The haulage industry has long been under scrutiny for its approach to health and safety. To be fair, this is understandable. HGVs, literally by definition, are heavy, which means that they can cause serious damage if they become involved in accidents (as in killing people). Also to be fair, the haulage industry has made substantial improvements over the years, in no small part due to better monitoring systems. The Coronavirus, however, is both presenting new challenges and worsening old ones.
Some companies want deliveries but don’t want to provide facilities
Even though HGV drivers are always on the go, they can find it a challenge to find a place to go when nature calls. For the most part, they have had to rely on a combination of service stations/overnight accommodation plus access to their customers’ facilities. Human nature being what it is, companies have long varied in their attitudes towards having delivery drivers use their toilets. In fact, the same company can display a different attitude depending on who’s around at any given time.
For the most part, however, up until recently, companies had been fairly reasonable about allowing delivery drivers to use their facilities, either because of basic manners or because they were aware that it was a legal requirement under health and safety legislation. Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, however, some companies have started refusing to allow delivery drivers to allow their facilities and, according to industry reports, the worst culprits are the larger ones, which, arguably, have the resources to know better.
Some haulage companies have taken steps to jog their customers’ memories. For example, Cramlington-based Moody Logistics recently had their local health authority provide them with an official letter setting out the legal obligation to provide toilet facilities. This was then passed on to drivers to help them in dealing with awkward customers. Given that bathroom facilities are used not just for going to the toilet but also for hand-washing and that hand-washing is crucial to slowing the spread of the Coronavirus, it’s sincerely to be hoped that companies pay attention.
It’s not just toilet facilities which are lacking
Part of the reason why HGV drivers are increasingly reliant on customer facilities is that standard facilities are increasingly likely to be closed. On the one hand, it’s completely understandable that the government has closed food outlets and most forms of temporary commercial accommodation. On the other hand, HGV drivers do need places to eat, rest/sleep and use the bathroom.
The government needs HGV drivers to move supplies (including essential medical supplies) from one place to another, often where they are desperately needed. This means that a solution has to be found not just to the issue of bathroom facilities but also to the issue of making sure drivers are fed and have places to rest/sleep. Client companies cannot necessarily deal with all of this but they can at least allow drivers to use their bathrooms (preferably without being forced).
The issue of rest resurfaces
Out of all the safety improvements which have been made over the history of the haulage industry, possibly the single most important one was the adoption of the tachograph. This has allowed companies and regulators to set and enforce rules on drivers’ hours and thus to minimize the likelihood that drivers will be working when they are too hungry or fatigued to drive.
The COVID19 pandemic has, however, led to many countries relaxing their restrictions on the number of hours drivers can work. While this is understandable, in fact, you could even argue that it’s unavoidable, the situation will still have to be carefully monitored to ensure that health and safety is maintained as far as possible.