04/24/2006

Falls from vehicles

Professional drivers must frequently climb in and out of their vehicles, and
this leads to a variety of slip, trip and fall accidents, with falls from
vehicles accounting for around one third of workplace transport accidents, and
around one third of these is preceded by a slip or trip. To determine the
underlying causes and hence, in some cases, means of preventing these
incidents, was the aim of researchers at the Health and Safety Laboratory who
worked on behalf of the British Health & Safety Executive (HSE) who have
published areport "The underlying causes of falls from vehicles associated with
slip and trip hazards on steps and floors", which was part of the HSE Workplace
Transport Priority Programme.

The study considered a number of variables such as the slipperiness of cab and
trailer steps and floors; tripping hazards; drivers' 'normal practice' when
accessing and egressing vehicles; the frequency and purpose of accessing loads
on trailers; the provision and adequacy of on-board access equipment; the
situation of the 5th wheel; and types of footwear used by drivers and their
suitability.

Many recommendations are made in the areas of vehicle design, use of anti-slip
surfaces, improved access and egress provision, improved maintenance and
housekeeping of vehicles, fall arrest systems and loading aids, raising
awareness of falls from vehicles, producing industry specific guidance, working
to address shortfalls in current British and European Standards and working
with industry bodies to help to tackle the industry's 'time is money' culture.

The cab steps are used hundreds of times per week, and most of the time the
drivers negotiate them without difficulties. When they do have a fall, they
tend to blame their inattention. However, consideration of the dimensions of
cab steps points to design aspects that could reduce the need for concentration
in order to negotiate the steps safely. There is very little consistency in
step dimensions, both height and depth. The variation in height is most likely
to catch out a person climbing or descending the steps. Drivers emphasised that
handholds play a vital role in avoiding falls from the steps. Drivers
complained that the cab door can get in the way of the steps if they have to
descend in a limited space. The slip resistance of the cab steps relies on a
physical interlock between the operators shoe cleats and the profiled surface
of the step. How effectively this interlock works on a given vehicle depends on
the driver's footwear, which varies enormously. Increased levels of roughness
of the cab step surface would improve the slip resistance in wet conditions
regardless of drivers' footwear. Some drivers (generally younger drivers) jump
from the cab rather than using the steps, resulting in occasional slips or
falls, but perhaps more significantly, a cumulative strain on the back and the
knees that reduces mobility in future years. Some older drivers reported their
inability to jump from the cab, demonstrating the long-term effects of
repeatedly jumping from the vehicle.

Access to the 5th wheel area is generally quite poor. Usually there are few
steps with considerable height rises, handholds are often difficult to access
(they are commonly tucked behind aerodynamic fairings which don't always fold
back) and a patchwork of underfoot surfaces placed at different levels can
catch out the unwary. Consistency in surface finishes is preferable, as
transitions in slip resistance are recognised to lead to accidents. Trip
hazards may be presented by changes in level as little as 10mm. The physical
nature of the tasks undertaken in the 5th wheel area place further demands on
the slip resistance of the surface, often with the posture of the operator
compromised by the confined space. Drivers suggested that additional space to
manoeuvre in the 5th wheel area would lead to a reduction in accidents. Drivers
consistently argued that the biggest problem with the 5th wheel area is diesel
contamination.

The diesel tank of vehicles is commonly situated in the vicinity of the 5th
wheel, and often the tank forms part of the access to the 5th wheel area with
steps built into it. The access in this area commonly becomes contaminated with
diesel which might result in drivers slipping, or at the least their footwear
becoming contaminated. Many drivers felt they had experienced slip accidents
caused by diesel on their footwear.

The materials used for the load areas of vehicles (in rigid, curtainsided and
flatbed vehicles) generally provide low slip potential, even when water is
present. The area of the load bed that does cause concern to the authors is the
threshold, which is usually part of the steel structure of the vehicle, either
smooth metal or paint finish, and as such presents a significant slip potential
when wet. A pedestrian slip is more likely to occur where the person moves from
an area with one level of slip resistance to one with a different level of slip
resistance, such as from the main load bed to the threshold. On the whole,
where load areas are well maintained, potential for trips are limited to the
load itself, securing straps, or waste materials such as shrink-wrap and
pallets left in the vehicle. On some occasions, trailers were observed with a
raised lip along the edges, creating a trip hazard.

Provision of access to the load area varies from nothing to good, with most
vehicles falling somewhere between the two extremes. Fold out ladders are
commonplace, but generally are inadequate, with a very high first step, very
narrow treads and an absence of handholds. For egress they are difficult to see
from above resulting in the operator fumbling around to find the top step, or
perhaps more commonly, jumping down without using the steps. Some vehicles did
have substantial steps that folded or slid out from under the load bed. Steps
that resemble stairs are easier to use than ladders in terms of secure footings
and visibility from above for egress. If operators are to maintain three points
of contact during access and egress, then there needs to be provision of
suitable handholds. Where handholds are absent, use of the load as a handhold
where possible is likely. For example, a number of accidents are known to have
resulted from the banding on pallets breaking due to the drivers using them as
handholds. As with the cab area, younger drivers tend to find access to and
egress from the load area much easier, but repeatedly jumping from the load
area can result in reduced mobility in the longer term. Many drivers have
personal experience of falling from vehicles, and through this process they
learn to take more care.

The materials used for tail lifts generally present a high slip potential in at
least one direction, and therefore the design of these lifts could be improved.
This is a high-risk area, where a slip could see the vehicle operator falling
as much as 1.3m. Examples of tail lifts with edge protection have been
observed, although on one such occasion the handrails were not being used as
intended (with both guard rails in the upright position). Improvements to the
slip resistance of the surfaces may be a more useable solution than the
provision of guardrails, though if there are no rails there is always the
possibility of stepping off the edge. When the vehicle operator has to unload
using a tail lift, problems are encountered if the load is too large for the
platform, such as when a pallet and pallet truck are used on the smaller lifts,
which are primarily designed to carry roll cages. Thought needs to be given to
the loads carried and the way they are packaged to avoid such problems.

In relation to Fork Lift Trucks (FLTs), falls appeared to be rare and the
drivers interviewed did not consider falls to be a pressing safety issue. The
company visited for the interviewing of FLT drivers did include messages in
their training to avoid falls. These messages included: maintain three points
of contact during access and egress; survey the surrounding ground before
dismounting and clean up spills and obstacles promptly. The FLTs examined
generally had handholds to facilitate access, and the use of antislip finishes
was noted on a number of occasions.

In considering footwear, most drivers wear ‘safety boots' which have a steel
toecap to protect them from falling objects. Many drivers choose oil resistant
soles, in the belief that this means slip resistant, but unfortunately it does
not. Qualifying what is meant by slip resistant footwear is difficult, as it
depends not just on the properties of the footwear, but also on the surface to
be walked upon, and any contamination that is present between the two. Tests
carried out by HSL (2005) do show that the slip resistance of footwear varies
enormously, and that claims of slip resistance in footwear catalogues often
gives little indication of likely performance. The choice of footwear is
further complicated by the variety of materials on a vehicle. For example, a
7.5 tonne delivery truck might have a metal profiled cab step, requiring a good
interlock with the shoe cleats, a smooth aluminium tail lift, requiring
anti-slip soles that does not rely on interlock, and a wooden load bed which is
not a significant slip risk. The shoes that work well on the cab steps may not
work on the tail lift, and vice versa. Where footwear becomes contaminated,
with for example, diesel or mud, drivers need to be able to clean it before
they encounter surfaces which will be made more slippery with these
contaminants.

Various contaminants are present in the haulage industry. Most commonly water
from rainfall, and snow or ice in the winter months. Around the 5th wheel area
oil and grease residues can present problems, and some drivers reported a lack
of cleaning equipment to remove such contamination from their vehicles. Diesel
spills, encountered at filling stations, depots and around the vehicle fuel
tank can result in slippery surfaces. Where access to the 5th wheel area is
needed, setting steps into the diesel tank is likely to invite slip incidents.
The steps are generally too small, providing no more than a toehold, and diesel
contamination further increases the likelihood of an accident.

Maintenance of vehicles needs to encompass aspects that affect the drivers'
safety as well as the safe operation of the vehicle itself. For example,
anti-slip surfaces can change significantly with wear, and need to be replaced
periodically. Facilities are also needed to wash away contaminants such as oil
and diesel residues. Weather conditions can make the drivers' job more
difficult and hazardous when loading and unloading. The effects of ice and snow
on the slipperiness of surfaces are obvious, but wind also poses problems with
unloading operations, significantly increasing exertions needed for some
procedures. For example, curtains on large goods vehicles can act as a sail and
drag the driver from a surface. Hot weather can lead to heat stress, resulting in faintness and
the risk of falling.

Winter working can also involve significant time spent working in the dark, as
drivers often start work very early in the morning. Lighting of load areas on
trucks tends to be poor, and uneven ground around the vehicle will present a
more significant risk in the dark. Drivers work with little or no supervision
and little or no contact with management. 'Health and Safety' is often not the
priority in the haulage industry, with cost and time factors taking the
precedence. This is reflected in the demands placed on the drivers with for
example, instances of delivery times scheduled to windows of a few minutes.
With the unpredictable nature of traffic conditions, schedules slip and drivers
can feel pressure to cut corners and rush, both of which are likely to result
in accidents. Where training is provided, it seems to give the right messages,
but all too often training is not provided, and drivers are left to learn
through personal experience or through colleagues. Frequently initial training
is not reinforced with either refresher training or by a positive management
attitude to individuals' health and safety. Some drivers interviewed felt that
company attitudes towards operational pressures 'undid' the good work of being
trained, as many drivers felt that they were not allowed enough time to do
their jobs safely, and they felt that their managers would prioritise jobs
being done to time.

It is likely that there will be many differences between large national
companies and small and medium sized companies, which are less likely to have
dedicated personnel for health and safety matters. A representative from the
Road Haulage Association felt that the big companies have good training and
health and safety policies and procedures in place. He felt that the depots of
large companies are well organised. The representative also felt that most
issues would be likely to lie with the 'one man' businesses where less
attention is paid to health and safety.

Working hours do not seem to have reduced significantly by the introduction of
the European Working Time Directive (2003). Fatigue can be a significant factor
in fall-related accidents. Schemes that reward fast working, such as task and
finish or per-load payment encourage rushing, which again, contributes to
falls. Drivers undertaking multi-drop deliveries frequently have to sort though
the load during deliveries to find the correct goods for the drop. At least one
company visited had tackled this problem with regular planned routes, allowing
the warehouse staff to load each vehicle so that the goods are removed in
order, significantly reducing the time spent by operators on the load area, at
risk from falling.

Frequently drivers talk about health and safety being 'common sense'. This is
endemic across many sectors, especially in relation to slips, trips and falls.
However, this does not sit well with either the accidents rates in the industry
or the findings of this report. There are many simple and cost effective
interventions to reduce the risk of slip and trip accidents. When the full cost
of an accident is calculated and balanced against the cost of a simple
intervention, a compelling business case may be formed. For example, the food
sector has embraced the task of reducing slip and trip accidents, and many
businesses have drastically reduced their accident rates. Some interventions
need to be introduced at the vehicle design stage, and will consequently take
longer to have an effect on the industry as a whole. The most difficult changes
to make will be towards attitudes and behaviours within the industry, and the
industry's culture of focussing on time and financial cost.

Further info


AplusA-online.de - Source: Health & Safety Executive