Highways and byways – it’s a risky business!

It’s safe to say that we all get involved in some sort of street works operations – whether verge reinstatement, grass cutting, tree maintenance or construction – where we work on or adjacent to roadways. Guidance has always been available in the famous red book, ‘A Code of Practice for Street and Road Works’, but were you aware that this has now become an Approved Code of Practice?

“Not relevant to me” I hear you cry, “We don’t dig up the road.” Well that may be, but if what you do means that you could block the carriageway or have staff working next to a busy high speed road then these changes do apply.

Whilst this document is very much aimed at those working on the highway, there are now moves afoot to bring operations such as litter picking, waste collection, grass cutting and general grounds maintenance operations under the same type of control. This is not such a big issue within 30mph zones but as the speed limits increase then the way you operate has to change. This primarily involves increasing the visibility of your operatives, the vehicles they drive and warning other road users of what’s going on; all common sense really.

Pic 1

Over the top for grass cutting – but is it? Make sure you risk assess the hazards.

So where do you start? Simple, with a robust and sensible risk assessment, the basis of which should be to identify what you are doing and how you can reduce the risk. Coupled with training your staff these are the basics you need to have in place. Increasing the visibility of your vehicles with flashing lights and chevrons is all well and good, but do they really need to be parked in the road whilst your staff prepare a flowerbed? Can they not be parked round the corner away from the main carriageway? Review the PPE you use and don’t forget that this is a last line of defence; you want to make your staff visible but still able to do the job so take a practical approach. Hi-visibility clothing is great but remember it gets dirty and in hot weather it can be uncomfortable, so look at the task to be done and consider alternatives. Protective footwear, sight, hearing and hand protection all go without saying but also consider head protection. A hard hat may seem over the top on lower speed roads but where higher speeds are involved a hard hat can give some protection against flying debris. Hard hats won’t protect against a runaway truck but I refer you back to the risk assessment and the need for your teams to be there in the first place.

Like any work on our roads, signage is key to warning other road users that there is something happening and they need to be aware –  I’m sure I’m not alone in driving round a bend on a country road to be faced by a slow moving tractor flailing a hedge.

Pic 2

Do you give enough warning of this operation to other road users?

There is no quick fix generic risk assessment which covers all requirements for this task, you need to look at your individual operations and decide how best to approach it, but a word of warning; always go back to basics and don’t assume that common sense prevails. The HSE recently issued a fine of over £20,000 to a local authority because their risk assessment detailed the task to be done and the equipment required, but did not cover the basics of crossing the road from one side to the other – you have been warned!

 

Angus Lindsay

Group Head of Assets and Fleet