Last week was the hugely successful National Lorry Week, when we are asked to Love the Lorry, and celebrate the enormous contribution made to our economy and society by all those involved in the haulage industry.
According to the most recent figures from the Department of Transport, the sector contributes more than £9 billion pounds a year to the economy. With that in mind, it seems strange that one of the biggest challenges facing lorry drivers in Britain is where to go to the toilet.
Businesses have a legal obligation to provide toilet facilities for employees and sometimes customers, but this courtesy does not have to be extended to HGV drivers making pick-ups or deliveries. Drivers regularly report being refused access to a loo at more-and-more premises to which they deliver. This might sound trivial and you might be questioning why I'm concerned (if you're not an HGV driver yourself) but it can have significant impacts on the rest of us.
In a survey carried out by Transport Focus, the body charged by government to look after the interests of road users, lorry drivers said their greatest concern was a lack of places to legally stop and particularly to be able to use a toilet or wash. Bear in mind drivers are legally limited in the amount of time they can stay on the road at one go, so sometimes they have no choice but to stop. With so few viable lorry parks they end up in lay-bys, often where there are no toilets, and nip behind a bush. It's unhygienic, it's inhumane and if you're the next person to stop, it can be downright unpleasant. As it is, drivers report having to use empty plastic bottles where they can, but when a bottle won't do the job.. the rest I leave to your imagination. Bear in mind that lay-bys are also used by recovery crews, and their drivers sometimes have to lie down underneath the vehicle they are trying to retrieve. The mental image becomes even more gruesome.
I recently had a meeting with the Health & Safety Executive to discuss this problem and it's interesting to report their guidance notes to industry on Delivering Safely include the following: A designated safe area for visiting drivers with easy, safe access to toilet and refreshment facilities reduces risks. This is a safety issue as well as one of common decency. Drivers have been known to stop in some dangerous places because they can't go any further. And I'm sure we all know what it's like to be desperate for the toilet. It's not something which exactly helps one's level of concentration behind the wheel. The campaign group, Truckers Toilets UK, asked drivers to say what they had been told on being refused use of company facilities. The results are dismaying:
'Toilets are only for office staff.'
'There are places with signs stating categorically that there are no facilities for drivers.'
'Don't know, you're just not allowed.'
A lot of businesses seem to be working on the basis that this is "not their problem," but credit is due in this case to the employers' organisation, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). In response to my writing this article they have released a statement saying they "hope that the vast majority of businesses take a common sense approach by providing basic hospitality for delivery drivers." For my part, I urge the CBI to turn this support for common sense and common decency into a firm policy disseminated to all their members.
Two weeks ago there was a very useful debate on the problems of fly-parking in Kent, another by-product of the way in which lorry drivers are treated. Transport Minister, John Hayes, said, "I am not convinced that the roadside services that we provide in this country are generally good enough. Of course there are exceptions, and I recognise them, but again as a result of today's debate, I may ask for some further work to be done on the quality of roadside services more generally." I and others will be holding the minister to his word.
There is a shortage of 50,000 HGV drivers in this country, and is it any wonder? As I said during that debate, "Why would anyone want to be a haulier, for example a long-distance lorry driver, when it seems that the nation's view of hauliers is that they should be quite happy to park up in a dismal lay-by, using the nearest bush as their toilet facilities and washing in a cup? That seems to be what we as a nation believe our HGV drivers should expect, because there are just not the proper facilities for them."
The rest of us wouldn't stand for being treated like that in our place of work. Why should they?