Movement of vehicles in the workplace
Premises managers are likely to have to deal with a variety of vehicles in the workplace being used for many different tasks. The vehicles may range from road-going vehicles, such as staff and visitors’ cars, delivery vans and lorries, to specialist handling equipment, such as fork-lift trucks, dumpers, side loaders, reach trucks and telescopic material handlers. GC Tranter reports.
While seemingly essential for running businesses, transport can be extremely hazardous. During 2011/12, 20 workers and 9 members of the public suffered a fatal injury caused by workplace transport. As well as causing death and injury, collisions involving vehicles can cause substantial damage to other vehicles, buildings or racking, and plant or equipment.
What are the risks?
The Health and Safety Executive has produced extensive statistics that have identified four main areas where workplace transport accidents occur.
- Moving vehicles that come into direct contact with people in the workplace.
- Persons falling from vehicles during the loading and unloading operations.
- Vehicles (including fork-lift trucks) that have overturned due to exceeding site speed limits, uneven surfaces in the yard, or unsafe loads that have moved, causing instability.
- Goods that have fallen from a vehicle, striking individuals in the area.
A wide range of aspects
No two premises are the same. The nature of the site, the activities that take place on site, the vehicles, employees, visitors and contractors, plus those making deliveries, all differ. Consequently, the control of risks from the movement of vehicles needs to cover a wide range of aspects. This article will concentrate on a key aspect of managing the risk of contact between vehicles and people, particularly where shared routes are used and drivers fail to see pedestrians or pedestrians fail to see drivers.
Direct contact between vehicles and people
An illustration of a failure to put suitable control measures in place to separate pedestrians and vehicles is illustrated by an incident that led to the prosecution of Halfords Autocentres Ltd of Redditch. Michelle Sloan, who worked for Euro Car Parts Ltd (a supplier of parts to Halfords), had parked in front of the Halfords Autocentres reception to unload parts. As she reached into the back of the vehicle to remove the parts, a transit van reversed into her door, closing it and trapping both her legs. She suffered a torn tendon in her left knee and a severed tendon in the right one. A year after the incident, she was still struggling to walk and had been unable to return to work.
Halfords Autocentres Ltd pleaded guilty to a breach of regulation 17(1) of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, for failing to ensure workers and vehicles could move safely around its site. The company was fined £5000 and ordered to pay a contribution of £5000 to the prosecution costs of £5916.
What are the risks?
The main risks to pedestrians arise from:
- pedestrians and/or cyclists sharing the same routes with vehicles
- drivers not seeing pedestrians or cyclists
- reversing vehicles
- site rules not being followed or enforced.
Separating pedestrians and vehicles
The premises manager must ensure that vehicles can use a traffic route without causing danger to the health or safety of pedestrians and those working near it. Whenever possible, the roadways and footpaths should be separate and, if this is not possible, adequate warnings must be in place. Cyclists are also vulnerable and, consequently, their needs must be taken into consideration.
Wherever possible, traffic routes should be separated by a barrier strong enough to stop a vehicle, and that is designed to guide and segregate people from the traffic. Barriers or rails should be positioned to prevent pedestrians from walking onto roads and to deter pedestrians from crossing at particularly dangerous points, e.g. entrances and exits to buildings and at the corners of buildings. If barriers cannot be installed, road markings can be used to set apart vehicle and pedestrian routes. The difference in level created by a kerbed footpath will clearly show the difference between a pedestrian route and a vehicle route. Pedestrian paths that follow the route that they would naturally use will encourage people to stay on them.
Where pedestrians and vehicle routes cross, there should be provision of appropriate crossing points for people to use. These should be suitably marked and signposted. Different types or colours of paving can be used to guide pedestrians to the crossing points.
On larger sites, footbridges and subways can be used to avoid the need for pedestrians to cross a traffic route. Care should be taken to ensure that bridges over traffic routes do not interfere with high loads. When a large number of pedestrians is likely to be crossing, for instance during a shift changeover, access of vehicles to the roadway should be restricted.
Many accidents are caused by poor visibility, either by pedestrians not seeing vehicles or drivers not seeing pedestrians. There can be several reasons for drivers being unable to see pedestrians, including blind corners, poor lighting or driving too fast.
Potential hazards, e.g. road junctions, pedestrians and instructions, must be clearly visible. Drivers and/or pedestrians and, where feasible, visitors should wear high-visibility clothing if they cannot be adequately segregated from vehicles. Where vehicles enter buildings, such as warehouses, there should be separate access doors for vehicles and pedestrians. Windows in doors can help drivers and pedestrians see whether it is safe for them to approach. One-way systems can be used to reduce risks at blind corners. Where this is not feasible, suitable fixed mirrors should be installed to enable good visibility at blind corners.
Certain aspects of vehicles can cause poor visibility; large vehicles, for example, can have zones of impaired visibility. Drivers may be unable to see into blind spots as the vehicle changes direction and there are obvious visibility problems associated with reversing vehicles.
Nearly a quarter of all deaths involving vehicles at work occur during reversing. In addition, many reversing accidents cause costly damage to vehicles, equipment and premises. Where possible, the need for reversing should be avoided by setting up one-way systems, including drive-through loading and unloading positions. If this cannot be achieved, routes should be organised to minimise the need for reversing. Where reversing cannot be avoided:
- the reversing areas should be designed to increase visibility for drivers and pedestrians and should be clearly marked
- safe systems of work should be used
- pedestrians with no need to be in reversing areas should not be allowed in the area
- a signaller (banks man) can be used to aid manoeuvring in areas where clear views are restricted or where there may be blind spots, such as reversing into restricted spaces
- many trucks can be fitted with cameras to assist the driver to both complete his or her movements more easily and also to indicate any pedestrians moving around the vehicle
- proximity sensors can be of value, but these can lead to complacent behaviour with drivers over-relying on reversing aids
- audible reversing alarms and flashing beacons on vehicles can be used to draw attention to the movements of the vehicle
- anyone in the area should wear visible clothing, such as reflective vests.
Lack of knowledge, or misunderstanding of site rules together with the lack of enforcement of the rules, can lead to accidents involving vehicles. Speeding, pedestrians crossing at unofficial crossing places, and vehicles leaving their designated route can be a consequence of failure to follow site rules or lack of awareness of the rules.
Drivers and pedestrians who work on site need to be informed about the routes, layout and site rules relating to transport. New staff should be given information on site rules relating to traffic during their induction, and procedures should be in place to ensure visitors, particularly visiting drivers, are aware of the site rules. The speed limits for vehicles on site should be posted at entrances and around the site for reinforcement. There may also be a need for direction and priority signs.