Last reviewed 8 March 2018

On dark wintery nights, bright spring mornings and all conditions in between, workplace transport safety and constant vigilance matter, says Jon Herbert, with key responsibilities for employers, employees, contractors and the self-employed.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics show that on average more than 50 people are killed every year in 5000 UK workplace transport accidents. Major causes are falls from, or being crushed by, vehicles.

What is workplace transport? By definition it includes all vehicle activities off public roads except where loading and unloading occurs.

Safety priorities

There are three primary workplace transport safety aspects that companies and managers need to take into account.

  1. Careful safe site design, coupled with well-managed safe site activity.

  2. The selection and maintenance of safe vehicles.

  3. The human factor — safe drivers.

Safe site design

All sites have unique hazards and risks. Well-designed and maintained sites that separate people from vehicles, and use one-way systems to minimise reversing, are usually the safest.

Clearly marked routes are an alternative where walkers and drivers have no choice, but to share a common space, with the appropriate use of barriers and signs, separate entrances and exits, plus vision panels in doors that open onto vehicle routes.

Where pedestrians and vehicles have to meet, well-marked features are recommended, such as dropped kerbs and deterrent paving leading to safe crossing points.

On-site traffic routes

Traffic routes are best designed to a number of simple principles. These include:

  • routes wide enough for large vehicles to move and manoeuvre safely

  • safe surfaces — ones that are properly drained and meet public road standards

  • no steep slopes, sharp corners or blind bends

  • no obstacles

  • clear, clean signage

  • good maintenance regime.

Vulnerable features, such as cast-iron columns, pipework, cables and storage racks, need to be protected from vehicle impacts. Although the prevailing legislation is not retrospective before 1992, “reasonably practicable” management system alternatives should be implemented to control risks.

In construction, forestry and similar mobile industries, temporary routes for pedestrians and vehicles should comply with basic permanent route standards.

Additional route safety factors

Good visibility is vital in all weather conditions; for drivers this is related to speed and braking distances. Mirrors on unavoidable sharp or blind bends can help. Because speed is critically important, well-selected fixed physical measures — eg speed bumps, chicanes and rumble strips — can also help if they don’t increase risks by, for example, compromising vehicle stability. When on-site speed limits are imposed, they should be practical, enforced and consistent — with lower limits where pedestrians and vehicles meet.

Signage design should, wherever possible, match public road signs shown in the Highway Code. They need to be well-positioned, kept clean, maintained, lit, and if used in the dark, reflective. As on public roads, white road markings should be used to regulate traffic flow; yellow markings control parking. Again, reflective materials are good practice.

Lighting needs to be sufficient for vehicles and pedestrians to manoeuvre, circulate and cross safely, and for safe loading and unloading. Sudden changes in light intensity that could cause dazzling should be avoided.

Safe site activities

Safe site design is essential; however, it must go hand-in-hand with consistently safe site activities.

Reversing accounts for around one-quarter of all vehicle-associated fatalities, even on well-designed sites. The best way to prevent, or minimise, reversing deaths is via steps that make reversing unnecessary, eg with one-way systems.

When reversing is not avoidable, it can often be made safer with:

  • barriers that separate off pedestrian zones

  • clearly designated reversing areas

  • portable radios

  • a design for all-weather visibility

  • alarms, rotating beacons and proximity sensors

  • trained banksmen or signallers to guide reversing drivers.

Parking raises several on-site issues that include: the separation of commercial and private vehicles; marked loading and unloading areas; making sure that parking brakes are applied on both trailers and tractor units; turning off engines; storing keys in a safe place; lowering trailer legs.

Coupling and decoupling; loading and unloading

Coupling and decoupling creates major risks. To minimise them, trailers and tractor units should always be coupled and uncoupled on well-lit, firm ground with level surfaces. Drivers need proper training for this; their work must be monitored by site operators to ensure safety.

Sheeting and securing exposed loads comes with similar caveats to loading and unloading. Everyone involved should be made aware of the specific risks and requirements.

Loading and unloading must be restricted to areas that are:

  • clear of other traffic and people

  • on level ground

  • separated from other work activities

  • free from overhead wires, pipelines and other obstacles

  • protected from bad weather.

Again, brakes and stabilisers must be deployed and a driver’s safe waiting area provided. Because of the risks of vehicles being unintentionally driven away, loading bay traffic lights, vehicle and trailer restraints and safe key custody are also good practice.

Tipping, overturning and falls from heights

Vehicle instability, plus the dangers of working at heights while sheeting downloads, are other common accident causes.

Tipping risks can be minimised by:

  • always tipping on level ground

  • aligning tractor units and trailers

  • using wheel stops whenever possible

  • releasing and securing tailgates

  • ensuring no nearby pedestrians

  • avoiding overhead obstacles such as power lines.

Loads that stick are a particular problem: vehicle bodies should be lowered and raised, not driven to jolt loads free, and no one should ever climb into the tipper body to try to free a hanging load.

Overturning risks can be minimised by considering:

  • vehicle suitability

  • surface conditions and gradients

  • operating speeds

  • sharp bends

  • how loads are positioned.

Driver must wear seatbelts even if roll-over protection systems (ROPS) are provided.

Falling from heights off precarious loads is a common hazard. To reduce it, it is important to:

  • carry out sheeting and other work from ground level wherever possible

  • use platforms with safety barriers if necessary

  • make full use of personal protective equipment, including fall-arrest systems.

People who are not directly involved should be kept well away.

Safe vehicles

Workplace vehicles should be suitable for their environment and the staff who use them; it is well-worth talking to people who operate them on the front line.

Most workplace vehicles should meet standards set for vehicles on public roads under the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986. Modifications, such as rotating beacons, reverse alarms and conspicuous painting and markings, improve visability for pedestrians. CCTV and special mirrors give drivers a wider view.

Consistently high-quality maintenance is another essential part of the safety equation. Lift trucks and vehicles with tail-lifts should be examined thoroughly by competent persons (reports must be kept). Planned inspections are a key part of preventive maintenance and can include daily checks by drivers, plus time or mileage-based checks by maintenance inspectors.

Safe drivers

Drivers must be competent to operate their vehicles safely. To do so, they need appropriate information, instruction and training, particularly in the case of younger or less experienced employees whose work needs to be monitored closely.

New recruits require basic training; existing employees should be given ongoing training and refresher courses to cope with change. Training needs will depend on experience and previous training, and should be identified during initial risk assessment.

Feedback is important. Reviewing information from newly appointed drivers can be surprisingly informative. Training records should be kept on all staff; there are very detailed special requirements for fork-lift truck drivers.

Personal fitness to operate vehicles is another important driver dimension. Detailed advice on medical standards of fitness to drive are published by the Drivers Medical Unit of the DVLA at www.dft.gov.uk.

Other factors

Regular consultations with employees on health and safety issues is a legal requirement, either through trade union representatives, in non-unionised workplaces directly or via elected representatives. This involves not only giving out information, but also listening to staff views before making decisions.

In shared premises, co-operation and communication are essential so that everyone understands common transport issues. Vehicles on which employees from more than one company work are regarded as shared workplaces — one example is the loading or unloading of trailers owned by distribution companies. Clear written instructions are best; landlords also have site safety responsibilities.

When the public have access, people are best kept away from work areas. If this is not practical, controlled access and a separation of people from vehicles, plus closely-managed vehicle movements and the careful monitoring of activities is essential.

Contractors should be subject to the same principles that apply to company staff, with the proviso that their work may involve extra risks.

Further information

See the HSE’s workplace transport microsite.