HGV lorry driving along the road

Transport: addressing high rates of falls from vehicles

A haulage company in Wales has been fined £100,000 after a worker fell from a loading bay and died. The 63-year-old had been preparing a load of trailers in his lorry ahead of departure from Williams Haulage Limited’s site on 16 March 2020. The load of trailers were due to be delivered to a site in Germany. He was not employed by Williams Haulage. The man was trying to reach the top of his lorry, with one foot on the loading bay and the other on the back of another lorry. However, he fell approximately 1.25 metres onto the concrete floor below when the adjacent lorry was driven away.

He sustained severe head injuries and died on 16 May 2020.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into this incident found Williams Haulage had carried out a risk assessment that identified the risk from falls and introduced control measures, but these had not been used in practice. There was a lack of supervision and monitoring by Williams Haulage to check that these control measures were being used by its staff. Additionally, insufficient consideration had been given to visiting drivers, particularly when English is not their first language.

Williams Haulage Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £8,400.50 in costs at Llandudno Magistrates’ Court on 20 September 2023.

HSE inspector Matthew Pendle said:

“Any fall can have devastating consequences – as has been shown in this case of a man working far from home. Haulage by nature means drivers who do not always speak English can visit sites – they must be protected. This incident could so easily have been avoided had the company simply ensured the control measures and safe working practices were followed and that visiting drivers were informed of the site’s safety rules.”

Managing falls from vehicles
Three million people in Great Britain work on or near vehicles as part of their regular job. Getting on and off a vehicle to carry out loading/unloading operations and working at height on the vehicle are often viewed as incidental to the main job.  Because of this, the risks involved may not be properly considered by managers (and workers).

Careful assessment of the tasks involved and planning loading and unloading to minimise work at height can reduce the risk of falls from vehicles significantly and avoid potential losses for your company.

In order to identify and manage the risk of falls from vehicles, the HSE recommends a five-step risk assessment.

Step 1 – Identify the hazards
First you need to look at work activities that involve vehicles (including visiting vehicles) over a reasonable period. This could be over the course of a day, a week or a month. You need to build up a clear picture of vehicle and pedestrian traffic in the workplace, and to make sure you miss nothing important.

Step 2 – Decide who might be harmed and how
Hazards involving workplace transport involve drivers – both those employed at one site and drivers visiting sites owned by other companies. Think about all other employees, contractors, subcontractors, customers, part-time employees, cleaners, maintenance staff, visitors and members of the public. Which of these types of people are likely to be near to vehicles, and why?

Step 3 – Evaluate the risks
Once you have identified the hazards and who is in danger, you should think about how likely it is that an accident will happen and, if it does, how severe the injury is likely to be. Transport accidents are usually serious, or at least have the potential to be serious.

Step 4 – Record your findings
If your organisation employs five or more people (including managers), by law you must record the significant findings of your assessment.

This means recording the more significant hazards (usually in writing) and your most important conclusions (for example, 'Risk of dislodged load because of low branches – cut back regularly and put up a warning sign').

Step 5 – Review the risk assessment
You should review the risk assessment form regularly, to check that it is still relevant. 

Some management steps that might come to light through the risk assessment process, in an effort to reduce the risk of falls include:

  • Avoiding the need for climbing onto trailers where possible.
  • Providing steps and handholds where access is still required.
  • Trying out different types of footwear to see which provides most slip-resistance for the environment employees will be working in.
  • Regularly checking the condition of hand-holds to detect deterioration in load-bearing capacity.
  • Agreeing safe ways of loading and unloading to minimise the amount of time workers have to spend on the vehicle loading area.
  • Providing drivers with a system for reporting faults related to access equipment on their vehicles and check they use the system.
  • Making sure faults are repaired quickly.
  • Providing adequate lighting in depots and on the vehicles where work is carried out.
  • Providing safe vehicle washing facilities and ensuring they are used. Diesel, grease or mud increases the likelihood of slipping on the catwalk, steps or load area.
  • Giving drivers a ‘toolbox talk’ on how to avoid falls and provide refresher sessions at regular intervals.
  • Check to ensure that fall precautions are actually taken.

Case studies

Warburtons bakery discovered, while reviewing its accident data, that employees were experiencing problems when getting in and out of their vehicles. Employees were using rear tail lifts to reach the delivery load area. Access was needed on small jobs for short periods. Employees were tempted to make short cuts using the partially deployed tail lift as a step, which increased the risk of accidents. Restricted kerbside parking in busy delivery locations also made it difficult to use the tail lift.

Some Warburtons vehicles had side access doors with internal steps to the load area. Employees got in without having to use the tail lift and found these vehicles easier and much more convenient.

Warburtons has now fitted its fleet with side access doors and integral steps. This has reduced reported accidents significantly. Also helping is the improved employee induction and refresher training. In-house video equipment allows staff to watch a short video containing:

  • The importance of three-point contact when getting in or out of the vehicle;
  • Correct use of the rear tail lift for larger drops; and
  • The use of the side access doors for smaller drops.

Shanks Waste Management
Shanks Waste Management uses multiple pick-ups to collect waste. During a year, the company calculated that its drivers made about 2.5 million cab entries and exits to and from their lorry cabs, some of which, almost inevitably, resulted in slip and low fall accidents.

Identifying that low falls from vehicles was an issue they began to look for a solution. The company had already improved the quality of steps and handholds on their vehicles and daily checks ensured access equipment was in good condition.

Drivers received ‘toolbox talks’ to tell them about safe ways of accessing vehicles and instructions on entry and exit were included in training, but the company was still left with a residual risk of injuries due to getting in or out of the cab. The company identified that footwear was an area that they could improve. What’s changed? Workers were wearing rigger boots for work, which offered little ankle support when climbing on or off vehicles, especially when the leather was worn. The company changed the style of boot worn by its employees to a laced-up boot that offered more support. The company continued to provide good access to the vehicle, to carry out daily checks on the vehicle and to train employees to get on and off the vehicle safely.

A year after introducing the change in footwear, the company recorded a third less ankle injuries to drivers. Geoff Smallwood, UK H&S Manager, for Shanks said:

“It seemed obvious to us. You would never go for a hike across rough ground wearing leather wellies, you would wear good lace-up hiking boots. Riggers offer very little ankle support and the change to good quality lace-up boots with ankle protection has resulted in a major improvement.”

The change from providing good quality rigger boots to a good quality laced boot was cost neutral, but savings were made due to the reduction in ankle injuries.

Read more here about how International Workplace has helped DPD, the UK's leading express parcel delivery brand, to invest in its workforce to create a more positive health and safety culture.