Time to unload the danger

Even in low-speed crashes, van drivers are killed or severely injured by loose loads. Yet there is still no legislation governing restraint systems. WET News talks to one man who has passion for the subject.

When you are looking for a new fleet vehicle, it is not just capacity that is important, says Modul-System International’s Kevin Tillotson, it is what you are going to carry and how that load can be transported safely.

Tillotson is general manager of Modul-System, one of Europe’s leading suppliers of vehicle racking. It uses Volvo’s world-renowned crash-testing facility near Gothenburg in Sweden to test its own products.

Having had first-hand experience of the violent nature of a crash test and the harm it can do to those involved, Tillotson has become something of an advocate when it comes to safe vehicle racking, and wants the UK to tighten its regulations.

He wrote an industry white paper last year on the subject, and has been lobbying government and industry bodies for some time on the subject. These are activities he now sees paying off with the subject firmly on the agenda.

WET News wanted to find out why Tillotson is so passionate about the subject and why he is calling for greater legislation that could affect contractors serving the water industry, and the utilities themselves.

Lethal missile

Tillotson says: “It is not known how many deaths or injuries are caused by loose loads leaving the load area and striking the vehicle occupants. But, given that a 100kg load becomes a lethal missile weighing the equivalent of 2,500kg (in a 30mph frontal collision), we must assume there is a significant number that could be avoided by the introduction of legislation into this marketplace. After all, if just one life is saved, it would be worth it.

“I’m particularly interested in the water industry, given the challenging nature of some of the products drivers need to carry safely, and we’ve fitted vehicle racking for a number of large utilities. The weight, size and shape of items like pipes, connectors and pneumatic tools mean unsecured items could become lethal in a crash situation, even at relatively low speeds.”

Without doubt, there is increasing awareness of the safety of load restraint systems in the UK, mainly brought about by increased duty of care and health and safety legislation. But, while this addresses part of the problem – ensuring employers inform staff about load safety – it does not ensure that the systems and conversions that they install are fit for the purpose they were intended.

There are many different types of racking systems and linings available on the market from a large number of companies. Some of these organisations manufacture racking systems and linings themselves and also perform the installations. Others act as dealers and/or distributors for other manufacturers.

There is no standard for the production of these systems, which range in materials and in strength. There is also no standard for the safe installation of these products.

Consequently this is an unregulated market where anybody can establish itself as a light commercial vehicle converter.

About two million light commercial vehicles (LCV) are sold each year in Europe. Out of those, about 200,000 vehicles are equipped with some sort of racking system in the cargo area.

In most cases, the vehicle is not prepared for any interior racking to be fitted, which is mostly handled by fitting shops, and being carried out in different ways depending on who is conducting the job.

The weight of the racking system is about 10% to 20% of the vehicle’s loading capacity. Thereafter, the racking system is loaded up to the vehicle’s full loading capacity.

LCV conversion

With about 320,000 new commercial vehicle registrations in the UK, the LCV conversion market is rapidly expanding, responding to consumer demands to have their vehicle equipped for purpose. This can range from a vehicle being ply-lined to full electrical installations and in-vehicle storage systems.

Tillotson adds: “There is currently no legislation dictating the safe manufacture and installation of vehicle conversion equipment, and specifically racking equipment (as this secures and restrains the load). Also, current legislation is very vague and does not clearly identify what precautions should be made for an LCV that is converted for a specific use, and whether or not that conversion is fit for that purpose.

“In addition, the Safety of Loads on Vehicles code of practice issued by the Department for Transport is just that – a code of practice, and not any legislation ensuring that safety is of paramount importance when transporting loads. The code of practice also covers much about the loads carried by much larger vehicle rather than focusing on the LCV market.”

His proposal is a set of minimum safety standards that should be enforced and regulated, the latter of which could be done by existing licensed MoT stations. He believes the minimum standards should require:

  • All vehicles to be fitted with a steel bulkhead to protect driver and passenger from loose loads
  • Loads on LCVs to be secured during transport so that neither the whole load nor part of it shall leave or protrude from the area intended for the load as a result of mass forces caused during acceleration and braking
  • Fastening devices for lashing should be capable of withstanding certain forces
  • Fastening devices for lashing should be secured at certain places in the load area to ensure safe load restraint
  • Any vehicle racking installations should be crash-tested, and remain in place when subjected to forces above 10g

Tillotson says: “Extensive research carried out in conjunction with Volvo Cars Crash Research Centre has provided us with vital information concerning the forces experienced by racking installations, flooring systems, loads carried, installation points/brackets and even the fixings used.

“We have applied this knowledge and experience to the development of our product range, and are extremely confident that in a crash situation our products will not fail and will remain in place causing the least risk from injury possible due to an unsecured load. We have also applied this knowledge across Europe by sharing this information with our installation partners so that when our products are installed into vehicles they are done so with safety at the forefront of the installation.”

In conclusion, Tillotson says: “Approximately 10% of all commercial vehicles sold in the UK have a racking installation fitted into them for the securing of tools and equipment. This figure is much higher for the number of vehicles that are supplied with just an interior lining to protect the cargo area during the vehicle life.

“However, there is no legislation that stipulates the safety of any of these products or the safety of the installation of any of these products, and this really needs to change.”

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