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HSE Logistics Forum - 11 November 2017

Martin Temple CBE, HSE Chair

Thank you all for coming today. I would particularly like to thank Sarah Bell, the Traffic Commissioner, for her support, and the representatives of West Yorkshire, Cheshire and the Metropolitan Police Service who are here today.

It may not have escaped your attention that this event has been jointly organised between ourselves and the DVSA.  You will be hearing from all of us who have a regulatory role, later in the day.

We want to make a real difference to those who work in, and rely on this vital British Industry.

Today we are going to be doing things differently.  We will not be talking at you today but sitting down with you to understand what the issues are and what we can do to help the industry to improve, working collaboratively to make things better. Or is there another way? For example, is the answer more powers to the regulators? We think not.

We believe we have the right legal framework in place to hold to account those responsible for not managing risk - you might think differently.

Do we need to think differently about enforcement?

Should we look at enforcement activity at the earliest point in the logistics and transport chain, rather than at the scene of the accident?

These are all questions we need to think about today to understand what the barriers are, why it’s not working and what can be done, HSE can’t solve this on its own. Frankly, we are all in this together.

As I’m sure you are aware, road transport is absolutely key to the British economy. Three-quarters of the freight moved in Britain is moved by road and just about every business in every industry sector receives or delivers goods on a van or lorry.

The sheer scale of road transport is quite staggering. You may already know the latest statistics from the Government on the number of vehicle miles travelled on our road network.  But they are worth repeating as a reminder of some of the challenges the transport and logistics industry faces.

In total (and these are provisional to June this year), vans and lorries on GB roads travel 66 billion vehicle miles a year.  Add to this the 254 billion vehicle miles travelled by cars, and 5 billion by other vehicles – and the total number of vehicle miles travelled amounts to 325 billion per year.

In other words, there are enough road miles driven on Britain’s road network to get to the moon and back 1,863 . . . and a half times – every – single – day.  Many of the miles driven are by people who are driving for work.

It is not only the scale of the industry, but the level and range of complexity, and the pace of change, that present a real challenge to health and safety. That’s why it’s not easy.

I recognise this challenge. I’ve been a duty holder myself for many years. My own career started at British Steel and I have run many businesses including engineering, manufacturing, steelworks, warehouses, brickworks, quarries and a mine. I know how important it is to get transport right, and how costly it can be when things go wrong.
Current estimates suggest up to a-third-of-all road deaths involve someone at work –  that’s around 500 deaths a year. More worrying still, the most recent statistics also show a rise in overall road deaths to 1792 deaths. Remember this number is just the deaths – the injuries are just as challenging and are much bigger numbers.

I know that better management of road risk by businesses that use road transport in their business can reduce these numbers. These statistics also sit at the top of a larger number of other incidents such as vehicles shedding loads and non-fatal collisions that cause significant delays and disruption on the road network, increasing the pressures on everyone not just on the logistics industry.

Of course, raw statistics don’t tell the whole story. Behind every entry in a database is human suffering.

I want to talk about just one of those statistics. Earlier this year, a company in North Lincolnshire was prosecuted following the death of James Thompson.  Jim, like me, once worked for British Steel. He had been married to his wife Margaret for 49 years, and had a son and two grandchildren.

One day in 2013, Jim and Margaret were driving through a small village in Lincolnshire.  Coming the other way was a tractor, towing an unfinished agricultural seed drill, little more than a steel frame on wheels with the two wings on the drill sticking straight up.  As the tractor came towards Jim’s car, one of the wings fell into a horizontal position and Jim had no time to react before it hit his car.  Jim suffered terrible injuries and died at the scene.

The tractor was driven by a 19-year-old student on work experience.  He had been given no training, no instructions on how to tow the unfinished chassis.  The company had not carried out a proper risk assessment, and hadn’t provided suitable equipment to secure the wings for transport.  The company were fined £45,000 for their health & safety failings, and incurred a further £30,000 in legal costs.
I’d like to share with you the words of Jim’s wife Margaret following the court case.

She said:

“The death of my Jim has had a profound and long-term effect on the whole family.  Over the past 4 years since the accident the grieving process has been largely put on hold whilst we have fought to uncover the truth about the collision, struggled to understand why it happened and sought to ensure that no other family should suffer in the manner our family has suffered.  We sincerely hope that lessons can be learned by this case, Jim died on 16th August 2013 needlessly and his death was entirely avoidable.  That fact will live with us forever.  No price can ever be placed on a loss of life.”

I think the great tragedy of Jim’s death – and many other deaths in transport – is that they could have been so easily prevented.  I’ve taken time to tell you this because there are two particular aspects that I would like to highlight from this case. Firstly, behind every statistic there is personal anguish and pain. Secondly, the apprentice was not to blame, though he was the driver of the offending vehicle.

We need to recognise that it is not enough to say that the driver is responsible for the load and no one else.  So often it is the driver who pays the price for the mistakes of others and makes the best of a bad situation. I ask you, as an industry, do we ensure that the drivers are put in the best position to do a good and safe job?

I find it surprising that it is not uncommon for drivers who turn up at warehouses to collect their loads and are unable to make use of the washroom and refreshment facilities. Is this acceptable to us in the 21st century? Or that they face rejection of their load on arrival because of circumstances beyond their control.

Can it be right that frequently a driver has to drive a lorry that is unstable because he has not had an appropriate opportunity to check and ensure that he has a safe load?

Is it always the fault of the driver of a vehicle which has not got the correct equipment to secure the load?

Unfortunately, despite this, it is often the driver who appears to carry the can for others in chain. It seems not right to me – my question is, ‘is it?’

The issues cannot be tackled in isolation. Everyone has a part to play and must consider the effects of what they do, how they do it and how it impacts on the health and safety of all those in the transport chain.

Is it right to pass on responsibility or neglect of duty of care to others? The assessment of risk and the effect it can have on others in transport should also consider what happens way down the line, many miles away from the depot or point of loading.

That said the transport industry has, of course, made progress in improving safety over the last few years, in load securing, work at height, and manual handling. Automated sheeting, ground-level coupling, fall-arrest systems, and ground level load securing equipment, all help to make loading vehicles quicker and safer for everyone.

We have here today a broad cross-section of the transport industry – manufacturers, trade unions, regulators, consignors, and vehicle operators.

I think that’s very important because we all play key roles in the delivery of a safe working environment to our workplace and the general public.

HSE and DVSA are committed to improving road and workplace safety. We want to keep the roads flowing smoothly.  We want to keep people healthy and safe at work.

As you will see later HSE’s health and safety plans for logistics and transport have a strong focus on improving load security and management of overall work-related road risks.  We plan to work closely with all regulators and you in the industry to realise these ambitions.

Health and safety is a business enabler, it is not a cost it is an investment, and should be seen as such – that is something we want to convince you of today if you aren’t already.

Why is it an investment? Well, just think of the costs to business of congestion on the road network, through accidents or lost loafs, traffic fines, rejected deliveries through late arrivals or damaged goods, and most importantly of the incalculable cost of human lives lost or injured in road traffic incidents, makes getting the management of risk right in the industry crucial.  Managing risk well benefits your business and benefits society as a whole.

Once again, thank you for attending today. I hope you all have a productive and thought-provoking day. You work in a sector that underpins the entire British economy and today we have an opportunity, to make a contribution to Helping Great Britain to work well.

Updated 2018-03-06