Register | Login

Is Safe Enough Good Enough?

Craig Williams

WJ Group Health & Safety Manager

I remain confident that the government’s strategic roads plan will provide the highways industry with an opportunity to upgrade our roads network and further re-energise the sector. However that does come combined with a directive to develop efficiencies and above all to improve safety performance in line with the Highways England ongoing “aiming for zero” action plan.

The approach is fundamental to sustainable delivery of this major investment and I would add ‘all highway contracting activity’ so it certainly gets my vote.

Comparatively whilst the funding strategy for Local Authority roads is a real paradox, working on their networks can undoubtedly present even greater safety challenges with far more factors to consider when assessing operational risk.

Overall the latest government statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are staggering with:

· 142 workers killed at work (2014/15)

· 78,000 other injuries to employees reported under RIDDOR

· 629,000 injuries at work from the Labour Force Survey

· 28.2 million working days lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury

· £14.2 billion estimated cost of injuries and ill health from current working conditions (2012/13)

The road marking industry would want to avoid contributing to these statistics but our inherent industry health, safety considerations, risks and challenges are numerous from thermoplastic burns to slips, trips and falls from vehicles to driving competences. In WJ with >178 operational LGV vehicles and over 450 staff nationally we have generally managed these risks very well by employing a robust health, safety and environmental policy with proactive commitment to continuous safety improvements.

It’s primarily about safety and well-being of the workforce with equal consideration for the safety of all road users and everyone impacted by our activity, so to that end you must embed safety into your business as a core value. There is nothing more important than ensuring everyone goes home safely each and every day.

Strangely enough the industry has left itself wide open with exemptions on road marking vehicles, classing them as plant, which means you don’t need an LGV license to drive a 16 ton lorry and you don’t need to MOT your vehicles either. Or do you?

I suspect the industry has been inadvertently misled for some time believing the exceptions provide immunity from prosecution but should a serious incident occur you will still be required to demonstrate a duty of care to ensure a safe operation with suitably maintained and tested vehicles operated by LGV qualified, trained and competent drivers. Exemptions will not wash with the enforcement authorities.

The right thing for road marking companies to do is take a policy decision to provide all lorry drivers with an LGV License and also MOT all vehicles. WJ have done this already and I strongly advise others to follow.

Meeting set standards is one thing but you can’t achieve the level safety we want with policies alone, our specialist activity needs persistent challenge to identify better, more efficient and safer ways of doing things and we need a culture of innovation to generate continuous improvement.

I am passionate about the safety of our road marking family and have championed a system to do just that by engagement with our workforce to capture their knowledge and experience, evaluate ideas, and find solutions to design out risk. I can’t think of anyone more qualified to inform us about the risks and opportunities for improvement than those out there contracting road markings on a daily basis.

However getting ideas from operatives needed a change in behaviour and the biggest hurdle I encountered was “Sociophopia” perhaps in this instance best described as the fear of being ‘laughed at’ by their peers if they volunteered safety improvement ideas to management.

Safety is no laughing matter though and knowing improvements will not happen automatically we have to drive the process by proactively addressing various aspects of safety. It takes time but through perseverance, real actions, investment and feedback you can, slowly but surely, build a trust and collaborative environment that will not only produce a series of improvements but will help evolve a growing safety culture throughout the business.

At recent company training seminars the entire WJ workforce was challenged to think exceptional about their own safety, their colleague’s safety and the safety of vulnerable road users; in fact to consider anyone whom their actions may impact upon.

Our safety culture was further enhanced when we issued our entire workforce with innovative standards of personal protective equipment (PPE) as they can immediately see that we are investing in their protection.

All good stuff you might think and for me, whilst the road marking industry is a way of life and I thoroughly enjoy my role, when driving to sites I often find myself thinking about the future.

We have recently embarked on a number of initiatives achieving safety through corporate social responsibility such as the Construction Youth Trust and the 5% Club but with the growing skills shortage are we doing enough to attract young people into our industry? …And what about keeping them and developing them?

Like me, once they have experienced the road marking industry I am sure it would soon get into their blood but how do we get them to consider the road marking sector as a career choice in the first place?

…. And for my part am I making it safe enough to be good enough?
Uploaded 16/11/2015