Driveaways a danger

10 January 2017

Senior engineer at The Health & Safety Laboratory Nina Day says many companies with generally good health and safety records, fall down when it comes to transport.

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. There have been a number of high profile injuries and 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.

“Driveways lead to a steady stream of deaths in the UK, year-in, year-out. People are often reluctant to admit mistakes. There is often no, or inadequate risk assessment,” explains Senior engineer at The Health & Safety Laboratory Nina Day.

“Even companies that are often very good in terms on health and safety, are found wanting when it comes to transport.

The risk assessment requires attention to detail and must not be standard, it must be tailored to the individual risks and circumstances of the company and the site.

“One company’s policy - for forklifts and HGVs - was simply to say to drivers - ‘drive safely’ - this is not adequate,” says Nina.

“Different skill set and training is required for drivers who run DC to DC; and those who are more involved in loading and unloading; or who have complex, unusual loads. Training and risk assessment must reflect this.”

Nina addressed the SEMA Safety Conference in November on Driveaways and road transport safety issues.

Labyrinth Consulting director Ruth Waring adds: “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. 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.”

Labyrinth Consulting advises companies to 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? 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? Look at the behaviour of the driver, the loader and the person in charge – and control what you can.

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 controls 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. 

Ruth also says near miss data should be used wisely.

“Treat drive-away near misses according to potential severity, not what actually happened; focus on the 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,” she explains.