Royal Mail fires helmetless posties

Rules are rules as three workers sent packing

by Tom Henry   June 29, 2009  

postie.jpg

A Royal Mail decision to sack three postmen in a week for not wearing helmets has been condemned as ‘draconian’.

The three, all from Southport, Merseyside, apparently fell victim to a rigid interpretation of Royal Mail guidelines and are now fighting reinstatement.

Postal workers say the issue is a smokescreen used by the Royal Mail to cut staff numbers and costs.

One Southport postman, who wished to remain anonymous, told his local paper, the Southport Visiter, that his bosses were sacking people “through the back door”.

He said: “This is not about health and safety, this is about penny pinching. It’s no coincidence that the people being targeted at Southport are full-time workers.

“The atmosphere at work at the moment is terrible. There’s serious tension between the postmen and the bosses over this. It wouldn’t surprise me if it got to the stage where there was a walkout.”

The issue of helmets and cycling postal workers is a contentious one. Since 2003 the organisation has made the wearing of helmets compulsory. However, there is no legal requirement for anyone to wear a cycling helmet.

Then, the CTC, which has campaigned hard against the compulsory introduction of cycling helmets, published an open letter of support to postal staff and set up an information line for cycling postal workers.

The CTC said: “We wish to question the advice in an as-yet unpublished report commissioned by Royal Mail, which led to them adopt this helmet rule. We want to know whether it considered the following issues:

* Why is there no evidence of any link between increased helmet-wearing with improved cycle safety?
* Whether enforced helmet-wearing is any better justified for cyclists than for pedestrians or drivers?
* What liabilities might the employer incur by enforcing helmet-wearing on its cycling workforce?
* Whether employers are legally entitled to require staff to wear helmets for cycling on public roads?

The CTC says: “Contrary to the impressions of many non-cyclists, cycling is not an especially 'dangerous' activity, nor is it particularly prone to result in head injuries. One study suggests that compulsory helmets for pedestrians, drivers and passengers could save 12 times as many lives.”

Regional union chair Paddy Magill admitted he was currently dealing with “a number of cases of this issue” and said that guidelines were being interpreted by some Royal Mail bosses in a “draconian” manner.

Local MP John Pugh has demanded to know why so many local postmen have been subjected to disciplinary treatment after seeing a “frighteningly long list”.

He said: “The only one at risk from not wearing a helmet is the postman himself but the disciplinary action is not even consistent. Behaviour that is tolerated in one area may not be in Southport."

A Royal Mail spokesman said: “We take the safety of employees very seriously which is why it is mandatory for all staff who use a bike to wear personal protective equipment, including cycle helmets."

The bloggers have been out in force on the latest helmet-related sackings. One, Butrtthebike, on the Daily Express newspaper’s site, commented: “The helmet rule for postmen has nothing to do with the safety of cycling postmen. When it was brought in, Royal Mail commissioned a report from the Transport Research Laboratory about helmets, but have refused to release it. Nowhere with a helmet law or massive increase in helmet wearing because of a publicity drive, can show any reduction in risk to cyclists.

“It's clear that these sackings are being done instead of making people redundant, and the union should be fighting this all the way. Unfortunately, the union supported the introduction of helmets, and like their bosses, refused to look at any evidence which might undermine their irrational beliefs.”

* Are you a cycling postal worker? Do you wear a lid, or not? What do you think of the Royal Mail’s actions? Drop us a line and let us know.

21 user comments

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i remember reading on that road.cc friday ride story that fringe was a postie: you deliver on a bike? wear a helmet?

cactuscat's picture

posted by cactuscat [301 posts]
29th June 2009 - 14:35

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Though it's not a legal requirement to wear helmets if it's written into the posties contracts I don't suppose they have a leg to stand on. Unfortunately, everyone has to be on their best behaviour when the bosses are looking for excuses to lay people off.

posted by brainfluff [13 posts]
29th June 2009 - 17:19

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brainfluff - that's only half true, surely: if the obligation exists for the "safety of employees" then the employer has a duty to prove that it actually will make them safer. which, in this case, it won't

purplecup's picture

posted by purplecup [232 posts]
29th June 2009 - 17:28

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Purplecup, Royal Mail set the rules and the employees have to abide by them. There is no need to prove it is safer, somewhere there will be a risk assessment to back up the rule and under The Management of Health & Safety Regulations the employer MUST enforce the precautions in the risk assessment. Failure to do so is a criminal offence, until the risk assessment is changed the postmen need to wear their PPE or face dismissal.

Hamster's picture

posted by Hamster [72 posts]
29th June 2009 - 18:05

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This isn't the first time the Royal Mail has done this, there was all sorts of trouble when they brought in the helmet rule a few years back - the upshot it seems was that though the rule stood - it didn't appear to be enforced. I see plenty of cycling posties in these parts and I don't see many of them wearing helmets.

Quote:
Royal Mail set the rules and the employees have to abide by them. There is no need to prove it is safer, somewhere there will be a risk assessment to back up the rule…

The point would seem to be that the Royal Mail paid TRL (the Transport Research Laboratory) to do some testing presumably to back up their risk assessment and then, their staff say, refused to publish their findings - the implication being because TRL's report contradicted the Post Office's risk assessment. And that's apart from the fact that telling your employees to follow a rule that you both know is stupid, simply 'because' isn't a great recipe for industrial harmony. Something of course the Post Office is famous for.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
29th June 2009 - 18:26

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hmm im in the spotlight now eh!..any more road.cc posties? . Anyhow yep i do ride a Royal Mail bike whilst at work, but use my own bike to get to work and back, leaving the RM bike at the office (i use it to get to and from my first delivery point). I wear a RM helmet, as we get them as part of the uniform, but i also happen to use a helmet at all other times as well so i have no problem with wearing one in general.

But as most right thinking people would agree if you dont want to use one then its your choice. Sacking people for not wearing one? if you work for RM that comes as no surprise, one guy at work does a lot of BMX-ing, last year he broke a collarbone, and they tried to sack him, pretty much implying that he should'nt have such a hobby...

Basically from what i know RM want a part time work force and managers are keen to reduce full time employees in anyway possible. Non helmet wearing..sack 'em, wrong out of work pastime sack 'em etc etc.

Anyhow i could go on..!

Fringe's picture

posted by Fringe [1081 posts]
29th June 2009 - 18:49

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Hi Tony, the TRRL research appears to be a red herring thrown in by the Union to try and support their members. It's a good try but as I said the rules can be set and varied by Royal Mail at their whim (I speak as an ex-safety consultant). The Union would be better off funding their own research to refute the findings of the Risk Assessment. However they would need to prove helmet use is intrinsically unsafe in all circumstances to effect a change. (I don't believe that will happen but stranger things have).
Management of H&S at Work Regs are a harsh task master and it comes down to Royal Mails gaff and their rules. It's not morally correct but is legally correct.

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posted by Hamster [72 posts]
29th June 2009 - 20:49

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The wearing of a cycle helmet does not make a rider safer but it will invariably ensure that if a rider does have an accident a helmet will reduce or prevent the extent of an injury.
I have a work colleague who has been unfortunate enough to have been knocked off his bike twice and suffered severe injuries both times. The first time he was not wearing a helmet and was awarded £1500 compensation but this was reduced by 50% as the judge stated that had he been wearing a helmet his injuries would have been less. The second time he was wearing a helmet and received 100% of his awarded compensation. So even though the wearing of a helmet on e cycle is not a legal requirement the legal profession obviously sees the benefit afforded to cyclists.
As for the argument that the RM cannot require its employees to wear a helmet because it is not a legal requirement, don’t be so naïve. My employer requires me to wear a tie at work and even supplies one as work wear, if I do not wear it disciplinary action will be taken and if I continue to offend I will be sacked. Did the workers in your article get sacked for their first offence or were they given warnings first?
Finally I have been cycling for many years, on and off road, and had several tumbles one of which caused severe damage to my helmet but the only damage to my head was a small graze on my face. Had I not been wearing a helmet I feel sure I would have been hospitalised. I now commute every day to work and would never consider getting on a bike without a helmet.
Sorry to rant on but I feel very strongly about the subject.
Angry

posted by Drew_Smith [11 posts]
29th June 2009 - 21:51

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I'm a bit confused here, don't worry this isn't a new feeling for me. Surely the purpose of a risk assessment, unless it's just a clever name, is to assess risk. does that risk assessment therefore not have to 'prove it is safer' for the employee to wear a helmet than not wear one, or does the risk assessment simply say 'cycling is a bit dangerous, helmets are safety equipment, therefore employees will wear helmets when cycling' without looking into whether that'll actually make any difference?

I agree with you Hamster in that it's much better to challenge the ruling whilst abiding by rules than to flout the rules that are in place.

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7252 posts]
29th June 2009 - 21:59

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I too have recently been involved in an RTA, the driver pulled out leaving me nowhere to go other than into the side of him. I injured my leg and shoulder, and damaged my bike, I was awarded full compensation despite not wearing a helmet and stating so in my injury assessment.

I don't think that an insurance company using any loophole they can to reduce a payout is good evidence to show the efficacy of cycle helmets

I too feel strongly, but that helmets are overpriced, under specified and mainly a very good cash cow for the various manufacturers. The protection they offer is minimal, and are compromised by the need to be light and ventilated. In the end it is a piece of polystyrene that is perched quite high on the head and easily displaced. Charging up to and over £100 for such a thing is just profiteering.

I'm all for people wearing helmets if they feel happier in them, but find the stance that it is stupid not to, to be a little misguided. In the end cycling is inherently safe, and many more drivers and pedestrians suffer head injury, but no-one appears to advocate a helmet for them.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [648 posts]
29th June 2009 - 22:10

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I ride a motorbike as well as cycling and have no problems wearing a lid when I'm on powered two wheels. I ride BMX and wear a full face motor cross lid at the track. Plenty of people don't wear lids when riding BMX bikes but if you race, it's a BC requirement and if you've fallen off and taken a slide along a loose stone BMX track, you soon realise why a lid is not a fashion statement but a requirement. When commuting, I wear a cycle helmet but for ambles round the park with my kids, I don't always bother. It's a case of risk avoidance - on the road or in a risk situation like a BMX/downhill MTB race, wearing a lid is a smart move.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2132 posts]
29th June 2009 - 22:16

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Quote:
I have a work colleague who has been unfortunate enough to have been knocked off his bike twice and suffered severe injuries both times. The first time he was not wearing a helmet and was awarded £1500 compensation but this was reduced by 50% as the judge stated that had he been wearing a helmet his injuries would have been less. The second time he was wearing a helmet and received 100% of his awarded compensation. So even though the wearing of a helmet on a cycle is not a legal requirement the legal profession obviously sees the benefit afforded to cyclists

The legal profession doesn't see the 'benefit afforded to cyclists' at all but rather assumes there is a benefit and acts accordingly, something which the CTC, among others, works very hard to combat, given the paucity of evidence that exists.

If the judge stated that 'had he been wearing a helmet his injuries would have been less' then I'd like to know how he arrived at that conclusion and why something that's not a legal requirement was used against the victim of an accident. *That's* the kind of thing that makes me angry: your friend is £750 worse off simply because the judge thought he'd be better off with a helmet on, not because there's any large scale statistical data to back that up. I'm presuming that in a simple RTA compensation case he didn't rely on the evidence of any expert neurologists.

The fact is that although it's easy to *say* that your helmet took the brunt of an impact in any given fall it's impossible to *prove* unless you exactly repeat the accident without the helmet and measure the results. That being the case, the only way to meaningfully assess the impact of helmet wearing on head injuries in the cycling population is to look at large scale data, and the large scale data simply doesn't support the hypothesis that increased helmet use means decreased head injuries.

Anyway, cycling isn't dangerous; an hour of walking or gardening is more likely to result in a head injury than an hour's cycling. If your friend had been claiming against a fellow gardener who'd dropped some shears on his bonce, would he have been docked 50% for not having a helmet on? somehow i doubt it.

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posted by cactuscat [301 posts]
29th June 2009 - 22:17

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Hmmm. Royal Mail brought in helmets while I was still working for them. The managers at the depot handed them all out because they had to but made no real effort to enforce their use. I refused to take one, because I didn't want it, knew damn well that I wouldn't be wearing it and because they made no effort at all to give any kind of instruction or guidance on how to use the wretched things. And a helmet that isn't fitted and used properly is just a hat with attitude, certainly not a useful piece of safety kit. It struck me as a classic piece of corporate arse-covering with no thought given to actual benefit or real life value.
The fact that these sackings are concentrated in one office suggests that it's a local issue, not a national policy.

Chuffy's picture

posted by Chuffy [183 posts]
29th June 2009 - 22:23

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So do I Drew. So do i.

Regarding your friend, so far I know of no case in which an insurance company has succeeded in getting a court to cut damages when making an award due to contriibutory negligence because a cyclist was not wearing a helmet and that's despite years of trying. If a lower court awarded damages on this basis and that decision was appealed it would have been thrown out by the High Court - as has every other attempt at reducing damages on such grounds. Had your friend contacted the CTC he probably would have got all of his award.

Where we are at the moment is that earlier this year a High Court judge ruled that in theory there could be grounds for reducing damages if it could be proved that a helmet would have prevented the injuries caused - he then found in favour of the cyclist because it wouldn't have prevented the injuries he suffered for the simple reason that helmets are only designed to be effective up to an impact speed of 12mph - that's more or less you falling off your bike when it's standing still.

When I first started commuting in London back in the early 90s I always used to wear a lid but over the years I've been writing about cycling I've read countless reports about cycle helmets: for and against, commissioned umpteen helmet tests, written numerous articles about helmet safety standards, way back I was even involved in commissioning some independent helmet testing… these days, except in particular circumstances I hardly ever wear one and I'm certainly not a big risk taker on a bike as anyone whose seen me descending will testify.

Helmets make sense for off road riding which is at low speeds over unpredicatable terrain - they offer no defence whatsever against motorised traffic and I would be very, very surprised if any helmet maker ever claimed otherwise. It makes sense for children too and if you are riding in a group – partiuclarly if you are with riders who aren't used to doing so.

Most road cycling helmets are little more than fancy cycling hats and their growth amongst road cyclists is primarily an import from the US. When mountain biking took off there in the 1980s it was marketed as an adrenaline sport (it is I suppose) which obviously you need special equipment for. It being 'dangerous' – you'd certainly need safety equipment. Motorcycle helmet manufacturers, Bell being first, were quick to spot a new market and dive in.

The logical next step was for all cycling to be portrayed as inherently dangerous - and that any responsible cyclist would wear a helmet, the growth of such sentiment is good news if you're in the helmet business, as yet, where road cycling is concerned nobody has managed to back such sentiments up with any meaningful facts.

Helmet use amongst the Dutch and the Danes is a fraction of US levels, there are far more cyclists as a percentage of the population, and weirdly they don't seem to have any greater problems with head injuries. Cycling is actually one of the safer pastimes you can pursue - it's up there with golf and rambling. If people were really serious about reducing the incidence of head injuries they would first insist that drivers, their passengers, and pedestrians wore helmets all three groups have a far higher risk of suffering a severe head injury.

And yes I have fallen of my bike off road, moving slowly, had a helmet, and I was grateful for it. On road, didn't have a helmet, didn't make any difference, even though I slid a considerable distance along the road I was lucky my head never touched the ground.

If you want to wear a helmet feel free to, but don't tell me that I'll be safer if I wear one - because I don't believe you and the actual evidence, rather than the hearsay variety, would appear to be on my side.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
29th June 2009 - 22:36

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ahh the old helmet debate rages on. Seems to me though that this article is more to do with Royal Mail managers doing what their so called managers are telling them and that is to use any means to get rid off full time staff and replace with part time staff..be it helmets, unsuitable out of work pastimes, undue leave (guy in my office got sacked during his divorce) etc etc.

underneath all this is the fact that RM want a part time workforce with the 'work' (your letters and packets) delivered to the part timers door for them to deliver thus closing a lot of delivery offices and cutting out the 'shop floor' were the union (CWU) can operate..make it look good on paper and sell it off..

We will be on strike come sept/oct. The union have plans to make RM a worker co-op. come on billy bragg give us yer cash!(wheres my Redskins bootleg 90!)

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posted by Fringe [1081 posts]
29th June 2009 - 23:30

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Fair point Fringe - we all wandered off topic a bit.

In my case it was a moment of weakness I vowed when we started road.cc not to get drawn in to any lid-related palaver.

Sorry - it won't happen again. Probably.

Oh, and sorry for ranting Drew

So, whatever happened to the Redskins? Walk like the Clash sing like the Supremes - wasn't that one of their slogans… shame the songs weren't as memorable

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
29th June 2009 - 23:47

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Ahh, the Redskins, saw them back in the 80s when I was nought but a lad. They didn't wear cycle helmets, I can tell you that!
Actually, their version of 16 tons was pretty good. I've still got it on a 12" - must upload it onto my PC.
Back to helmets for a second, maybe cyclists will start to wear motorcycle helmets when on the road. Those are strong enough to provide protection in crashes at speeds of over 12mph - bit heavy and hot tho.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2132 posts]
30th June 2009 - 8:18

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A real bast from the past – I saw them too, as a support act some time in the early 80s. They were angry young men. The lead singer, X Moore is a recluse in Paris now according to the history of the band here http://www.redskins.co.uk/

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
30th June 2009 - 8:50

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funny how this hoary old debate just seems to run and run Smile

the one about helmets i mean, not the one about the redskins

for my part i'm much more likely to wear a helmet on a long ride in the country than i am on a short hop through town, despite all the evidence that the risks are exactly the opposite way round Thinking Thinking

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7252 posts]
30th June 2009 - 9:04

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I really enjoyed reading Tony's "rant". I think it is spot on.

I used to wear a helmet all the time, but after reading a lot of helmet debate I no longer do when on the road, and I find it really liberating.

I wear a cap all the time now, which, unlike my helmet, is comfortable, keeps the sun out of my eyes, rain of my glasses, car headlights out of my eyes on unlit country lanes, and stops sweat running down onto my glasses.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1331 posts]
30th June 2009 - 12:10

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To wander back off topic; Tony your 'rant' encapsulates my stance exactly, just put far better. That is probably the best summation of the argument I have seen and I'm sure I will be quoting bits of that in future.

Complicating matters since 1965

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posted by DaSy [648 posts]
30th June 2009 - 12:29

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