Why every workplace needs a safe approach to traffic management

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Whether a busy depot or a small employee car park – if pedestrians and vehicles share a space in the workplace, then your business needs to assess and manage the risks. Here’s how.

Every year, there are more than 5,000 workplace accidents involving transport. Some of these accidents are fatal.

Take, for example, the tragic death of John Fitzpatrick, a 59-year-old heavy goods vehicle (HGV) driver who suffered serious head injuries after being hit by a forklift truck at a depot in Salford.

A subsequent investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed numerous failures in assessing and managing the risks to driver and pedestrian safety, with HSE Inspector Sharon Butler saying that “this death would have been prevented if clear controls had been in place for visiting drivers”.

The company involved pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It was fined £800,000 and ordered to pay costs of more than £5,000.

What does the law say about traffic management in the workplace?

Under Regulation 17 of The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, employers are legally required to ensure that “every workplace shall be organised in such a way that pedestrians and vehicles can circulate in a safe manner” and that “traffic routes in a workplace shall be suitable for the persons or vehicles using them, sufficient in number, in suitable positions and of sufficient size.”

This regulation is as applicable to the depot of a multi-national logistics company as it is to a small employee car park.

Employers that fail to adhere to this regulation are in breach of their general duties to “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all of [their] employees” under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, the penalty for which can be a fine and/ or imprisonment.

How can I improve traffic management in my workplace?

According to the HSE’s ‘Guide to workplace transport safety’, there are three key elements that must be assessed and managed to ensure pedestrians and vehicles can circulate safely.

What are the three key areas of managing workplace transport safety?

1. Safe site (design and activity)

Design elements include considering how to: properly segregate vehicles and pedestrians; design traffic routes that are suitable for the vehicles that will use them; ensure pedestrians and drivers have adequate visibility of potential hazards; and maintain safe speed limits.

For activity, key areas of risk include reversing, coupling and uncoupling, loading and unloading, and parking.

2. Safe vehicle

To manage risk, site operators must ensure that any vehicles used are both suitable for the job required and maintained in good working condition. According to the HSE’s guide, most workplace vehicles will need to meet the standards for design and construction stipulated by The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, as well as any additional standards applicable to specialist vehicles.

3. Safe driver

According to the HSE, drivers should be “competent to operate a vehicle safely and receive appropriate information, instruction and training for the vehicle they use”. Site operators should also keep clear records of an individual driver’s competency, experience and training, as well as any medical issues that may affect their fitness to operate certain vehicles.

While the HSE gives comprehensive guidance on how to approach these aspects of traffic management, it is important to remember that this must be applied within the context of a site’s specific needs, including its layout, the types of vehicle present, and the activities that these vehicles may undertake.

Site operators also need to consider the HSE’s hierarchy for assessing risk, by first examining how a risk can be removed. For example, can a site be designed to prevent the need for a vehicle to reverse, an activity that is responsible for around a quarter of all deaths involving vehicles?

If removing the risk is not reasonably practicable, the next step is to reduce – and finally mitigate – it. For the example above, this may involve ensuring drivers have adequate visibility when reversing, or by installing barriers to prevent contact between pedestrians and a reversing vehicle.

As with any form of risk assessment, considering the health, safety and welfare of employees within the context of traffic management is highly complex. Inviting a third-party to review a site’s current operations, examine possible areas of risk, and identify areas for improvement can, therefore, make all the difference to workplace safety, particularly in high-risk sites where HGVs or other types of plant vehicle are more common.

Don’t wait for an accident to happen before seeking professional advice, however. By undertaking a comprehensive review of traffic management, you can ensure your site remains safe and efficient over the long term, for drivers and pedestrians alike.

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