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The construction sector has made huge strides in terms of site safety and HGV fleet management, but vans remain the sector’s Achilles heel, putting... Construction sector needs to improve safety

The construction sector has made huge strides in terms of site safety and HGV fleet management, but vans remain the sector’s Achilles heel, putting companies, drivers and other road users at risk. During October, the police, the Driver and Vehicle Services Agency (DVSA) and National Highways will conduct enforcement activity focused on this sector, to highlight the issues, educate drivers and companies, and remove dangerous vehicles from the road.

The campaign was inspired by National Highways spot checks at key sites earlier this year, which showed a 40% prohibition rate among vans. The most common issues were insecure loads, broken lights, tyre failures, fuel leaks, missing mirrors and unlicensed drivers. 

National Highways head of commercial vehicles Mark Cartwright said: “The worrying aspect of these prohibitions is not just the illegality of the vehicles, but that they obviously had not been checked prior to use.”

He says that many drivers expressed ignorance of the law, suggesting broader systemic and management failings. A key finding was that company managers were not conducting proper licence checks. Many foreign drivers had not converted their licences for the UK. In some cases, drivers had been switched to larger vehicles, to allow for social distancing, which they were not qualified to drive.

“It should concern board members, managers and drivers that in the event of a collision, the lack of a valid licence is not only illegal, but will probably invalidate the company’s insurance,” said Cartwright.

The UK has 4.3m vans on the road and it’s likely that up to 1m of those belong to the construction or civil engineering sectors. There are 857,000 skilled trades people in England and Wales alone. Construction and civil engineering companies have a duty of care, to ensure roadworthiness and legal compliance for their own fleets and those of dependent subcontractors.

Van collision rates

According to National Highways road casualty data, vans have the highest rate of other road user deaths per mile and were involved in 20 motorcyclist fatalities, seven cyclist fatalities and 33 pedestrian deaths in 2019. Nearly two thirds (64%) of those killed by vans were vulnerable road users. Moreover, van drivers themselves are at risk, for every 100 crashes, three of the fatalities were van drivers, with 43 losing their lives in 2019. 

By contrast, 40 people lost their lives in construction in 2019, (with 10% of those hit by a moving vehicle).

“Driving is the single most dangerous activity these workers undertake in their day and they do not realise that risk, or how to mitigate it,” said Cartwright. 

“We know that the construction and civil engineering sectors are capable of rising to this challenge because they have transformed safety on sites and in relation to HGVs. We now need them to step up and educate construction workers and put proper fleet safety management protocols in place.

“For smaller contractors, evidence of safety regimes helps you win work, and for larger companies, safety protocols should be an essential component of contractor choice.”