By Wayne Johnston,
Managing Director, WJ Group
I am passionate about changing the way we work in this industry and will continue to invest in research and development to find better, more efficient and safer ways of working.
For too long now, we have carried out various highway maintenance activities in the same way as we did when I first came into the business more than 30 years ago.
In terms of general UK road safety, it is acknowledged, that our busy road network has consistently ranked among the worlds lowest levels of killed and seriously injured (KSI). Perhaps that’s down to our ingenuity, with our world class design engineers and road builders, Traffic Sign Regulations and General Directions (TSRGD), plus the introduction of Cats Eyes by Percy Shaw in the 1930’s or the Shell and Colas innovation of high friction surfacing in the 1960’s not to mention today’s high-performance road markings. So, maybe, as a country, we should congratulate ourselves on a relatively safe road network.
However, my concern is that, in recent years, overall injuries to our estimated 6,000 road maintenance workers has risen. In today’s traffic conditions, the live carriageway of any highway is a very dangerous place to work. A large proportion of our specialist road marking delivery is on motorways and major A roads and according to Highways England, over the past ten years, fourteen service provider workers and two Highways England traffic officers were killed whilst carrying out their duties. Research has highlighted that roadside workers have the 16th most hazardous occupation in the UK so the statistics are no great surprise.
Our business is primarily, about road safety and we continuously innovate high performance and durable markings to provide better and safer journeys for the road users. However, it is safety and well-being of the workforce with equal consideration for the safety of everyone impacted by our activity, that dominates our thinking. So, to that end we must all embed safety into our businesses as a core value. There is nothing more important than ensuring everyone goes home safely after each day or night shift.
We certainly support Highways England aim which is ‘no one should be harmed when travelling or working on the strategic road network and want to help make the network safer contributing to a target of 40% reduction in deaths and serious injuries by the end of 2020.
Training, operative awareness, collaboration, adopting best practice, influencing behaviours and innovation all have a vital part to play in meeting this objective.
We also recognised some time ago that the most qualified group of people to provide ideas for continuous safety improvements are our own workforce, so we pioneered a proactive system of engagement.
Many of the resulting initiatives with PPE, trucks and processes have all helped raise the bar for the road marking sector. However, I concluded that a step change in our thinking and approach is needed if we are to achieve the industry aim of zero fatalities.
One thing that could help us is more automation of processes to remove operatives off the carriageway and place them out of harm’s way. We have risks associated with people, plant interface, handling hot materials and of course we are always vulnerable to unauthorised incursions into working areas.
A move in this direction has been our new method of road stud installation. The bespoke design of the WJ Guardian system allows the complete road stud installation process to take place, whilst protecting operatives within an integrated safety cell of an 18-tonne truck.
The UK utilise approximately 12 million road studs on our national and local road network, all requiring maintenance or replacement at some point. Traditional methods of installation by hand or milling machine require operatives to work in the centre of the road and therefore at risk of injury or worse.
That risk varies from site to site but always with a need for safety zones, either stop/stop type traffic management or road closures, to comply with the regulatory requirements. The WJ Guardian method does not negate this need for safety zones but does significantly reduce the actual safe work zone required. The innovative method ensures that the operative does not need to stand and operate equipment from the opposite carriageway to the vehicle but instead they are protected within the vehicles unique safety cell as well as within a regulated safety zone.
My fervent wish is that this new thinking will not stop at road stud installation but act as a catalyst to explore automation of other highway maintenance processes and afford more workers a greater level of protection.
The development also provides designers with the potential to eliminate several road closures and reduce disruption within the communities we serve whilst also improving the safety of workers and road users alike – which is all good news!
Hopefully, it could also be better news in respect of our skills shortage. We have recently embarked on a few initiatives with local colleges and universities to attract, keep and develop, young people into our business; but we do need to show that their wellbeing within a highways career is paramount to us.
Without doubt a safer approach is fundamental to sustainable delivery of all highway contracting activity and it’s time for a step change.