed adequately.

It is also vital that employers monitor whether their risk assessments are being kept up to date, not only in terms of the paperwork, but in how practical activities are being carried out on site.