The newly formed Highways Sector Council (HSC) has said it is pushing for more work to take place during lockdown, including carrying out essential works and maintenance on UK highways.
The trade body’s first chair Leon Daniels, a former MD of Transport for London’s surface transport division, told Construction News: “We need to take advantage of the current situation. The more we can carry on operating safely, the less disruption there will be and the cheaper it will be.
“It is easier to do work everywhere right now. Usually in densely populated areas, work can be disruptive, and in quieter places the speed [of vehicles] can be much higher and there is a greater need for safety measures. Now, with lower levels of traffic, there is a lower level of protection required. We’re aiming to level-up all of the highways authorities so that they’re all doing as much work as is practically possible. The general public want this work to be done now.”
Officially launched in April, the HSC consists of private and public sector organisations, including Highways England, Balfour Beatty, Amey and Costain.
Daniels said the group has been in talks with the government and highways authorities on how best to carry out work while maintaining social distancing. He said: “We have become an important stakeholder for the Department for Transport (DfT) and we’ve been talking with them a lot. They had a series of asks from us, such as the effect on the workforce due to coronavirus, how to continue to work safely, and how to take advantage of low traffic to perhaps do more work.”
Last week, the HSC published its practical guidance for working safely for the local highways sector. Based on the Construction Leadership Council’s guidance, the HSC’s COVID-19 Local Highways Safe Operating Procedures document focuses on how to work safely on operational highways and highways depots. It includes guidance for workers to drive alone at work and on highways, to keep time spent in a shared work vehicle to a minimum, introducing staggered work times at depots, and keeping groups of workers that have to work together in separate teams.
Daniels told CN that the new trade body’s sole focus is currently dealing with the impact of COVID-19, and finding ways to work in spite of the pandemic. He said: “We came together initially in the third quarter last year with worthy objectives such as training, skills and innovation. But we only had a couple of meetings before we plunged into the coronavirus crisis. Everything else has taken a back seat for now, governance-wise we’re still working and relationships with others are only at an embryonic stage.”
The HSC was launched in April, around the same time as another trade body for the sector, the Highways Industry Alliance (HIA), whose members include the Highways and Construction Training Association and the Association for Road Traffic Safety and Management.
Mott MacDonald development director Anna Delvecchio, who is also a spokeswoman for the HSC, told CN that there is a possibility the two bodies could collaborate in future. She said: “We both launched in the same month, and because we’re both newly formed we need to work out how best to collaborate or work together. There may be no opportunities for collaboration, there may be some or a few, and we need to try to work together for the greater good of highways in an open and transparent way.”
So far, 14 contractors and consultants have signed up to the HSC, but Delvecchio said it would try to work on behalf of all companies. She said: “The work of the highways council is for the highways sector, everyone should have that benefit.”
Author: Megan Kelly
Disclaimer: This article was not originally written by a member of the Safer Highways team.