Speaking at the ATA’s Technical and Maintenance Conference in Melbourne late last year specialist safety officer at Rail Projects Victoria, Bronwyn Hayden explained the multi-layered approach which has been taken by the management of Melbourne’s massive Metro Tunnel project to improve the mutual safety of truck operators and the public.
With a due delivery date in 2025, the enormous project encompasses two nine kilometre twin rail tunnels under the City of Melbourne as well as five new stations in an inner CBD area which will connect to the existing rail network.
The scale of the project involves the removal and relocation of huge volumes of spoil as well as the transport of construction materials including ready-mix concrete, much of it in constrained urban environments with close proximities to other traffic and vulnerable people such as pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists.
One initiative has been to incorporate a number of safety related clauses into operator contracts.
“One of the things in the contract is compliance with the national heavy vehicle and safety laws,” says Bronwyn.
“We have also taken the opportunity to include some additional safety features such as side under-runs, front, rear and side blind spots and if possible to eliminate risk but at least to minimise harm. Also equipment fitted that helps left hand turns. We know that left hand turns, particularly with trucks on tight corners in urban environments, have an increased interactional capability for vulnerable road users especially cyclists and pedestrians on sidewalks.”
Such a big project over a long period of time has provided the opportunity to look at contract wording and to work with industry to lift the safety standards around trucks’ operations and also to educate the public about the unique challenges that truck drivers face.
“That includes more signage on the trucks and to help people who share the road everyday but don’t necessarily understand what trucks do,” says Bronwyn. “How they turn, turning circles, blind spots and the considerations they need to keep in mind, not just what their own movements are on the road are.”
Project management has also taken the opportunity to ask for extra training for operators.
Traditionally, driver training doesn’t include on-road awareness for other road users according to Bronwyn.
“We have been taking the opportunity to start raising the awareness of some of the behaviours that we do see in pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists. They have their own philosophies around sharing the road. One of our requirements is making sure contractors, including their sub-contractors and sub-contractors of sub-contractors, undergo training and professional development covering the safety of vulnerable road users and on road hazard awareness,” she says.
Melbourne operator, Eastern Plant Hire, gets singled out by Bronwyn for its efforts to increase safety.
“I’ll give them a rap as they have done a really good job as one of our subbies for the Metro Tunnel,” she says.
“To date they have fitted over 300 vehicles with side under run protection and blind spot protection, fitted over 300 vehicles with their in-vehicle monitoring system and have rolled out left side audible alarms which are an auditory signal for cyclists on the side of the truck warning it is about to turn left.”
Eastern Plant Hire have also contributed to online and face-to-face inductions and has made good headway in terms of transitioning their fleet, which is largely sub-contractor based, into the additional contract requirements. Mutual trust is required, Bronwyn acknowledges, in order to make the necessary changes.
“Whenever you make a change in an industry no one wants to be the first to do it – it does take a little bit of trust to go out and be first and that’s where EPH have done that admirably,” she says.
An advantage of infrastructure programs such as the Metro Tunnel and the airport rail is the extensive construction time allows for great opportunities for industry and authorities to actually pair up and to understand both sides of the safety story.
“There’s a very valid point from industry around what transition looks like. We know some of our older heavy vehicles have a greater compliance gap, particularly some of the American-style with snouts [bonnets]. Often requirements are passed on through contractor down to sub-contractor layer but not well explained. It’s really important for us to get that message across as to what it is, so funding and contract can actually allow that buffer for transition to compliance. Transition doesn’t happen overnight but if we make moves as an industry to work out what it looks like for different people, by the end of a long period of infrastructure works there is an opportunity to keep that legacy going.”
Applying some of the benefits of a more consistent approach for contractors and truck operators comes with additional costs yet also delivers some non-safety related dividends.
“When we take trucks off the road, whether it be for driver training or truck standards uplift, we know that we lose productivity,” Bronwyn says.
“The Metro Tunnel is a suite of very large infrastructure programs so if you work on infrastructure programs it’s nice to know when you go over to the next job the same requirements are in place instead of different requirements for different jobs. This helps reduce costs due to duplication.”
The philosophy is to ultimately have safer trucks, roads, intersections and work sites and some recognition for the safest operators, which from a commercial point of view certainly has some attractiveness when tendering for new work.
There is also the recognition that the facts about truck and vulnerable public safety need to be marketed with messages supporting the leverage of public-industry communications.
“We also support some opportunities for the public to understand the drivers’ perspective. We’ve organised a couple of ‘swapping seats’ experiences including events at Federation Square in the CBD and at the universities where we allow the public to climb into a truck and talk with a real driver and understand what blind spots are. I think that’s really important and the feedback is many people are unaware what a blind spot actually is on the truck.”