The Dos and Donts of Transport Safety for Builders Merchants-1

The Dos and Don'ts of Transport Safety for Builders Merchants

Paul Barker
Every year, a significant number of people are killed or seriously injured by accidents involving vehicles in the workplace. In builders merchants, customers and staff are vulnerable to being struck by a delivery vehicle or forklift truck or being struck by something falling from a vehicle, typically during loading and unloading.

As far as possible, it is important to keep moving vehicles and forklift trucks away from customers and staff. Start with clearly marked pedestrian walkways and crossings, with or without protective barriers or rails, to help direct customers to retail areas. Well-marked vehicle routes with signage, speed limits and designated loading / unloading areas away from customers and general staff activities, should be incorporated into your site design as far as possible. 


Nearly a quarter of all deaths involving vehicles at work occur while vehicles are reversing. Many reversing accidents that don’t result in injury, cause costly damage to machinery, equipment and buildings.

The simplest way of preventing reversing accidents is to make reversing unnecessary. A one-way system with drive-through loading and unloading areas will achieve this.

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On sites where this is not possible:

  • Special reversing areas should be clearly defined and drivers directed to this area with signage.
  • Staff who do not need to be in reversing areas should keep well clear.
  • All vehicles fitted with reversing alarms or flashing warning lights should be properly maintained to make sure they are always in working order.
  • Physical stops, such as barriers or buffers are a good way to prevent large vehicles from reversing beyond certain points.
Banksman/ Watchman
In many cases a trained signaller (called a banksman) will be needed to keep the reversing area free of customers and other staff and to guide drivers. Signallers are always at risk because they must work close to moving vehicles. Only properly trained signallers should be used and if a driver loses sight of a signaller they should stop the vehicle immediately.

A signaller should:
  • use a clear system of signalling, agreed with the driver before starting.
  • be visible to drivers at all times (be seen in the driver’s mirrors).
  • stand in a safe position where they can guide the reversing vehicle without being in its way wearing highly visible clothing, such as reflective or fluorescent vests.

If the reversing space is suitable, and the driver is familiar with the site, then a watchman may be sufficient to ensure other pedestrians remain clear of the area.

It is important for both ambient lighting levels in your merchant and vehicle specific lighting to be adequate for maneuvering, loading and unloading, taking into account changing seasons.

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Properly used signage can improve customer and staff safety and that of visiting drivers.

Signs can:
  • Direct visiting drivers towards safe loading/unloading areas and towards one-way systems.
  • Provide a site speed limit to slow traffic movement.
Maintenance of Vehicles

Delivery vehicles and forklift trucks should be subject to regular maintenance so they remain mechanically sound. It is also important that daily pre-use checks are conducted.
Training and Fitness to drive

Every driver needs to carry a licence for the particular type of vehicle to be driven. Drivers should never be under the influence of alcohol or drugs (including prescription medication) that may cause drowsiness. Drivers should never operate a mobile phone or any other portable audio device whilst driving.
Time Separation

Transport safety at your merchant will vary depending on time of day and season. In addition to physical separation of moving vehicles and pedestrians, consideration should also be given to time separation i.e. restricting deliveries, loading, unloading and forklift truck maneuvers to the quietest times, where possible.

southalls health and safety consultation for builders merchantsAt Southalls, we have spent over a decade working with builders merchants across the UK, advising on site safety and drafting risk assessments to cover key merchant hazards. For further advice on health and safety in builders merchants, please book a visit with a specialist.

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