The need for speed


Top Gun – what a film! Yes, I know it was a bit corny, but it was also enjoyable, with some memorable moments. If you don’t believe me, watch it again (or for the first time, for that matter).

What was that line – something like ‘I have the need, the need for speed’?  I think it was Iceman but no doubt I’ve got it wrong and someone will be able to correct me. Speed thrills – it’s why so many people are fans of Formula 1, or other motor sports – and most of us like that thrill at times, though the speed needed to achieve it differs from one to the other, of course, as do the circumstances of achieving it!  The thrill comes from that element of danger that speed presents, the exhilaration.

As well as being exhilarated by some degree of speed, we all also know that speed kills. If I’m going to stick with Formula 1 then there is quite a list of fatalities that have occurred over the years to illustrate the point, and many more that have occurred in other walks of life. It’s why there’s so much publicity about decreasing speed on the public roads. On construction sites, controlling speed is an important part of reducing the risks from moving vehicles and is covered in Element 3 of the NEBOSH Construction Certificate.  However, when it comes to construction traffic, sometimes it’s not the speed that matters.

A number of years ago, I had the unpleasant experience of being involved in a fatal-accident investigation. The accident occurred on a construction site where vehicle movements were occurring all the time. This accident involved a very slow-moving forklift truck. As a result of the accident, and some others, the HSE produced a DVD to highlight the dangers from slow moving vehicles, titled ‘Dead Slow’.

One of the key problems, I think, is perception. We are regularly, and rightly, bombarded with messages about the dangers of speed, be they in the form of public-safety adverts on TV, or the latest drive (excuse the pun) to decrease accidents on site. This regular bombardment heightens our awareness of the risks from fast-moving vehicles and plant. However, I believe it may also have the effect of dulling our awareness of risks from moving vehicles when speed isn’t a factor. Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter what speed a 360° excavator is travelling at, you’re always going to come off second best.

On many occasions I have seen people on site working in close proximity to a slow-moving vehicle. Is it that the possible dulling of the perception of risk means they feel comfortable working in such circumstances, possibly oblivious to the danger?  The accident I referred to earlier occurred when an operative was walking adjacent to the moving forklift truck. In fact, he was steadying a load suspended from the forks as the vehicle moved forward. The vehicle was therefore moving at walking pace. It was never established why, but the operative fell in front of the vehicle and wasn’t seen by the driver. No need to explain the rest.

It is my view that the industry still has a long way to go to ensure that everyone working on site, no matter what their role, is fully aware of the dangers from vehicles and plant, whatever speed they are moving at. The HSE DVD re-enacts some genuine accidents, the one I mentioned being one of them. The family of the deceased agreed to its inclusion, as they wanted some benefit to come from the loss of their loved one. Spreading this message has been something of a personal mission of mine ever since.

Operatives must never work in close proximity to vehicles and plant, if it can be avoided, and, in my experience, it usually can. If it can’t, then additional precautions are needed, including the operative being in full view of the driver at all times, and never being within the safe stopping distance of the vehicle.

The message is simple: construction vehicles and plant can kill no matter what speed they are travelling at, and working in close proximity to a moving vehicle must be avoided if possible. Without carefully controlling all the risks from moving vehicles on site, the task facing the construction industry of reducing the annual number of fatalities could be more like one of Tom Cruise’s other films, Mission Impossible!


Rodger Hope CMIOSH, IIRSM

Rodger Hope

Rodger Hope

Rodger has been involved in health and safety for over 15 years and has been particularly involved in construction health and safety for over 10 years. He really enjoys tutoring because of the opportunity it provides to influence peoples’ attitude towards health and safety. In his spare time Rodger enjoys sailing and boat maintenance.

LinkedIn Profile