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March 29, 2012

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Tanker driver tells of safety corner-cutting that prompted fuel strike threat

With panic at the pumps and queues and ‘sold out’ signs at forecourts dominating reports of the fuel crisis, a tanker driver has provided a reminder of what started it in the first place – health and safety corner-cutting.

Writing on the ‘Left Foot Forward’ blog today (30 March), Unite member ‘Tony’ (not his real name) paints a picture of an industry descending into chaos, with cuts being made to vital safety and training measures.

The allegations made by Tony – who has 18 years’ experience as a tanker driver – include:

  • haulage operators driving down pay and scrimping on training;
  • agency workers being brought in with just two days’ training;
  • vehicles repaired so often they are like ‘Meccano’ sets;
  • unmanned forecourts where drivers have to unload hazardous fuel alone; and
  • drivers on six-month contracts even though the employer’s fuel-supply contract can be for three-to-five years.

He writes in his blog: “I’ve been doing this job for 18 years and, in that time, I can only say things have never been worse. Direct employment has ended, and standards have been stretched all the way down the supply chain. The market rules. There are no minimum standards governing what the industry should do. It is ripe for attack by cowboy operators, who hire and fire drivers, paying them £8-£9 per hour for a job they know ought to be paid £15 per hour.” 

He also tells of compromises on training, suggesting that “industry fragmentation” is pushing it further and further down the priority list. He says: “Now we’ve got guys loading trucks not knowing what product is what. ‘Which one is unleaded?’ I’ve been asked, by someone about to take £50,000 worth of flammable fuel on to a public highway!”

Unite says it has repeatedly warned the Government of these developments. It is calling for training to be standardised and for the oil industry and retailers to accept their responsibilities to ensure that contractors uphold minimum standards.

Commented the union’s assistant general secretary, Diana Holland: “This is a strategically vital industry and all players have a duty to work with us on urgently needed stability measures to support the decent employers who uphold standards. If not, vicious cost-cutting will bring chaos to this industry.”

The Road Haulage Association expressed concern at Unite’s implication that safety standards are low and pointed out that “one comment from a driver cannot be taken either as evidence of a decline nor as representative”. Chief executive Geoff Dunning said: “The UK fuel distribution sector applies standards that are far above the legal minimum, with highly professional, well-trained and properly rewarded drivers delivering the UK’s fuel.”
 
He concluded: “The safe delivery of fuel is of paramount importance: any concerns can and should be examined carefully, and adequate procedures for addressing such concerns already exist. But the reliability of fuel supply is equally significant and should not be jeopardised.”

Haulage firm Wincanton, whose tanker drivers were balloted for strike action earlier this month, expressed disappointment at Unite’s actions. In a statement, the company, which employs 440 drivers and delivers more than 7.6 billion litres of fuel a year, said: “Along with five of the other fuel distribution companies that were balloted, Wincanton was involved in developing the Unite-initiated Oil Distribution Sector Forum, which promotes industry-wide minimum standards in health and safety processes, pensions, training and holidays, but specifically excludes pay.

“The original constitution of this Forum remains current, and was recently signed, in December 2011, by Ron Webb for Unite in the presence of Len McCluskey and by the employer representatives. We would welcome the opportunity to resume discussions, and remain committed to the Forum and its purpose, but do not agree to discuss pay in this Forum.

“While the exact reasons behind this unnecessary dispute are unclear and we have not yet received notification of action, we are disappointed that Unite has targeted the companies that already provide the best standards of health and safety, training, pay and benefits in the industry.”

Unite announced this morning (30 March) that there would be no strike over Easter but if conciliation talks fail, it may go ahead after the break.
 

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Chris
Chris
11 years ago

This government has created the problem before it has even happened! Comedy gold!

David
David
11 years ago

I am surprised at the ‘two days’ comment from ‘Tony’, as even the basic ADR course for a new driver is five days, with the refresher taking 3 1/2 days.

Enaher_Jones
Enaher_Jones
11 years ago

ADR does not require a photo, so any driver can turn up to a terminal with an ADR. I have seen contractors passing around loading cards to get into a terminal. So some have had no “proper” training just what a driver from the same firm has told them, so it doesn’t supprise me when a driver says which product is unleaded! How would you feel knowing that a person like that is about to pull the handle of a few million litres of fuel?? How much is that risk worth??

Gullers
Gullers
11 years ago

Having worked with a major oil company for 17yrs I can understand the issues raised.
Alot of the majors have downstream their supply’s chain solely for cost cutting purposes and deliveries have low profit margins. Supply chains in this event will cut to the bone so as to raise profit and yes this has lowered the standard. This argument has merits on both sides with the government past and present the major stake holder.On average over the twenty years 80p to £1 spent goes to them

John
John
11 years ago

If the tanker drivers have lower wages then I have cheaper petrol. I would prefer cheaper petrol.

Johnspearson33
Johnspearson33
11 years ago

I am suprised by the comments within the article.There is legislation covering all aspects of haulage.

I worked on a forecourt many years ago and fule was delivered by a major company.

Twenty years ago their pay was very good and I imagine even now that for the HGV drivers employed directly it will be in excess of the figures quoted.

As to the driver asking which fuel is which I find it hard to belive that any major fuel storage dept would not have appropriatte signage.

Johnspearson33
Johnspearson33
11 years ago

cont..

Every person in every job has risks to their safety and to that of others. Petrol tankers do not figure highly in news articles.

there are far more deaths in local injury and therefore i find it hard to feel sympathy as I feel their issue is soley with pay but are using H&S to encourage public sympathy.

At the end of the day they drive lorries for a living and I onder how many health and safety issues have been raised with the HSE before this article.

Good luck to them though

Major
Major
11 years ago

No safety advisor with a modicum of self-respect would bother getting out of bed in the morning for that paltry salary

Mschilling
Mschilling
11 years ago

Not all the points raised relate to H&S so why the dramatic headline?
We (the H&S profession) are becoming the ones blaming ‘elf and safetee’ for the worlds ills, dont forget, it was not too long back we were the ones being belittled by journalism from the daily mail and complaining to anyone who would listen.
I suppose we will now get a string of anti Tory posts, with no mention of a coalition or the lib dems and the other feller who heads up that party, blame Dave its easier.

Richard
Richard
11 years ago

Driver Controlled Delivery of fuel at filling stations is nothing new – it was around when I was a safety manager working for a supermarket company with petrol filling stations 15 years ago. Radio 4 reported that petrol tanker drivers average a salary of £45K. That’s not bad money

Smith
Smith
11 years ago

Totally disagree with Steve. Having the article clarifies the weak nature of the drivers’ arguement over a dispute which could seriously affect the economy. They say (and the media have reported as such) that it’s not just over pay but about H & S concerns. This article shows that to be misleading. The problem is that, for their actual skill levels and working conditions, they are overpaid already.

Stephen
Stephen
11 years ago

I whole heartedly agree with the contributor who highlights the poor headline of this article. We are H&S professionals and the SHP magazine is supposed to be for us. We don’t need this sort of headline, its not helpful or constructive. Personally I am saddened that SHP is starting to wallow in the gutter with the tabloid filth that puts everyone on a downer. A headline such as “Opinions differ over safety failings in tanker deliveries” would have been enough. Well, soap box is now away…

Stevek2008
Stevek2008
11 years ago

Yet again we see the UNIONS attempting to bully industry, the Government and individuals into their way of thinking. Grow up and work for the betterment of the Country and stop trying to destory what we have to safeguard yourselves. The modern world is changing in many ways, change with it or become extinct, unwanted and certainly not trusted.

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