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Top tips for avoiding drive-aways

12 September 2014

Excellent safety advice here, from logistics professionals themselves, through the Labyrinth Safety Circle.

The Labyrinth Safety Circle, a new initiative allowing companies working in the logistics sector to talk openly and discuss concerns safety concerns, met again in March. The group was well attended with representatives from major 3PLs, manufacturers and retailers as well as specialist equipment providers interested in this specific subject.

The topic on hand was Avoiding Drive-aways; the group agreed it was an area which needed additional work and focus, due to the complexities of loading operations, the increasing number of backhaul vehicles arriving for live loading and issues with communicating with foreign drivers.

What is a drive-away? Drive-aways normally occur due to a misunderstanding between the person loading the vehicle and/or the person in charge of the loading, and the lorry driver. The driver believes it is safe to pull off a bay but there is someone still loading the vehicle. If the loader is on foot they can fall out of the vehicle, but if they are using a form of MHE (pallet truck or forklift) then the MHE can also fall on top of them. There have been a number of high profile fatalities in this area and a significant number of near misses. It is also possible to have side drive-aways, where a curtain-sided vehicle is being loaded from the side, and the lorry driver does not see the loader, pulling away when the forks are engaged and causing the FLT to flip over. These type of incidents have also resulted in fatalities.

Prevention measures are in place at the majority of Distribution sites and RDCs now, although not all. These include key control, physical barriers, interlock devices, traffic light systems, chocking vehicles and more. However, despite these measures drive-aways remain a risk to the logistics industry.

Here, the group’s founder Ruth Waring listed the top things operators must do to avoid fatalities, according to the operators and equipment manufacturers who debated the vital issue in depth.

1. Use near miss data wisely

Treat drive-away near misses according to potential severity, not what actually happened. Focus on consequences of risk and take action by investigating root causes. There can be a climate of "phew, that was lucky” and everyone moves on without learning vital lessons, only to be less lucky next time. Make sure that investigations look at the assumptions people made which resulted in the mis-understanding, and address these so that parties can act safely without having to assume things.

2. Check out new products on the market

If your company did a review of the prevention products  such as interlock devices a couple of years ago, and there was nothing suitable available, it is worth revisiting the market as new products come on stream all the time. During the meeting we look at a new Salvo interlock product by Castell, which has a control system for rigid vehicles and live loading as well as for articulated vehicles, and we also saw a new product from Maple Fleet Services which works in a totally different way and controls the braking mechanism, requiring no retrofitting of equipment onto docks as the controls are on the vehicle.

3. Look at behaviour of the driver, the loader and the person in charge – and control what you can

When drive-aways occur, there is normally a break-down in communication as well as equipment failure or over-ride of any safety system put in place. This could be drivers retaining a second set of keys to watch TV in the cab or loaders working out how to disable interlocks to get the job done more quickly. It is important to look at all the people involved – focusing on those under your control – and explain to them why these controls are in place. Loaders and dock supervisors have the most to lose if the driver pulls off, so it is worth focussing on them. If they refuse to load a vehicle unless all the controls are in place, drive-aways are far less likely to occur.

4. Put system in place – then monitor, audit and review regularly

Many companies will have a serious incident, address the risk of drive-aways with a technical solution then "fit and forget”. However it does not take long for complacency to creep in and incident investigations involving broken traffic lights and missing salvos are commonplace. If obeying traffic light signals are a key control, there must be a system for rectifying defects quickly, otherwise pulling off on red becomes the norm, the lights are "always broken” – and then someone gets killed. Similarly missing interlock devices need to be replaced quickly if they disappear, as they are also critical control measures. Once fitted, systems need to be monitored – actually observing how they are used in practice –and fresh eyes can be helpful to remove complacency. Office staff or staff from other depots may be better at doing observational audits against the procedures as they won’t accept "oh we always do it like that” as an explanation and will challenge procedural "creep”.

5. Make systems appropriate to the type of loading

If you can go to a mechanical system that is fail-safe that is a major advantage in static loading environments but you may not be able to do this in every environment (for example, a Salvo interlock device will not work for side loading, and live loading/rigids will need an adapted system) – so you need to go back to the people involved, understand the detailed issues and risk assess each scenario. Then apply a solution which works in each case, with an emphasis on safe behaviour.

The Handling & Storage Solutions Safer Logistics Campaign

Handling & Storage Solutions has launched the Safer Logistics campaign to promote health and safety awareness in logistics in 2014.

We were inspired to launch the campaign by the Health and Safety Executive encouraging all stakeholders to show leadership and ‘be part of the solution’.

It is vital to push home the message that poor health & safety practices have no place in the modern logistics world.

What you can do

Clear safety first principles are worth repeating.

- If you doubt the safety of a working practice, stop. Talk to your supervisor or manager and agree a safe way of proceeding. Don’t carry on and hope for the best.

- No matter who you are in the management structure or workforce, take responsibility for your safety, don’t assume someone else has taken care of it.

6. Look at who really owns dock safety – is there a gap in understanding and communication?

Talk to drivers and loaders. What assumptions are they making about each other’s tasks? Are short cuts being taken? Are staff concerned but don’t know where to raise these issues? Is it clear to them what to do if they feel a driver is behaving in an unsafe manner? All these areas need to be clear. Also make sure drivers know how to report concerns. They may be really worried about lax procedures but be unclear what to do – if they report to their supervisor back at base does anything ever get done? Often if a customer’s premises is the source of concerns transport companies may not want to rock the boat, and yet the company with the issue may not be aware, believing that the yard is not really their concern. Share best practice with 3PLs and hauliers, and work together on improving this.

7. Design in prevention for all scenarios

It is important to look at all loading eventualities – own fleet, foreign vehicles & drivers, agency staff (both drivers and loaders), drop and swap, live loading, backhaul vehicles, third tier sub-contractors, rigids, containers, loading round the side, busy periods, congested yards – and risk assess all scenarios concentrating on the environment, not just the obvious "normal working” technical solutions or controls. Incidents often happen when things are not "business as usual”.

8. Make sure senior managers understand – and can provide clear leadership

Leadership is important – do senior managers understand the complexities and different loading styles? Are staff inadvertently working under pressure? Behaviours in the logistics industry are often driven by a desire to "get the job done” and pressure to load is often perceived as an issue by loaders even if that is not the message senior managers intend. However if they do not understand the hazards and risks they may be sending out the wrong message, or simply not re-inforcing the controls in place.

9. Communicate effectively

Look at communication methods – are you reliant on security staff getting a specific message across in a multitude of languages? Do you rely on laminated hand-outs in English? Some of the best communication systems for visiting drivers now involve giving them a short presentation to watch, which is largely in pictogram format, on a basic ruggedized tablet PC which they have to read before entering the site up and hand back to the security guard. This can also be in several languages. It is also useful to communicate on-site safety process  via email at point of order placement, for those organising the transport to pass on to the relevant parties. Email signatures with links to safety procedures are also helpful. The key thing is to ensure it goes through the whole supply chain to subbies’ subbies and drivers are clear on what is expected before they enter site.

10. Include H&S in your transport procurement plan

It is relatively simple to ask 3PLs and hauliers about their safety record on drive-aways prior to start of contract, but this is often not done. It is also possible to have contracts which include safety as one of the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) with an element of Revenue at Risk built into the contract – with payments withheld if these safety KPI targets are not met. This tends to focus the minds of 3PLs and hauliers to ensure that their drivers are properly briefed on drive-away controls .

Thank you to Ruth Waring and The Labyrinth Safety Circle.