Health and safety concerns led to postal bikes being phased out

A move by Royal Mail to cut back on injuries by taking postmen off bicycles has backfired.

In 2010 bosses decided to phase out cycling posties in the hope that the injury rate would decrease.

But despite cutting its Scottish bicycle fleet from 526 in 2010 to 401 in 2011 the number of accidents on bikes has actually increased slightly, from nine to 10. A freedom of information request also revealed that there had been a total of 53 recorded accidents involving postal workers on bicycles since 2008.

John Lauder, national director for Sustrans Scotland, told Deadline News: “I’m baffled as to why the Royal Mail would stop postal workers from using bicycles.

“That’s certainly not a high number of accidents and in terms of the health of postal workers it would be much better for them to be out on bicycles, getting exercise and fresh air. The Royal Mail is doing its employees a huge disservice by failing to give them every opportunity for exercise.

“Using bicycles would also help Royal Mail reduce congestion and improve its carbon footprint. I cannot understand why they would chose to burn more petrol when they should be looking at ways to cut money.

“They should really be increasing their numbers of bicycles not cutting them down.”

In 2010 the recorded injuries included a bruised shoulder, bruised rib and a cut knee. Postal workers in other vehicles suffered 239 accidents.

Some postal workers, along with the CTC, called for cargo tricyles instead of vans to deliver letters and parcels, which are on the increase with more people internet shopping, but these suggestions were rejected by the Royal Mail.

A spokeswoman for Royal Mail said: “The ultimate aim would be to stop all accidents on bicycles altogether.

“Developments such as the increase in online shopping have changed type of mail we typically handle, with larger and heavier packets often needing to be delivered. We have been progressively replacing bicycles and mailbags with trolleys and vans in order to deal with mail more effectively.

“There has therefore been a reduction in the number of bicycles in use in Scotland. This move, which has been supported by the union, has in addition helped to reduce the risk of injury to postal workers from carrying heavier mailbags and cycling accidents.”

There are a number of likely scenarios that explain the rise in accident rates. 2011 was the first year in which the bicycle fleet was reduced - however the cut in the number of bicycles may not have been matched a by similar cut in workload leading to more miles being travelled by fewer bicycles - thus while the total accident rate may have increased the accident per mile rate may not have. Equally it could be that fewer bicycles were carrying heavier loads.

Without knowing the total number of miles travelled by the Royal Mail bicycle fleet in Scotland it is hard to come to a conclusion about the safety or otherwise of delivering letters and parcels by bike, but given the size of the fleet and the relatively small number of accidents - and their seeming lack of severity - it is probably fair to assume that it is one of the less risky methods of mail delivery open to Scottish postal workers. Certainly eliminating the chances of having an accident while delivering the mail by bicycle by eliminating the bicycle fleet is unlikely to make the process of delivering the mail either healthier or safer.

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.