Menzies Distribution Ltd. - A management-led safety initiative

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Edinburgh based Menzies Distribution Ltd (MD), part of John Menzies plc, is a support business specialising in time critical distribution services to the newspaper and magazine sector. Largely unseen, the company conducts a rigorous operation, handling these most time sensitive products to guarantee that consumers, wherever they are located, can access the latest news, information and gossip, each and every day.

Menzies Distribution is the largest operating division of the John Menzies group and has been involved in newspaper distribution since 1833. Today, through its network of 25 main depots and 10 satellite depots, Menzies Distribution handles over 3000 magazine titles, as well as national press, distributing on average 4.5 million newspapers and 2.5 million magazines each day to more than 20,000 retail customers nationwide. The logistics of this involves 4000 employees and 1400 vehicles; the vehicles cover a staggering 93,000 miles each day.

Menzies has always been safety conscious; they have never had a fatal injury. However in April 2002 they had an incident that has changed the way they operate. At one of their larger sites a forklift truck overturned while unloading a contractor's vehicle. Fortunately it did not cause serious injury but the incident was enough to make them focus on the causes and to embrace changes that were subsequently rolled out throughout their entire estate. Tom Bennett, Menzies Health and Safety Manager said, "The incident came as a real shock as it happened at one of our new purpose built sites. We had to ask ourselves, if this branch is having problems then maybe so are others".

Fortunately, shocking though the incident was, no one was seriously hurt, but the potential for a major injury was obvious. Local management started an immediate investigation, including a review of CCTV recordings of the incident. The immediate cause was found to be an unscheduled movement of the vehicle by an external delivery driver while the forklift was still unloading it.

The following day senior management, including the Wholesale Director, Tom Boyle, widened the scope of the investigation, as Menzies wanted to get to the root of the problem. To assist them and to seek an independent view they called in the Freight Transport Association (FTA) to take a critical look at five branches, each with different physical layouts. FTA's brief was to identify what improvements could be made, not only to prevent any chance of a recurrence but also to take the opportunity to review their whole layout and approach to workplace transport safety.

Tom Boyle explained "although it was a workplace transport incident that triggered the review, the whole range of health and safety was examined, not just to prevent a similar incident from happening again, but to ensure that the staff and any other persons operating within each branch were able to do so in the knowledge that Menzies Distribution were taking the necessary steps to provide a safe working environment."

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Freight Transport Association involvement

The FTA's investigation of the five branches concentrated on seven topics:

  • Depot traffic management
  • Manoeuvring and reversing vehicles
  • Layout and design of traffic area
  • Vehicle and pedestrian control
  • Safe working with lift trucks
  • Equipment maintenance standards
  • Loading and unloading procedures

The FTA produced a comprehensive 12-point plan and presented this to Menzies as the recipe for reviewing all sites.

  1. ELIMINATE vehicle activity wherever possible.
  2. REDUCE essential vehicle activity to the minimum level practicable.
  3. ELIMINATE the need for reversing wherever possible and create a one-way traffic system.
  4. Where reversing is absolutely necessary, REDUCE the distance to be travelled to a minimum.
  5. RESTRICT all non-essential personnel.
  6. MARK AND LIGHT all routes and danger areas and safe areas accordingly.
  7. Place ADEQUATE PHYSICAL BARRIERS to minimise the risk of vehicle/pedestrian collision.
  8. Introduce A SAFE SYSTEM of loading and unloading with effective supervision and monitoring.
  9. Ensure MAINTENANCE AND INSPECTION of all vehicles and equipment and check that systems of work are safe including those of contractors.
  11. Record how ADEQUATE TRAINING is provided for staff.
  12. Keep up-to-date RECORDS to show that the system is being followed.

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Putting the plan into operation

Menzies management team accepted the FTA's recommendations in full, and instructed all branches to carry out a local review of their health and safety procedures and to complete fresh assessments of the risks, with the FTA's 12-point plan as a backbone.

As individual branches carried out their own risk assessments this led to various approaches being adopted. "Our managers implicitly understood Health & Safety but getting them to record consistently was another challenge!" said Tom Bennett. Menzies realised that they needed some central control to ensure the risk assessments were indeed consistent across their estate. However they also recognised that each site was different and the "one size fits all" approach was not appropriate to their organisation. Their solution was to provide electronic templates for risk assessments, but to allow each site to adapt these to suit their particular circumstances. This approach has seen further improvements to the standard of risk assessments, and in the quality of management information provided by them.

Tom Bennett explained "the individual sites took ownership of their part of the review, contributing their own ideas with a steer from the centre where necessary. Little buy-in was required as it was in fact mostly local management's ideas, generated from the FTA's 12-point plan".

He went on to say, "A key factor of the success of the review was to involve the site staff in the discussions and planning; this made the implementation far easier. Each site presents its own difficulties. Involving the local team from the start has helped us sort out local operational problems resulting from the changes and these haven't slowed or hindered our operations. The end result was a mixture of input from staff, managers and directors, with expert guidance provided by the FTA."

"Monitoring performance is an essential part of managing safety and Branch Managers have to report all safety incidents. To encourage this, a policy has been adopted where blame is not attached to those making reports however there is a possibility of disciplinary action being taken if you FAIL to report."

Every depot has a branch champion for health and safety matters, trained by the health and safety department. Each champion is also provided with a copy of the "Managers Health and Safety Best Practice Guide", which sits on the Company's intranet site.

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To control the risk – first, control the vehicles!

Not surprisingly the first step towards ensuring a safe operation was found to be controlling the vehicles before they enter the yard. "This way, you are controlling the risk you have to manage", say Tom.

Now, when vehicles arrive they are directed to overflow parking areas. Yard marshals equipped with radios call each vehicle forward as and when there is an available unloading space. Previously vehicles would sometimes park where they could find a space, not necessarily in the correct area. An added benefit has been an ability to cut down the time some vehicles spend on site by giving them specific arrival times. Before this system was adopted, yards could have 70 vehicles on site at the same time, with limited control of the driver's movements.

Simple control measures, such as directional signage, stop boards placed in front of delivery vehicles and most importantly the handing over of vehicle keys to yard marshals (banksmen), have been introduced to ensure that vehicles cannot move around the yard without proper supervision.

photo of two john menzies vehicles

As reversing was identified as the area in which serious or fatal injury was most likely to occur Menzies made the decision to have reversing cameras fitted to all of their own vehicles over 7.5 tonnes - those that are longest and at most risk where reversing is concerned. Although the cost was significant the advantage to safety made the investment worthwhile. The cameras are infrared as most reversing is carried out in the hours of darkness.

Another serious risk identified by the review was from poorly secured loads in curtain sided vehicles occasionally shifting in transit. Individuals unfastening the curtain were at risk from having parts of the load falling on them. The vehicles are now checked by the Yard Marshall before unloading commences for any obvious bulges through the curtain. If there are any, the vehicle is moved to a well-lit "safe area", well away from other vehicles and pedestrians, so that the problem can be evaluated. The contractor vehicles bringing goods into the site are responsible for ensuring the load is safe. The drivers are responsible for deciding how to deal with the problem and in some cases the vehicles are removed from the Menzies site and taken back to the source site for the company that loaded them to make safe the load.

Yard layout was also identified as an important area for review, and so changes were made to the layout of branch sites including road signs, road markings, barriers and lighting stanchions. Working with local authorities helped reduce some of the costs of the changes; for example in some rural branches the local authority helped by re-angling street lamps to improve their coverage of the site, at minimal cost.

photo of john menizes vehicle storage

An important recommendation from the FTA was that, where possible, Menzies should adopt one-way traffic systems. Of course, the ideal one-way system uses separate entry and exit gates, but Menzies found that some branches, in older premises or where there were planning restrictions, were unable to install two gates. Even with this limitation they found that one-way systems were still possible.

"York is one of our older branches and with layout and space restrictions it is one of the most difficult to deal with," said Tom. "Seeing a site like York being managed well was more rewarding and impressive than seeing a similar situation in one of the newer purpose-built facilities."

When new sites are planned Tom now sits down with the design team at an early stage to make sure that the 12-point plan, and health and safety issues generally, are considered right from the start.

A key lesson to share with other employers is that flexibility in implementing changes of this kind is very important, especially in the early stages. As an example, when the first road markings were being applied to the yard areas, initial thoughts were to use high quality "permanent" paint, not unlike the paint used for public road marking. This was not done, which in fact turned out to be a blessing. With practical experience on each site systems are continuously improving. It is much easier to change the route and site markings using conventional paint.

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Training and record keeping

In addition to the site landscape and traffic management changes, FTA also suggested that Menzies review their training and record keeping systems.

Menzies already had a comprehensive training programme in place but decided that improvements could be made, including a bespoke interactive CD ROM developed especially for their operations. This training tool has the advantage that it can be easily updated and added to as necessary. It also gives Menzies the ability to train staff on their first day of employment rather than waiting until the next available training course.

The programme incorporates an induction module that gives new staff members an early indication of the risks that they may encounter while operating at a Menzies site. The programme also has job-specific modules that are more relevant to the individual's requirements. Trainees are assessed on each module using random questions generated from a question bank; the pass mark is 80%. The modules are not only job specific but also site specific, so staff can see how the training relates to their own workplace. A person's individual training records are linked to the main payroll system so that they are fully integrated into the personnel database and can be tracked though a person's career with Menzies.

Tom said, "This training tool has probably paid for itself twice over in the eighteen months it has been running. The Directors are fully committed to improving health and safety and readily supported this investment. The cost of civil claims has risen seven-fold in three years; however in the 18 months since the initiative began we have reduced our RIDDOR accidents by 16%, and minor accidents (non RIDDOR) by 12% in 2005. We have never set a formal target to aim at as, in reality, our aim is to have zero tolerance."

Manual Handling was a major cause of workplace absence due to injury and Menzies now carry out a training programme specifically to deal with this. There is an initial two-hour manual handling induction course on joining the company. Guidance leaflets are provided for every employee and refresher training is given after the first 6 months of employment, and thereafter every 12 months. Manual handling is also the subject of a module in the interactive CD ROM. Menzies found that improvements in this area produced the most significant reduction in reported incidents.

Traditionally Menzies employed external companies to carry out their health and safety training but this has now been brought in-house, with one IOSH certified trainer for each fifty employees at each Menzies depot. Tom said "the benefit of having in-house trainers allows us to adapt the training programmes to be more specific to our industry. It allows us to carry out training on a more regular basis without having to regularly source consultants. This has proved to be more cost effective due to high staff turnover in some areas of the country".

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Menzies Distribution has undertaken some major work on its premises and its management systems.

The key to success was implementing Health & Safety procedures that complemented the operation as opposed to inhibiting it, and adopting an approach making it easier for employees, managers and contractors to adopt the new procedures.

The focus on health and safety, although driven from the top, was readily embraced by all management and staff which ultimately made it easier to roll out across the entire estate.

The end result is an improved operation underpinned by a culture where good health and safety practice is firmly embedded.

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