CM’s recent survey on safety on our roads highlights a stark reality – while many firms are taking action, and individuals’ concern is growing, the industry’s response is seen as lacking conviction and leadership. Elaine Knutt reports.
If you catch a news report about a cyclist being in a fatal collision with a construction HGV, what’s your first thought? For too many construction professionals and clients, it’s “I hope the vehicle wasn’t anything to do with any of our projects” or “I hope it wasn’t linked to any of our suppliers”.
Because if either of these scenarios turns out to be true, you could be facing the awful gut-churning realisation that an individual lost their life through circumstances your business might have been able to alter.
Between 2008 and 2013, 53% of the 82 cycle fatalities in London involved an HGV; in 2011, seven out of 11 fatalities involved construction vehicles. But has the rising toll of accidents been matched by rising awareness of the issue in the industry at large? Has awareness been followed by action, for instance, to adopt the new Transport for London-backed Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) or Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety (CLOCS) initiatives? Or does the industry think we need to pursue a different approach to reducing accidents?
The CM Safe on our Streets survey aimed to find out what the industry really thinks about extending its safety responsibilities beyond the site hoardings. The survey drew 371 responses across the contracting and client community. The majority (72%) spoke from a site and project management perspective rather than logistics, transport or health and safety (15.5%) specialists. But they were nonetheless close to the issues: 52% from companies that directly operate a vehicle fleet while 78% contracted with suppliers that operate fleets.
Which type of organisation do you mainly work for?
The 371 respondents represented a good cross-section of the construction industry, with the largest block coming from the companies with the largest fleets (24.7% were employed by large contractors over £200m) and a good response from 55 public sector clients (16.2%). However, the survey attracted relatively little response from product manufacturers, logistics providers or haulage contractors. In terms of job roles, 71.6% described themselves as construction, project or site managers, 14% were health and safety managers, and 7% were operations managers.
Of these two groups, nearly two-thirds were directly or contractually responsible for 3.5-tonne HGVs, while 49% were associated with the tipper trucks frequently implicated in road accidents. The largest single group (25%) also worked for Tier 1 contractors over £200m, while 17% were public sector and 4% were private sector clients.
However, our sample was less London-centric than you might expect. With some exceptions, cyclist versus construction vehicle accidents have been largely a London issue, as has the response. Crossrail put the issue centre stage by adopting a “FORS plus” safety standard for all suppliers to its sites, while last year, TfL rallied clients and main contractors around its new CLOCS standard. But respondents were drawn fairly evenly from all over the UK – 19% were in London, 15% in the midlands, 17% in the south east and 12% in the south west.
The first stand-out finding was that the industry was judged sluggish in its response to the grim catalogue of HGV-related cyclist deaths. Only 19% thought the industry had “taken a strong lead”, and 42% thought that it had been slow
to react and could do more. Clearly, in respondents’ view, the industry at large – including its trade associations, professional institutions and indeed media – has been complacent.
In the past five years would you say that your personal knowledge and awareness of work-related road risk (WRRR) has:
Asked about personal awareness of road safety in construction, around two-thirds said it had increased considerably or slightly in recent years. Among health and safety managers and operations managers, those figures were slightly higher – in both cases just 15% said awareness had not improved. But in London, the figures were slightly different to the overall average: 38% said awareness had increased considerably, 29% said it had increased slightly, and 24% said it had stayed the same.
CLOCS, the most high-profile industry response, has its origins in a Transport for London summit, although it’s now considered an “industry-owned” scheme. Seven of the UK’s top construction companies are CLOCS Champions addressing road safety issues through their supply chains — namely Laing O’Rourke, Skanska, Costain, Carillion, Vinci, Lend Lease and survey sponsor partner Mace. However, the response to the survey question perhaps reflects CLOCS’ complex history and dual “ownership”.
Meanwhile, CLOCS champion SIG Distribution hopes to encourage other industry organisations to do more to raise awareness. Logistics fleet manager Stephen Martin said: ”As a leading distributor of specialist materials, health and safety has always been top of SIG’s agenda. We believe the way forward is a two-pronged attack – investing in the safety features of our vehicles and driver training, and educating the public. We’ve been attending a lot of public events with our ‘Exchanging Places’ programme, which gives people the chance to sit in the cab of an SIG lorry so they can see the road from the driver’s point of view.”
In the survey, 31% of respondents said their personal knowledge of Work-Related Road Risk (WRRR) had “increased considerably” in recent years, while 36% said it had increased “slightly”; only 25% said their awareness had stayed about the same. The fact that two-thirds are on an upward curve in their personal awareness was welcomed as “encouraging” by CLOCS spokesman Mike Eames.
How has the construction industry and its clients responded to WRRR issues in the supply chain?
The respondents characterised the industry’s response to the issue as lacking in conviction. In London, home to Crossrail-backed FORS and the new CLOCS scheme, respondents rated the industry’s response slightly more positively: 25.7% said it had taken a strong lead (18.6% nationally), 44% said it had taken moderate action but could go further (40% nationally), while 30% said it had been slow to react and urged more action (42%).
But high levels of general awareness have not translated into direct knowledge of road safety campaigns. Asked to rate their familiarity with a range of road safety standards, the FORS and CLOCS schemes seem to have made surprisingly little impression: just 25% and 30% respectively claimed “some understanding”, and only 10% and 7% said they had a “working knowledge”. Meanwhile, 65% and 62% respectively claimed no knowledge of FORS/CLOCS, although this fell to 42% and 53% respectively for London respondents.
Interestingly, the HSE’s Driving at work: Managing work-related road safety scored far better: 44% said they had some understanding of it, and 14% claimed a “working knowledge”. The 10-page document, which applies to all industries and anyone driving for work, guides employers to “Plan, Do, Check, Act” to improve safety, including a focus on driver routes and realistic work schedules.
A similar picture emerged for the questions on adopting and mandating voluntary standards within companies or along the supply chain. Of the 146 respondents who operated a fleet directly, 16 had signed up to the FORS bronze standard, 11 to FORS silver, seven to Gold, and just 12 had signed up to the newer CLOCS standard. But the overwhelming majority (71%) simply answered “none”. When clients/Tier 1 contractors, a 131-strong group, were asked which safety initiatives they had mandated for their supply chains, again 74% said “none”.
Please rate your familiarity with the following fleet safety accreditation initiatives
The sample’s working knowledge of road safety certification and standards schemes was fairly low, with the HSE’s Driving at Work standard apparently making the most impact. Even separating out responses from the group you might expect to have most knowledge – health and safety managers, operations managers, transport managers and haulage contractors – there was surprisingly low levels of awareness. Just 38% claimed “some understanding” of FORS, reducing to 30% for CLOCS. Again, the HSE’s standard was the most embedded, with 42% having some understanding and 22% a working knowledge. But this group did have higher-than-average awareness of some of the generic, pan-industry schemes, such as the Fleet Transport Association’s Van Excellence.
At Mace, head of health and safety Andy Brown acknowledged that there is work to be done on promoting CLOCS. “The CLOCS Standard was developed by representatives from all of the construction stakeholders for the industry to adopt as a common set of standards.
“While the development and introduction of CLOCS is a big step in the right direction, it is clear that as an industry we can continue to improve our implementation of the CLOCS standard. The industry now needs to fully embrace these new standards and ensure that they are applied. We need to work together towards wider adoption.”
But even if there’s relatively low take-up of contractually-driven safety schemes today, what does the sample think is the way forward tomorrow? Perhaps not surprisingly, the solution that drew most support (63%) was improving highway design – building safety into our roads with segregated cycleways and barriers. In second place, 42% wanted to see safer vehicle designs on the market, and 40% wanted better uptake of retrofit safety systems, such as cameras and sensors to detect when cyclists enter blindspots.
If your company operates a fleet directly, which of the following WRRR initiatives has it adopted, or is about to adopt? (Left-hand graph). If your company is either a client/developer or a Tier 1 contractor, which of the following initiatives has it mandated for its supply chain? (Right-hand graph)
Looking at attitudes to adopting or contractually mandating various road transport initiatives, with over 70% selecting “none” on both options of the question, the unavoidable conclusion is that these schemes are struggling to gain traction. However, when those who had adopted a scheme (a group of 135) were asked how much it had cost their business in total, there was a wide spread of responses. 50% said the financial hit was less than £5,000, but 10% said it was £50,000-£100,000, and 15% said it was more than £100,000.
On these two approaches, Mike Eames of CLOCS says that introducing better-designed vehicles onto the market – a priority championed by CLOCS – will ultimately have more impact.
“We’re bringing the industry and vehicle manufacturers together to re-engineer the design of construction vehicles,” says Eames. “The manufacturers are saying, ‘no one has asked us for safer construction vehicles before’. Retrofitting is useful, but if you can redesign the cab, you’re achieving a lot more than putting TV screens in a cab and making the driver have to check them.” But some fleet operators aren’t waiting for CLOCS: SIG Distribution, for instance, has introduced its new urban vehicle for London, featuring a low-level windscreen and full glass near-side doors.
However, there was less support for another CLOCS theme – improving transparency of accident data across the industry was supported by only 22%. Eames feels this is because the industry has not quite grasped how useful and informative it could be to have pooled, anonymised data on road accidents and near misses. But Jack Semple, director of policy at the Road Haulage Association, believes the industry isn’t so much lacking hard statistical data on accidents, as a full understanding of the factors contributing to them.
What do you think are the best way(s) to boost road safety linked to construction?
The sample’s views on what could be done to advance road safety – and what was holding it back – threw up some surprises. While changing road layouts and road design drew the most support, there was also a clear vote for better enforcement of existing regulations (42%). Relatively few (20%) seemed to think that more involvement from trade associations and professional institutions would make a positive difference. Asked for ideas, one suggestion was that the industry should consider restrictions on working hours rather than an outright ban, and another was for a contractual levy to finance local authority-run Cycling Proficiency tests.
“A small amount of understanding is better than a large amount of data. But what are the causes of incidents regarding cyclists? The best we have at the moment is the coroner’s reports,” says Semple. “The data doesn’t tell you all you need to know, my sense is people need a deeper understanding.”
But, in joint second place with 42% support was a very simple option: better enforcement of the road safety regulations we already have. Semple believes that this reflects a feeling, in London, that the Metropolitan Police and the Department of Transport’s Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (formerly the Vehicle and Operator Service Agency) have been soft-pedalling. He argues this was only reversed in October 2013, with the launch of a joint police and DVSA Industrial HGV Taskforce.
Conversely, better take-up of voluntary standards along the supply chain was supported by only 17% of the total sample – although by 56% of respondents who worked for contractors in the £200m plus group. A ban on HGV deliveries during working hours drew just 3% support.
Which of the following do you believe is holding back road safety in construction?
On the brakes to progress, 60% agreed there was a lack of willingness in some sections of the industry to take responsibility. Among clients, the most-selected answer was lack of awareness of the safety features available. Asked for comments, one respondent pithily offered “lack of leadership”, while another cited lack of data on which safety systems work best. But the most frequent comment was simply “cost”.
Philip Moon, marketing manager for DAF trucks, says that the spread of responses, and lack of consensus on the way forward, highlights the complexity of the issue. “There’s a broad scope of issues holding back safety, and improving highway design is difficult for the industry to influence directly,” says Moon. “But it was interesting that safer vehicles featured quite strongly.”
The survey offers interesting insights into current thinking. While there’s a clear appetite for the industry to get a better grip on the issue, there’s also the unmistakable impression that the London-led FORS and CLOCS schemes are struggling to build awareness and uptake.
The way forward surely needs a concerted effort to embed these higher safety standards into supply chains, but also perhaps to recognise the existing DVSA-driven regulation and HSE guidance. But undoubtedly, a tougher industry-wide response will reduce the likelihood that your company, client or project ever faces those uncomfortable questions.