The Freight Transport Association has launched a major research project into the safe securing of loads and equipment in vans. A research contract has been placed with consultants TRL to establish best practice for load retention, taking into account reasonableness and practicality. The new best practice guide will also consider the typical forces experienced by the vehicle and its load, including racking, in the event of a collision.
The need for the research to be carried out has emerged as it has become apparent that the long-standing code of practice issued by the Department for Transport (DfT) on safe loading can no longer be relied upon by operators as to what is a reasonable expectation of load retention performance. Currently, opinion amongst enforcement agencies varies between a load remaining in position and not moving in relation to the vehicle in any incident, irrespective of the severity and decelerations involved, and the current DfT guidance that loads should withstand forces of up to 1G, which is the current universally applied level. Operators are therefore in a legal limbo.
As with all assessment of risk it is appropriate not only to consider the outcome of an incident but also the likelihood of that event taking place. TRL is in a unique position as it holds a wealth of data with regard to road traffic accidents within the UK, enabling it to identify the real risk by analysis of frequency and severity of incidents involving loads in accidents. By careful review of the real risk, along with the reasonableness and practicality of any solution, the research project will develop a best practice guide for operators and enforcement agencies, dealing for the first time with issues left unaddressed by current guidance.
Announcing the project at a TRL demonstration day, Paul Wood, Managing Director of VLS Ltd and a member of FTA's Utilities Working Group said, 'Our goal is to make vehicles safer and stay one step ahead of the legislation. It is apparent that across the transport industry there is now little or no guidance as to the reasonable expectation of how loads and their associated stowage should perform in accidents. Whilst the incidence of injuries caused by loads in accidents is statistically very low, the consequence of trying to resolve this particularly difficult problem without guidance is giving grave concern to people charged with providing solutions. Against the background of zero injury expectation, irrespective of the incident, along with the imminent Corporate Manslaughter legislation, it is necessary for operators and enforcement agencies to establish a reliable, reasonable and above all practical guidance on these issues.
'The research that we have asked TRL to undertake will help establish what can be relied upon as good practice in load securing and vehicle construction. The results will be used to guide operators, like us, vehicle manufacturers and equipment suppliers. I am also sure that this guide will be welcomed by the enforcement agencies as the current uncertainty must make policing this issue very difficult indeed.'
James Hookham, FTA Deputy Chief Executive said, 'The current uncertainty in the interpretation of the law on safe loading with regard to accidents could have practical implications for users of all types of vehicle – from the local jobbing builder to large national operators. This work, which is supported by FTA, will provide new best practice guidance to operators and enforcers to support safe and compliant operations.'
Dr Mike Neale, TRL's Senior Research Engineer on the project, said, 'It is apparent, based on the information currently available, that there is a lack of reliable guidance on how to safely load light commercial vehicles, such as vans, for the crash situation. The best practice guide that we are developing with FTA will help to address this shortcoming, providing a valuable reference for fleet operators, racking suppliers and vehicle manufacturers. Ultimately it is hoped that the best practice guide will contribute to reducing road casualties.'
The research project is expected to complete by the end of the year.