A Health and Safety Perspective of Cycling Safety

When thinking about reducing risk on our roads and Road Danger Reduction, it’s helpful to draw from the experience of engineering and construction. These used to be highly dangerous occupations but years of steady focus on eliminating risk have established a culture that tolerates zero casualties.

What might we learn if we were to take a ‘Vision Zero‘ approach to danger on our roads?

An interesting blog by Alistair Marshall A Health and Safety Perspective of Cycling Safety discusses the Hierarchy of Control approach to health and safety at work. National guidelinesset out the necessary sequence of actions through adopting the ERIC model (an acronym for Eliminate, Reduce, Inform and Control). ERIC Approach to Risk Management – extract from construction-design-management-regulations-2007.

Reading these six points (there are two more on protective measures and PPE, personal protective equipment, which means helmets and hi-viz for example), what becomes clear is that the approach followed on roads, and specifically as regards cycling is almost exactly back to front.

How can we reverse this to a more rational evidence based approach?

Eliminate If you can eliminate an identified hazard, by taking a different design decision, you must do this: (1) if it is a mandatory requirement or a specific obligation; but otherwise (2) so far as is reasonably practicable. ACoP paragraph 127 For example, placing an air handling unit at ground level instead of at height, on a wall, eliminates the hazard of ‘working at height’. However, you will need to consider other hazards that might be introduced (obstructions, tripping) or risks that remain as a consequence of this action. If the identified hazard cannot be eliminated:

Reduce The designer must reduce the remaining risks associated with the hazard, so far as is reasonably practicable. ACoP paragraphs 128–130 For example, hard landscaping is designed such that there is space around the foot of the wall, and a level surface with access, for a scissor lift to be used to install and maintain the air handling unit, as ladders are not appropriate in this instance. Alternatively, if it was in fact reasonably practicable to install the unit at ground level, it is likely that there would be some residual risks associated with that placement, such as tripping. These risks must also be reduced. The ACoP recognises that the weight given to a particular risk will be proportionate to its assessed likelihood, severity, the number of people affected, and frequency or duration of the exposure. This will be a professional judgement but guided by relevant good practice. In reducing risk, there is a hierarchy to be observed which is described in 2.3.3. And then, if significant risks remain:

Inform Provide information on these risks to the contractor, or those using or maintaining the structure. ACoP paragraphs 131–134 For example, maintenance strategy statement to go in the health and safety file. Proposed access discussed with the client.

Control Providing the design does not change, and no other influence comes to bear (such as a change to the landscaping), then the control of the risks on site during construction or maintenance are the responsibilities of those undertaking the work. The designer is not involved.

The next section outlines the ‘general principles of prevention’ for reducing risk.

Provide collective protective measuresbefore those that only benefit individuals. An example of this is to provide edge protection before adopting fall restraint or arrest systems

Assume the use of PPE as the last resort. No one likes wearing PPE: it gets lost, worn out, discarded. It should always be the last assumption or choice (although it will be the responsibility of those in charge of the work activity to determine exactly what is required).

Further links to explore:

A 16 minute TED talk Mikael Colville-Andersen – Why We Shouldn’t Bike with a Helmet
Essential Evidence on a page: No 19 Unintended health impacts of road transport policies and interventions
Essential Evidence on a page: No 109 The prevention paradox and population strategies applied to transport
Essential Evidence on a page: No. 55 Casualty and Road Danger Reduction
The effects of New Zealand’s cycle helmet law: The evidence and what it means.