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August 12, 2015

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Transport safety needs us to transform attitudes

ATS Euromaster operates a ‘Safe by Choice’ programme, which encourages staff to make safety their personal choice.

ATS Euromaster operates a ‘Safe by Choice’ programme, which encourages staff to make safety their personal choice.

By Stan Rudowski

Working with vehicles brings some serious safety challenges. After all, according to RoSPA, the vehicle maintenance industry is one of the five most dangerous sectors in which to work in the UK.

Potentially, your average vehicle technician might be quite surprised to find out that they work in an environment that carries risks as serious and prevalent as you’d expect to find in construction and agriculture – and that’s something we have to tackle and challenge.

The safety hazards we face are obvious to those of us who make safety our profession, and should also be obvious to all staff if they take a step back to look at the work they are actually doing.

A heavy vehicle tyre is potentially the most dangerous and destructive piece of rubber you will ever encounter. Damage can occur to these tyres that can either be invisible or not identified. Commercial vehicle tyres are then inflated to pressures up to 120 pounds per square inch and beyond. This inflation happens quite rapidly. If that unidentified damage has weakened the tyre to the extent that it then fails, then it will explode. That’s not an exaggeration. The force unleashed by this is the equivalent of a hand grenade, or being hit by a 35 tonne truck travelling at 30mph. The likelihood is that if you are close to that tyre you will suffer life changing injuries if not worse.

And that of course is before you consider the heavy equipment that needs to be used in vehicle service centres – or that when one of ATS Euromaster’s 840 mobile service vans is deployed to change a tyre on a motorway hard shoulder, frequently a technician and customer will be just inches away from vehicles travelling at 70mph, day or night, and in all weathers.

Yet the shocking reality is that to carry out these tasks in the UK, no formal training or qualification is required. It is therefore left up to the organisations involved to ensure that technicians receive the correct training and are fully competent to carry out these tasks.

Once people learn and appreciate the potential danger in their job, that provides the starting point for changing mindsets. All those responsible for enforcing health and safety within any organisation will be familiar with the prevailing attitude that we apparently exist to make life difficult. But if the organisation as a whole can be encouraged to appreciate the dangers present in their work environment and consequently, choose to work safely, the effect can be transformative.

Many of the job roles within the transport sector, and those which support it, require a high degree of skill. Our leadership team recognise the need for intensive training and continue to invest heavily in our people. The introduction of what we called the ‘Critical Elements’, which ensures that certain tasks can only be carried out after successful completion of a recognised formal qualification – in our case, we chose IMI and City and Guilds qualification.

Experts don’t cut corners – they do the best job they can, and believing that the best job is also the safest. By coaching ATS Euromaster staff to see themselves as experts, we were able to drive a cultural change where instead of safety being a ‘dependent’ concept forced on staff by management, it became an ‘interdependent’ concept with teams and individuals choosing to take responsibility for safety in their workplace.

That concept was formalised as our ‘Safe by Choice’ programme and it has had a huge impact. It has helped eliminate the ‘clipboard and cagoule’ image we’ve faced in the past with every team member understanding their role in ensuring that wherever we work, we are as safe as possible. Safety doesn’t come from a team of people telling everyone else how to do their job. It comes by making safety the personal choice for your staff. It’s not just about getting the job done; it’s about doing so with an absolute commitment to safety at every step.

That has paid off with our company achieving RoSPA Gold certification (and notably, ATS Euromaster is the only national tyre supplier to hold this award), but once the attitude shift begins, there is so much more that can be done with this firm foundation.

Specific industries have specific hazards – and that in turn requires specific training courses. We have had success running training sessions where we talk about the legal, financial and moral reasons for safety. So safety doesn’t become just another area to bear in mind – it’s the difference between whether a father can walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day, or if a valued colleague will be seen again. And it’s important to share this with the rest of the industry – trade bodies are a great resource for information but also have the power to effect change, so we’re already working with them and want to see more of our peers doing the same and sharing their expertise.

Our industry carries with it some notable inherent dangers. However, that doesn’t mean our industry cannot be safe in which to work. If we encourage safety from the ground up, rather than the top down, we can cut accidents, protect people, and ultimately, do a better job of keeping Britain moving.

Stan RudowskiStan Rudowski is Group Head of Health, Safety and Technical Services for ATS Euromaster

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Richard Byrne
Richard Byrne
8 years ago

Excellent article Stan, very thought provoking! Safe by Choice sounds like it is still a great cultural change programme.

Rod Stephens
Rod Stephens
8 years ago

How about one of the tyre explosion videos, to make the point even clearer?

Stan Rudowski
Stan Rudowski
8 years ago
Reply to  Rod Stephens

Hi Rod

Thank you for your comments and my apologies for not responding sooner, however I have just returned from holiday. We have some footage on YouTube, however I will speak with our marketing team and SHP to see if they would upload some of the footage we have.