Poor facilities and welfare are harming the haulage sector
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented upheaval and turmoil to the global community. In the UK, haulage is one of the sectors under intense pressure to keep the country moving.
Even before the virus pandemic, haulage has always been integral to our way of life and infrastructure. The sector employs around 2.5 million people and generates around £124bn. With figures such as these, it’s fair to say haulage keeps the UK moving.
Those on the frontline of transporting the goods we use on a daily basis, however, are not getting the respect they deserve, even though they are more in demand than ever before. Moreton Cullimore, managing director of his family’s Gloucestershire firm The Cullimore Group, argues that the safety and welfare of haulage drivers must be a priority not just during the Covid-19 outbreak, but after normality has been restored.
These are, without question, disruptive times. And everyone should be pulling together so we can manage as best we can.
Covid-19 has resulted in shops being drained of supplies and industries such as manufacturing and construction being pushed harder than ever. Amidst all this, heroes have emerged, especially within health care, however haulage drivers – the very people responsible for supplying all these key sectors – have not been given the respect that they deserve.
It is a basic human right to have access to clean facilities and a place to wash. For haulage drivers who spend hours traipsing the motorways, this ‘right’ is particularly essential. So you can imagine mine and the Road Haulage Association’s shock upon hearing that drivers are being refused access to a restroom at their drop-off points.
Not only is denying a lorry driver access to restroom facilities a lack of gratitude and respect, it is also illegal according to Public Health England legislation. These drivers may well have been on the road for several hours, without stopping, in an effort to bring vital goods to those who need them.
Sadly, this is not a ‘new’ issue, but it has been brought to the public’s attention in light of Covid-19. Drivers arriving at supermarkets – including the big names – have been turned away from facilities, unable to even wash their hands or take a comfort break.
We are already facing a perfect storm in the haulage industry – a driver shortage, caused by the welfare of the current generation being neglected and a lack of incentives for a fresh crop to come through the ranks.
Yet successive governments have failed to address this. Just a few weeks ago, before Covid-19 took hold, concerns were raised about the lack of welfare provisions during periods of disruption at the port of Dover with the Department for Transport (DfT) eventually admitting that a few portable toilets would be deployed, and that’s it.
Up and down the UK, there are further cases of driver welfare being ignored. Drivers are still, even now, being forced to rest in unsafe locations such as poorly-lit service stations and unmonitored parking spaces. These not only put the wellbeing of the driver and their load at risk, but also deny them the basic rights of shelter and a place to have a wash.
Then there is the food available to them at these facilities. Pasties and sandwiches are fine every now and then, but by and large, haulage drivers have a poor selection of healthy food when they’re out on the road. Everyone knows the importance of maintaining a healthy diet, but it’s especially important in a sedentary job such as haulage.
Granted, cabs are becoming more comfortable, with most having the modern amenities drivers are used to at home, yet more needs to be done outside of the vehicle.
A survey conducted with the aid of The University of Sheffield points out that lorry drivers cannot find a space at a park, and even when they do, the offering at these parks falls below what they would expect. Aspects such as shower facilities, food, and of course security, all come into the equation, but the fact is we as a country need more spaces in the first instance.
As Gloucestershire & Bristol Chair and a Director of the RHA, I have written to Gloucestershire MPs to voice my concerns that hauliers in the county are amongst those having to contend with this problem. Though there has been an uptake in drivers in recent years (up to 73% between 2011 and 2017), the fact remains that the number of lorries forced to use industrial estates and laybys has also increased.
The DfT’s National Survey of Lorry Parking published in May 2018 shows a shortfall of at least 123 lorry spaces in the county on or near the Strategic Road Network (SRN). Not only do these incidents threaten the safety of lorry drivers but they also create a huge burden on employers in the form of costly repairs, delays and loss of staff.
This makes the haulage industry ‐ the lifeblood of our economy – less competitive than other sectors with a 2019 survey revealing haulage decision makers blame poor facilities for the shortage of drivers, in addition to perceived low wages and unsociable hours.
This issue is exacerbated still further by an ageing current workforce. The average age of HGV drivers in the UK is between 48 and 53, many of whom are due to retire within the next decade or so. With concerns over welfare and safety dissuading younger workers into the industry, these drivers are all that stands between the UK and a full-scale driver shortage crisis.
Each year, the RHA’s National Lorry Week initiative aims to encourage new faces into the haulage industry. Using the power of social media, drivers share what they love about their job and why it’s integral to our country.
What their posts don’t show is the danger they often face at the side of the road. This is where firms such as mine, and the RHA, need additional support. An investment in safe facilities is a start, as is a commitment to maintaining these facilities so they are comfortable to use.
However, the industry needs more than just words. It needs promises to be kept, backing to be ongoing, and most importantly, to be listened to by key decision makers. When I first contacted Gloucestershire’s MPs, I made the offer for them to attend a regional RHA board meeting to hear from representatives of hauliers within the constituency; an offer I’m making once again.
Never before has the country seen how vital haulage truly is to the UK supply chain. The wellbeing of drivers cannot be taken for granted – without them, the country will literally grind to a halt.