When did you last spend a day on the road with a lorry driver?
In a point in time where everyone from Industry representatives, through to Ministers and the general media have all become almost hysterical with the issue of the apparent shortage of LGV drivers how many have a clue what they are talking about, the people they are talking about and the issues of being a lorry driver?
As part of a current project that A S Miles Consulting are working on with a major client, and as a company that practices Lean Six Sigma, we took some of these philosophies and in order to ensure that we could understand the issues for this particular client, and not because of the current shortage, our Managing Director Andy Miles had a few days on the road with the clients’ drivers. He was not just there for the ride, he got stuck into the whole operation including handballing product, working on the vehicle and interacting with the points of distribution, stores and warehouses.
As the holder of an LGV licence, but someone who has not been an active driver for some 8 – 10 years, he was also interested to see how or if much had changed towards drivers in that time and here are some of his findings.
05:00 on duty and report to the Shift supervisor, who also loads the vehicles as well as deals with the drivers as they arrive and ensures they leave on time with everything they need. Today we are heading for London and a day of store deliveries. These range from little boutique stores to high street and railway station sites.
My companion for the day is one of the companies longest serving drivers; he knows the job inside out, loves the company he works for and, although nearing retirement age, has no plans to leave the job any day soon.
Drop 1 – pulling cages over cobbled streets and the handball around a tonne of product downstairs to the storeroom on one of the hottest days of the year. The company provide water for the drivers, which is very welcome.
Drop 2 – delivered a large number of cages into the store, a lot of physical work and again handballing over 1.2 tonnes of goods downstairs and to a storeroom. There are plenty of facilities and we get a cold drink from the store.
Drop 3 – A major commuter location, a long distance to shift cages of product down into a small narrow storeroom and unload everything. This time just over half a tonne of product. Again, all handball work.
On the return to base, we stop for a lunch break. The only location is a layby on the A12; my pack up is fine, but with the layby full of litter, vehicles whizzing past and the lasting stench of urine, the lunch break was not the most relaxing comfortable environment for rest after a hard, physical, but actually very enjoyable, day. Would my experience have been so good on a wet and rainy winters day where none of the unloading locations have any cover, possibly not.
Back to the depot to then unload the lorry and leave it in a state of readiness for the next run it has. Finish at 16:00.
05:00 on duty again, this time it is off to the West Midlands and a range of hotels and modern shopping / retail locations.
Drop 1 – a modern (ish) retail location in central Birmingham. Easy to park the vehicle and easy to get to the storeroom with our own keys etc. All stock is easily moved to the storeroom and then handballed, around a tonne of product. No interaction with any staff today, as the storeroom is above the store in a separate location. No facilities for the drivers either and our delivery point is next to the sites waste compactors, so the air has a unique odour to it the whole time we are there.
Drop 2 – another modern location with a remote storeroom. Drop off a tonne of product and leave, no human contact, just a comms button to gain access and leave and no facilities to use, at least we were not by a compactor this time.
Drop 3 – Into the High Street, having to manoeuvre amongst roadworks, diversions, and people. Another street access with the public moving around, no cover on a rainy day and narrow access to handball 1.2 tonnes of product. At least at this location there are people and a loo, we even get a drink.
Drop 4 – a modern shopping centre, rooftop access and a remote storeroom. 1.5 tonnes of stock moved but fairly easy as the modern store has good floors and large lifts to use. No human contact and no facilities.
On the return leg we stop for a break to have our pack up. Again, courtesy of the A14 this time, the layby is full of litter, the litter bins provided have not been emptied in what looks like weeks and there is that all too familiar stench of urine. No facilities, just somewhere to stop and pull over. The British weather then does what is does best and the heavens open, so we have our break still sat in the cab. Then back to the depot to strip down and lay the vehicle up ready for the next shift.
Two days on the road: one, due to the locations, offered good facilities; the other offered only one opportunity for a toilet break all day, nowhere to have a decent rest. The locations on the motorway are often too expensive and the service areas not much better than the laybys.
The work is physically demanding, then there is the driving. The drivers are usually working alone, some days with little other human interaction all day.
There is a general lack of facilities for the driver. With this operation, the main provision was due to the individual locations abilities at the stores, as a pose to sufficient facilities readily available on route.
Where there are facilities, they are not generally of a good standard and are on the motorway / major road networks, which are expensive and are generally controlled by a few service station operators with food options that are not the healthiest by any standards.
Even with laybys and where there are waste bins, these appear not to be emptied on a suitable frequency for the use, and again no toilet facilities are available at any of these.
Over the last 8 – 10 years since I was last driving LGV’s the situation has deteriorated, not by much in relation to the provision of services, but the attitude of some delivery locations and the lack of facilities at these.
If you provide these levels of facilities for your staff in the warehouse the HSE would be onto you and have paperwork slapped on you in an instant, so why does this not happen when you have staff out on the road or drivers attending your sites to make the deliveries that you need?
And one more question. Would you or your family members want to work in these conditions? If not, then why do you allow your staff to face them every day?