The road haulage and distribution industry - overview

SIM 5/2007/02 - (Version 2)

Author Unit/Section: STSU - Transportation section

Target Audience: HSE and Local Authority visiting staff

Industry background

1 The structure of the road haulage and distribution industry is complex; essentially this SIM considers the safety and health issues arising from the operations connected with large goods vehicles (LGVs).

2 Road haulage is an industry in its own right. However, the guidance in this document may equally be applied to the LGV operations of all other industries.

3 Companies that run lorry fleets fall into two main categories; 'own account' and 'third party logistics providers'. Own account are businesses that run their own fleets as part of a larger business. Third party logistics (3PL) providers provide the lorry fleets (and often the warehousing function) on behalf of another company. 3PLs are recorded by HSE under the SIC 49410 – Freight Transport by Road. Some large companies set up 3PL companies which are an entity in their own right.

4 Over 62% of UK freight is carried by 3PLs on behalf of another company. This percentage is rising. 3PL companies often work within the premises of other companies. Inspectors may wish to check that this is accurately reflected in COIN records for the companies concerned.

5 Road haulage companies vary greatly in size. There are many very large companies, including multi-nationals, who should have structured health and safety systems in place. There are also tens of thousands of small companies, including owner-operators, many of which will have spent little or no time considering their health and safety responsibilities. The trend in recent years has been for takeovers and mergers, with many of the medium sized operators becoming part of the big companies.

6 A Department for Transport (DfT) survey in 2010 indicated there were around 95000 transport operators in Great Britain (down from 103000 in 2004) who collectively ran about 415000 LGVs (over 3.5 tonne). Around 83% of transport operators have between 1 and 5 vehicles. However haulage firms with 11 or more vehicles operate about 53% of the total vehicle fleet.

7 Lorries are used to carry a wide range of goods. Amongst the most common goods are food and drink (26%), minerals and building materials (31%), chemicals (8%) and miscellaneous manufactured products (35%).

8 The main trade associations are the Freight Transport Association (FTA) and the Road Haulage Association (RHA). Although there are large numbers of operators who are not members of either association, FTA and RHA members do contain most of the total UK fleet. Often, companies are members of both associations.

9 The main unions involved in the industry include UNITE The Union, Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) and United Road Transport Union (URTU). Larger firms in the haulage industry may be heavily unionised and inspectors should seek to contact recognised representatives in line with inspection procedures.

10 Representatives from these trade associations and trade unions sit on the Road Distribution Action Group (RDAG), which is an external stakeholder group organised by Transportation Section (part of STSU). The HSE haulage web pages contains a full list of RDAG members.

11 The accidents in the freight by road industry continue to be dominated by handling, slips and trips, hit by moving or falling objects and low falls. Further details may be found on the Road Haulage website.


12 Goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes are formally known as large goods vehicles (LGV). They are also commonly called Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs). The abbreviation 'LGV' should be used with some caution as it can also refer to light goods vehicles (vans). Increasingly in the UK, a lorry is referred to as a truck, however this term should be used with care in correspondence as it could also be interpreted to include other 'trucks', eg fork lifts.

13 Lorries can be divided into four main types;

  • Box (commonly used for temperature controlled goods)
  • Flatbed (including curtain-siders. Also used to carry iso-containers)
  • Tanker
  • Tipper and general

14 Lorries can be rigid or articulated. An articulated lorry is made up of a tractor unit and a trailer. Articulated lorries carry about half of all freight lifted, and are used particularly on long internal and international journeys, including to transport freight containers. Modern articulated lorries (with "friendly" suspension) can have a gross vehicle weight of up to 44 tonnes. Rigid vehicles can be up to 32 tonnes.

15 By definition, a vehicle is only a goods vehicle (eg LGV) if it carries goods. For example a mobile crane (ie a lorry which only carries a permanently attached crane) is not a goods vehicle. A car recovery vehicle that can only carry a maximum of two cars is not a goods vehicle (if it can carry more, it is likely to be classed a goods vehicle).

16 An LGV licence is required for driving a vehicle over 3.5 tonnes, although people who passed their car driving test before 1997 can drive a vehicle up to 7.5 tonnes without the need to pass an LGV test.

Haulage regulation

17 Whilst HSE has a remit for enforcing most areas of health and safety at work, it is HSE policy that HSE should not generally seek to enforce health and safety at work legislation where public and worker safety are adequately protected by more specific and detailed law enforced by another authority.

18 The DfT has responsibility for road safety policy, safety standards of new vehicles and minimum performance standards for vehicles in use.

19 This includes the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 as amended, which defines standards for items such as chassis strength, sizes, and braking systems. HSE have responsibility for vehicle 'accessories' (eg tail-lifts, mounted cranes, tipper lifting gear) and has worked closely with bodies including the Institute of Road Transport Engineers (IRTE) in developing guidance. HSE also has an interest in items such as the provision of adequate steps to ensure safe access to trailers, as these are not currently covered by the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations.

20 DfT also publish the Code of Practice 'Safety of Loads', which contains requirements for securing loads. Further information is available on The Work Place Transport website (this link directs to the National Archive) and any queries should be addressed to the Workplace Policy Team or The Safety Unit in the first instance.

21 Relevant bodies of the DfT include:

  • Traffic Commissioners - operator licensing (the 'O' licence) and suitability of drivers to hold LGV driving licences
  • Vehicle & Operator Services Agency (VOSA) - road worthiness testing and enforcement, drivers' hours for LGVs
  • Driving Standards Agency (DSA) – Driving tests and the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC)
  • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) – licences and medical fitness policy
  • Highways Agency Traffic Officers (HATO) – Reducing congestion, including clearing highways following collisions.

Traffic commissioners

22 The Traffic Commissioners are independent people appointed by the Secretary of State for each of eight traffic areas in Great Britain. They are concerned with licensing LGV operators, who may be companies, public bodies, partnerships or owner-drivers.

23 All operators (with a few exceptions) of goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes are required to have an operator's licence ('O' licence). There are standard licences for those carrying other people's goods, and restricted licences for those carrying only their own. The licence can apply to any number of vehicles and is issued by the Traffic Commissioner for the respective traffic area. The Commissioner must be satisfied that the holder of a standard licence is of good repute, is of appropriate financial standing, is professionally competent, and has suitable arrangements for maintaining vehicles and otherwise complying with the law.

24 If an 'O' licence holder does not comply with the rules, the Commissioner has the power to revoke the licence or to suspend it for a period. The Commissioner may also reduce the number of vehicles authorised or put conditions on the licence that only let the operator use certain types of vehicle, where company failings have been brought to the Commissioner's attention.

25 Inspectors should consider bringing any serious breaches of health and safety legislation by a haulage operator to the attention of the local Traffic Commissioner. This information is co-ordinated by the VOSA's intelligence officers and contact details can be found at:

Vehicle & operator services agency

26 VOSA operates 23 regional enforcement offices in Great Britain (listed in Appendix 1). Their main role is enforcing regulations relating to the roadworthiness and driving of vehicles. Complaints made to HSE about the roadworthiness of vehicles belonging to specific operators should be referred to VOSA regional offices. In addition, if HSE or LA inspectors find matters of concern regarding LGVs, through investigation or inspection, these should be passed on to VOSA's Regional Intelligence Units, as described in paragraph 25.

27 Statutory testing of LGVs is carried out annually by VOSA, either at their own vehicle test centres or at designated LGV operators' premises. They also undertake specialised inspections, investigations of accidents and defects (including on behalf of the police), oversee recall campaigns and carry out roadside and other spot checks. They may issue prohibition notices preventing use of a vehicle until the required maintenance work has been carried out and can suspend, revoke or curtail the operator's licence. They also give evidence to the Traffic Commissioners in their licensing function. The Workplace Transport Team, in partnership with HSL, is working closely with VOSA on matters relating to the safe securing of loads.

28 For serious accidents involving LGVs, HSE may be able to ask for assistance from their local VOSA office if HSE specialist support is unavailable.

29 VOSA and the police enforce the working and driving time rules for drivers. Information about driver's hours can be found on the Business Link website. Drivers are excluded from the maximum working time limits of the HSE-enforced Working Time Regulations 1998 because the VOSA enforced regulations are more specific on the topic.

Driving standards agency

30 The DSA have responsibility for the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC), which came into force on 10 September 2009 for LGV drivers. New LGV drivers need to take an enhanced practical test (which includes non-driving operations such as safe loading) and pass a theory exam before being allowed to drive. New and existing drivers need to complete 35 hours accredited training every five years to retain their DCPC.

31 Health and Safety awareness is one of the key elements of this training. It will be a feature of the initial training for new drivers, but existing drivers have the freedom to choose other types of training instead as part of their 35 hours. Inspectors should therefore be aware that holding a DCPC does not necessarily mean the driver has had any health and safety training.


32 Traffic Police enforce the law in terms of the Road Traffic Act and associated regulations, including measures to prevent loads falling from vehicles on the move, (see paragraph 51). They also investigate road traffic incidents as defined by the Road Traffic Act, and are required to enquire into all sudden deaths, including work related deaths. Inspectors may be contacted by the police in relation to road traffic incidents connected with work – further guidance is outlined in paragraph 36.

Metropolitan police - commercial vehicle education unit

33 Metropolitan police officers in the Commercial Vehicle Unit, who have received the appropriate training, have been granted limited powers under the Health and Safety at Work Act by the HSE Board. This allows them to take follow up action where a freight vehicle driver has committed a road traffic offence, or been involved in a collision, and where they believe that health and safety management failings have been an underlying cause.

34 HSE and LA inspectors may therefore come across companies who say they have been inspected by the Police. The Metropolitan Police visits should only focus on road safety and whilst the visits will mainly be inside London some visits may also be made to companies elsewhere in the UK if the company's truck operations within London have been found to have significant failings.

35 HSE is a member of the Advisory Forum for Transport for London's Freight Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS). This is a membership scheme that aims to improve freight delivery in London. FORS is free, voluntary and open to any company operating vans or lorries in the Capital. The scheme incorporates good health and safety practice and further details can be found on the Transport for London website.

36 As mentioned above, HSE policy is that HSE should not generally seek to enforce health and safety at work legislation where public and worker safety are adequately protected by more specific and detailed law enforced by another authority.

This policy is not intended to exclude the application of health and safety legislation to all work-related road traffic incidents. Where safety cannot be adequately regulated by the enforcement of other more specific legislation, such as the Road Traffic Acts and the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1996, health and safety legislation may be appropriate, particularly in the case of serious management failings.

37 Further information on work related road risk can be found in the following documents;

Carriage of dangerous goods

38 Operational policy and advice on regulations relating to the carriage of dangerous goods (CDG) should be sought from HID CI 4C.

39 Companies carrying dangerous goods should also have their systems of compliance with the "Carriage Regulations" checked. Detailed information is in the CDG manual. This is usually carried out by HID inspectors.

40 Police and VOSA carry out most of 'on the road' inspection of CDG operators (called 'the carrier' in the CDG regulations) but their powers are limited. HSE Inspectors have the full range of powers (other than "security" matters). Topics which are typically inspected include; DGSA appointment and annual reports; training of drivers who do not have to hold an ADR Training certificate; training of personnel other than drivers; training records; maintenance of vehicle equipment (especially fire extinguishers, which are cited frequently in PNs issued by police and VOSA officers); CDG documentation; filling, packing, labelling etc (where the dutyholder carries out that work); tank inspections.

Main types of workplace accidents

41 Summaries of the main types of RIDDOR reported accidents can be found on the HSE Road Haulage Website. The major cause of accidents is handling followed by slips and trips, and hit by moving or falling object.

42 Hauliers are often focussed on the actual transport risk. These accidents are major contributors to overall accident numbers, particularly fatals, but the non-transport risks described in the previous paragraph make up over 70% of the total accidents, and so also need addressing.

43 Many industries encompass road haulage within their businesses and need to take account of the risks in their workplace associated with this activity. Inspectors may find links to more specific guidance for industries such as timber, or ports on the HSE Haulage Website.

Inspecting road haulage companies

44 More information on the main issues within the road haulage and distribution industry can be found on the HSE Haulage webpages.

45 Inspection of road haulage companies can present a challenge to inspectors, as there may be nothing but an empty yard when an inspector visits. This also presents a challenge to the dutyholder to demonstrate they are taking adequate H&S measures. Many companies are small businesses employing less than 5 people – even if there are more than five employees, the company may not have comprehensive (or any) written risk assessments.

46 The inspection will therefore often be a discussion regarding the nature of the work undertaken, the hazards encountered and the measures in place to reduce the risk of injuries. If inspectors wish to view peak activity in the site or meet the drivers, the best time of day to visit may need to be established with the employer. Appendix 1 suggests questions that inspectors may want to ask. Inspectors may also wish to view the Load Safety Website (this link directs to the National Archive).

Enforcement expectations

47 Risk Assessment: Where more than five people are employed, and the dutyholder is unable or unwilling to identify hazards and prevention measures within their business, an improvement notice requiring the dutyholder to conduct a risk assessment and record the findings may be appropriate. The risks requiring assessment will depend on the nature of the business, but could include: traffic management on site, falling from the vehicle; manual handling (loads, sheeting, curtain sides); slips (particularly footwear policy); driver safety during loading and unloading. Some template notices can be found in the FOD Inspection Packs.

48 Co-operation: Since a driver's employer has a section 2 duty to their drivers, wherever they may have travelled, and site owners have a section 3 duty to ensure drivers are not at risk on their sites, it is normally necessary for both parties to communicate to ensure that suitable protection measures are in place. For example, if the driver will need access to height on his vehicles, the two dutyholders may need to decide whether a gantry or platform is to be provided at the site, or whether the driver will bring equipment such as handrails on a tanker or fall restraint equipment. More guidance on cooperation is available in HSE's Delivering Safely.

49 It is not acceptable for a site owner to try to discharge its legal duties by sending a third party driver (ie not employed by them) off its site to carry out dangerous operations, for example to level or sheet a load. Where such practice is seen, inspectors should consider an improvement notice on the site to risk assess falls from vehicles.

50 If serving a notice for providing information to visiting drivers (eg on the risks at the premises) Solicitors Office have advised that this is more appropriately served under Regulation 12 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW) rather than Regulation 11. HSWA 1974 section 3 and Regulation 3(1) of MHSW do of course provide an overarching duty to protect non-employees within the workplace and can be relied upon to this end.

51 Loads falling from vehicles: The Police and VOSA are primarily responsible for enforcing the DfT code of practice 'Safety of Loads', which focuses mainly on the risk of loads falling onto the highway. However, many major and fatal accidents during loading and unloading occur where loads are not secured, are secured inadequately, or have moved during transit. This includes freight containers which are badly packed, overloaded or unstable. Where inspectors come across loads which appear to be poorly secured, they should question whether it has been secured in line with the DfT code, and ask the operator to check the guidance if they are unsure. Due to the somewhat technical nature of restraining some loads, inspectors should normally seek specialist support before issuing notices. However, prohibition notices may be appropriate if there is a clear danger.

52 Manual handling: The extent of manual handling risks varies greatly depending on the way the load is packed and transported. High-risk areas can include rollcages (overfilled, top-heavy, or used in the wrong environment such as on slopes or uneven surfaces), and unloading shipping containers (goods are often unpalletised so a FLT cannot be used). An improvement notice may be appropriate where failings are found.


53 Any enquiries concerning this advice should be directed to STSU Transportation Section.

Appendix 1 - Suggested Inspection topics and questions

(para 44)

Health and safety arrangements for management of drivers' and other peripatetic workers' health and safety

  • Does risk assessment cover all risks to which drivers may be exposed to or create? These could include risks arising from loading/unloading, maintenance and repair, falls from vehicles, traffic management, manual handling, slips and trips, coupling/uncoupling, sheeting, reversing, stress, fatigue, and violence.
  • The risks assessments should also include on-the-road risks, but inspectors should be aware of HSE's policy in this area (OM 2009/02). It will normally be sufficient to bring the free WRRS publication INDG382 to the operator's attention.
  • Are priority risks identified in the risk assessment, and have suitable control measures been identified and implemented?
  • Are those responsible for risk assessment given adequate information, instruction and training on risk assessment and deciding on controls? Is this supplemented by adequate health and safety assistance?
  • Are health and safety responsibilities understood by those responsible and do they have time to discharge them? For example at contractual stage are H&S performance standards established?
  • Is supervision of drivers adequate? How are their activities on the road and on other sites monitored?

Arrangements for co-operation between haulage firm and employers whose sites drivers visit

  • Do employers at sites visited provide the haulage firm with information on risks to drivers or site rules drivers must follow?
  • Do haulage firms tell their drivers?
  • Does this information go direct to the drivers and does the haulage firm know this?
  • Do employers at sites visited consider risks to drivers from tasks they have to do on site and provide controls, eg gantries to permit safe tanker loading?

Training and information for drivers

  • Are drivers trained and given suitable information, eg; awareness of the main risks and causes of accidents; basic safety checks before using vehicles; loading/unloading; securing loads; running maintenance; delivery site driving rules? Because a driver has the relevant licence it cannot be assumed that they are competent in such tasks as sheeting, securing loads etc
  • How do they know if they are competent to perform the tasks eg many companies actively assess drivers by travelling with them in the vehicle?

Agency workers

  • How do they ensure agency workers are given health and safety information specific to the tasks they have to do?
  • Do they operate to the same standards of competency as your permanent drivers? (see above section)?


  • When purchasing new/second hand vehicles what safety features do you stipulate eg slip resistant steps and handholds to access trailer, reversing aids etc
  • What is your system for maintaining vehicles and vehicle equipment (tail-lifts, restraining equipment etc) and how do you keep records of the maintenance? Note: Vehicle maintenance is regulated by VOSA but it may still be worth establishing what is happening in practice.
  • What daily checks are performed on vehicles and how do you record defects?
  • If defects are found what action do you take?

Loading and unloading

  • Is this carried out away from passing traffic and pedestrians?
  • Are rules for use of fork lift trucks in place, adequate understood and followed?
  • Are checks made that loads are secure and not excessive?
  • If loads have shifted during transit what are the signs to look for and the procedures to follow?
  • Is sheeting carried out safely?
  • Is tipping carried out on level ground away from overhead obstructions?
  • Are curtain sided vehicles checked for load safety/'bulging' sides?

Other safe systems

  • Are clear and suitable systems laid down for coupling/uncoupling trailers?
  • Has reversing been eliminated or minimised? Where unavoidable, are there agreed and appropriate procedures for safe reversing?
  • Where appropriate, are reversing aids fitted, working and used?
  • What work is done at height? Is work at height eliminated as far as possible? If not, has the hierarchy been applied?

Consultation with employees and safety representatives

  • Are they involved in risk assessments and deciding control measures? There may well be a recognised Trade Union and their representative.
  • Is there a safety committee? If not, how do you consult with staff?

Monitoring and review:

  • What steps does haulage firm take to monitor drivers away from base premises?
  • What use do they make of accident reports? Are adequate investigations carried out?

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Updated 30.03.11