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Engineers: deterring active travel, or designing out road risk? 

28 October 2021

Professor Kate Cairns discusses new ICE guidance on designing out work-related road risk to support Vision Zero, net zero, and ultimately create inclusive cities and liveable streets.

Engineers: deterring active travel, or designing out road risk? 
The safety of construction vehicle movement should be planned for activities off-site, as well as on-site. Image credit: Shutterstock

Over 5,500 people are killed or injured every year on Britain’s roads in collisions with vehicles commonplace in construction – that’s 20 every working day.

Looking at fatalities alone – remembering the construction industry is consistently rated by insurance companies as one of the most dangerous - four times as many members of the public are killed by our construction activities off-site than workers on-site.

A damning statistic for those of us aspiring to build inclusive, sustainable, smart cities of the future. Paradoxically, in servicing such projects, we cause carnage on our streets, posing the biggest deterrent there is to active travel.

Half of the fatal or serious injury incidents involving heavy goods vehicles were construction-specific (concrete mixers, skip lorries, tippers) which have blind spots so massive that up to 17 cyclists surrounding such a legally compliant vehicle can be invisible to the driver.

Collisions will inevitably double, or worse, as the essential growth of active travel takes effect; cycling, walking, skating and scooting so needed to help to reduce population ill-health, emissions and congestion and drive towards net zero. The trauma of each collision indelibly affects many beyond the victim, their family, friends and colleagues - the driver, witnesses and first responders, too.

ICE's duty to encourage members to ensure community safety

For the past decade, ICE has sought to encourage its members to do more to reduce work-related road risk. It fully endorses Vision Zero, the ambition to eliminate road death by 2040, which has already happened in some cities, such as Oslo.

As a CLOCS (Construction Logistics and Community Safety) Champion, ICE holds a duty to encourage its members and stakeholders in infrastructure to act proactively to reduce the grossly disproportionate risk posed to the community by heavy construction vehicles.

I have spoken at numerous ICE events, workshops, industry seminars, organisational safety forums up and down the country to convey the message that we must wake from our complacency if we really are serious about safety and sincere about sustainability.

I am often commissioned as a speaker to tell the story of my sister, Eilidh Cairns, who was run down from behind by a tipper lorry driver in 2009, and my subsequent See Me Save Me campaign to change industry, policy and legislation to make our HGVs safer.

Managing the risk of construction vehicles off-site, as well as on-site

Whilst thousands have died under HGV wheels since Eilidh, much has changed in the last decade. We now have the world-first award-winning CLOCS standard, and I sit on the Strategy Standards and Governance Board overseeing evolution and progression; we have the London Direct Vision Standard which bans unsafe lorries from the capital; and we have a national programme of training in construction logistics planning (CLP) where I regularly deliver courses across the supply chain.

Just as we do on-site we need to apply risk management processes, through the CLOCS standard and construction logistics planning to reduce the harm caused when poorly trained drivers, equipped with ageing and dangerous trucks are asked to navigate congested towns and cities to service our construction projects.

On-site, risk registers, method statements and RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Disease and Dangerous Occurences Regulations) are part of every activity to minimise the potential harm to construction workers, yet we are not undertaking the same rigor to manage the risk of our vehicles off-site.

Influence and change is most feasible and effective when considered early, which is why I was delighted when members of ICE’s Health & Safety Community of Practice, Claire Oliver, Ciaran McAleenan and Philip Baker, approached me to collaborate on publishing guidance for designers on this issue.

What is CLOCS?

CLOCS (Construction Logistics and Community Safety) is a national standard that requires all stakeholders in construction to take responsibility for health and safety beyond the hoardings. It demands collaborative action to prevent fatal and serious collisions between vehicles servicing construction projects and other road users: pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.

The CLOCS Standard requires action from clients, principal contractors and vehicle operators, and harnesses the power of policy-makers to minimise the impact of construction projects and eliminate harm to communities.

CLOCS: good practice for designers

Prioritising safety on all infrastructure projects should be paramount to the design process, and designers are required to design out and reduce foreseeable risks to anyone affected by the project.

The ICE guidance note for designers describes the approach engineers should take when developing their designs: implementing CLOCS requires forethought to include planning for resource and vehicle movements for a construction site in order to reduce its impact on the road network and local community.

The guidance and related construction logistics planning training gives a raft of mitigation measures, ranging in ambition and aspiration, suitable across a range of projects, which when adopted not only make our streets safer but reduce emissions, congestion and ultimately cost of our projects, giving us a license to operate, a tool for community engagement, and demonstrating adherence to environmental social and governance objectives.

I encourage designers to familiarise themselves with the advice in this document, be cognisant of the risk we pose and consider the influence they hold in ensuring the safest construction vehicle journeys. It’s a matter of life or death.

  • Professor Kate Cairns, consultant at Cairns Consultancy