Vehicle operators in the construction industry in London have scant awareness of the danger their lorries pose to cyclists despite increasing media coverage of such incidents. That’s one of the key findings of a hard hitting report published last month by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), which also found that in contrast to the strong focus in on-site risk reduction within the construction industry, there is little acknowledgment of road risk off-site.
The London Cycling Campaign and others have regularly highlighted that lorries in general pose a disproportionate risk to cyclists – HGVs account for just 5 per cent of the city’s traffic, but half of all fatalities of bike riders.
However, the TRL report, commissioned by Transport for London (TfL), shows that it is construction lorries in particular that present by far the biggest danger, involved in more than a third of all deaths of cyclists in London in 2010 and 2011.
In the latter year, in seven of the nine cyclist fatalities involving a lorry, it was specifically a construction industry vehicle that was involved.
According to the TRL, other main findings of the study include “that road risk tends to be viewed as less important than general health and safety risk in the construction industry, and that clients and principal contractors on construction projects tend not to take responsibility for road risk in the same way that they do for general health and safety risk.”
Perhaps surprisingly, the report found that paying contractors per load, as still often happens in the industry, was not a particularly significant factor in the likelihood of a lorry being involved in a collision with a cyclist.
That practice has regularly been singled out by campaigners as one that leads to increased risk due to drivers seeking to get jobs done as quickly as possible so they can move onto the next one.
However, the TRL said that there was “no specific evidence was found that that paying drivers in this manner changes the amount of work drivers attempt to do, or the time in which they attempt to complete the work.”
What was found to have an effect on risk levels, however, was the pressure on drivers to meet pre-arranged delivery slots at construction sites, something TRL says the industry acknowledges, as well as the “transitory nature” of building sites – in other words, once construction is completed on a major site, say, construction moves onto the next one elsewhere.
According to TRL, what that means is drivers have little opportunity to learn where on a route there might be most risk of conflict with cyclists and plan ahead, perhaps by choosing an alternative route that avoids such locations, which the report’s authors say is the easiest way to prevent collisions.
The report also found that road safety statistics were typically excluded from the records that construction firms have to maintain, again leading to reduced perception of risk, and that take-up of safety initiatives such as the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) and Construction Logistics Plans (CLPs) were not as high – nor indeed were they considered as seriously – as they should be.
Drivers in the construction industry were also found to be particularly prone to error, partly as a result of their high workload, with cognitive task analysis undertaken by the TRL revealing “a number of points of possible failure, most of which are associated with a breakdown in visual awareness, and many of which may take place before the driver and cyclist arrive at a junction.
“Many of the factors identified in other findings (for example driver pressure to meet time slots, and view from the cab) will make errors more likely.”
TRL added that while “total blind spots are likely to be rare, visibility of cyclists in some areas around construction vehicles is still poor.”
1: HSE [the Health & Safety Executive] should extend the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) to include on-road collisions
2: Adherence to a nationally recognised standard on work- related road safety (such as the ISO39001 standard on road traffic safety management) should be promoted
3: HSE should include off-site safety in the Construction Phase Plan (mandatory under the CDM [Construction Design & Management] regulations)
4: Existing channels should be utilised more effectively to raise awareness of road risk within the construction industry
5: CLP [Construction Logistic Plan] guidance should be updated by TfL and its use promoted throughout London
6: Vehicle manufacturers should work to improve vehicle and mirror design
7: A wider review of the blind spots in different construction vehicle types should be conducted
8: Principal contractors and clients should use more realistic delivery time slots
9: CLPs must include the definition of safer routes to construction sites
10: Further research should be conducted to understand the effects of pay per load contracts
11: The vehicle type ‘construction vehicle’ should be included in Stats19
12: Recommendations 1 to 11 need to be addressed by stakeholders from across the industry, working with relevant regulatory bodies when necessary.
Meanwhile, LCC has revealed that 13 of London’s 33 councils have now undertaken to provide cyclist awareness training to their lorry drivers, compared to just one 12 months ago.
LCC is urging cyclists in the capital to ensure their local councils adhere to the provisions of its Safer Lorries, Safer Cycling pledge.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.