The right to be safe at work

Paul Sanders, Chairman of the Association of Pallet Networks, shares his insight on health and safety for hauliers on and off the roads.

The UK has made great strides in health and safety provision in recent decades and our workplaces are generally safer than ever. However, 123 people still died in work-related incidents, and half a million suffered injury in the UK during 2021-22, according to the latest Health and Safety Executive Report. It is clear that we must keep improving – particularly in logistics, where health and safety must cover not only premises but also driver safety on the roads.

Every company has a duty of care towards employees and the public, and must assess and mitigate risk. Implementing a strong health and safety culture brings many benefits, not least safer people. Financial savings, better productivity, brand protection and higher employee morale and retention are just a few of the advantages conferred by good H&S practices.

Creating a health and safety culture

All workers have the right to a safe workplace. While employers carry primary responsibility, employers, employees and their representatives must work together to understand and control risks to create a culture of safe working and prevent injury. Zero injuries should be the constant target.

What the APN recommends to ensure safety

Each month, the APN’s Health & Safety Forum reports and categorise any accidents that have taken place. This data is valuable and facilitates open discussion to drive continuous sector improvement of health and safety standards. We are excellently placed to create a health and safety culture that informs the operational practices of hubs, hauliers, and drivers and has a positive influence on the wider logistics community.

Learning from the most commonly reported incidents, we have arrived at these recommendations:


  • Drivers should always be fit to drive, well rested and not tired.
  • Gatehouse staff play a vital part in ensuring that every driver understands the safety protocols employed at any particular site.
  • One-way systems and the separation of pedestrians from forklift trucks and vehicles should be carefully designed.
  • Operators have a duty of care to ensure proper governance of drivers for the safety of their employees and other road users. Technology aids such as telematics, or camera systems, often used for operational purposes, can also be invaluable aids to protect the drivers and safety.

Loading and unloading 

  • All vehicles and trailers should be roadworthy and properly checked for defects before being used.
  • Pallet networks allocate pallets based on the available cubic space and payload, so no vehicle should be overloaded at any time.
  • Loading should always have regard to stability and weight distribution; on double-deck trailers.
  • In the event of difficulty with loading or unloading, drivers must always wait for a team with appropriate equipment for the safe removal or positioning of pallets, and never attempt to move a pallet manually or at height.


Curtain care

In 2022, 27% of all safety incidents at pallet network hubs involved the improper use or maintenance of straps, nets, and trailer curtains, causing 20 days of lost productivity. Drivers can underestimate the need for appropriate training and correct procedure when opening and closing curtains.

Safety issues include flailing buckles, poorly maintained pole mechanisms, issues securing or releasing buckles, pulling the curtains. These can cause serious arm, hand, back or other injuries.

Correct curtain pulling

  • As forceful pulling requires good grip on the floor, drivers must always wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including high-visibility jackets, shoes with good grip.
  • Drivers should be educated about their posture when pulling curtains. This means:
    1. Hands between shoulder and waist height
    2. Using two hands to pull, and not just one
    3. Using the stronger muscles in the legs when pulling the curtain by bending the knees and dipping slightly before applying the pull force
    4. Never twisting while pulling

Safe moving of curtains

Always follow this procedure:

  • Release tensioner at one end. Undo the buckle or strap closest to the end pole, then release and remove the end pole. Undo the rest of the buckles in order, always keeping one’s body behind the fastened buckles. Using two hands, release the foot of the free pole.
  • Stand at the end that is still attached, grasp two buckles of the curtain, and pull backwards. Do not try to slide the entire curtain at once. Do it in sections.
  • Support poles are under a lot of tension. When releasing a pole, do NOT stand in front of the pole. Always stand to the side.
  • It’s important to use own body weight to do the work and never to twist the body.
  • Secure the curtain at the rear of the vehicle if possible.
  • To close and secure the curtain, follow the same instructions in reverse.

Safe deliveries

Some  deliveries require tail lifts and pump trucks. The safe delivery of pallets is a concern to the APN and all pallet network members. That is why we contributed significantly to creating the Tail- Lift and Pallet Truck Guidance document, which was produced by the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and endorsed by the HSE.

These guidelines, aimed at improving safety around the use of tail lifts, make it clear that pallets must be properly packaged and manifested, and that clear instructions as to the nature and suitability of the delivery site should be provided to the operator. This is the responsibility of freight consignors.

Drivers are now empowered to make dynamic risk assessments when they arrive at a delivery location, taking into account the characteristics of the pallet, the access and surroundings, the gradient, the surfaces on which they are moving, and the weather. If a driver feels that a delivery cannot be safely carried out in those conditions or with the equipment currently available, the driver’s decision must be respected by all parties.

Health and safety as an opportunity

Good leadership recognises that health and safety is far more than a regulatory checkbox to be ticked. It’s an opportunity to reduce risks and costs, lower employee absence and turnover, reduce the potential for legal action, and improve reputation among customers who seek out partners with high levels of corporate responsibility. And not to be forgotten, is the chance to increase productivity, as employees feel safe, protected, and motivated, whilst gaining ground as an employer of choice to attract new employees.

The Future of Road Haulage Report

This article is part of our recently published report, The Future of Road Haulage. Offering a comprehensive industry trends analysis, insights, and advice from industry thought leaders, The Future of Road Haulage equips businesses with the knowledge to make informed decisions and stay ahead in a rapidly evolving landscape.

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