A blow-by-blow account: choosing the right road barriers

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New wind-stability requirements in the street works code of practice and concerns about the consequences of falling short on safety are prompting contractors to demand new and safer road barriers.

Roadworks provide increased risk in what is already a very hazardous environment. It is a seemingly common-sense statement, but, delivered as it was by an HSE inspector following the prosecution of a road maintenance firm in November following a serious road accident, it carries certain poignancy.

The incident in 2010 left a motorcyclist paralysed following a collision with traffic signs on the A12. The first indication of a road closure came just 175m on the approach to the roadworks, giving vehicle users little time to slow down.

Following the court hearing, at which Carillion AM Government Ltd was fined £180,000, HSE inspector Sandy Carmichael explained that had the company complied with the industry’s code of practice and correctly placed temporary warning signs to alert motorists in good time, the incident could have been avoided.

The Safety at Street Works and Road Works code of practice was updated in October 2013 and road contractors had just under a year to bring their systems and practices into line with its requirements. The main change, was the introduction of BS8442 wind stability classes C and B which barriers are now to comply with.

Prosecutions, such as the case highlighted above, and civil claims from members of the public or road workers, illustrate the consequences of non-compliance with the code. Manufacturers of safety equipment have been working to align their products with the code for some time, with new designs incorporating contoured sections to maximise wind flow through and around road safety barriers.

Don’t throw caution to the wind
The key change to the code in relation to barriers is its specific reference to BS 8442:2006, which considers the wind stability and testing of such equipment.

According to the code, wind force should be calculated in accordance with Annex B of BS 8442, and barriers must be capable of withstanding class C winds (8.7m/s) blowing from any direction. The code suggests it may be necessary to use ballast or cross-bracing as a means to achieve stability. In Scotland, there is a further requirement: from 1 April 2015, barriers must be capable of withstanding winds of class B (17.6 m/s) blowing from any direction, where a site is unattended for 24 hours or more.

Contractors are increasingly seeking specification information of a more scientific nature to mitigate the chances, in part, of becoming the subject of litigation or prosecution.

Stability and flexibility
There are many accessories to ensure the barriers meet wind classes C and B and further improve stability for the safety of road workers, pedestrians and road users. Telescopic stability poles, for example, are a relatively new concept. Flexibility is a key requirement and poles enable barriers to be stabilised between distances of 1m and 1.75m apart. The poles also allow for connection to a heavy-duty foot cover, which creates an anchored weight when another barrier is either cost-prohibitive or unsuitable for the space constraints involved.

The code specifically recommends use of equipment with built-in weights. While such foot covers can be applied to both sides of the barrier, it is designed for just one side to be covered, so that lower-profile anti-trip sections are not interfered with.

Anti-trip style feet have become a common feature of road barriers. Not only do the anti-trip feet have a slimmer profile to help reduce trip incidents, but they also come in bright colours, and some with reflectors, for increased visibility. Although the smaller footprint gives the impression that barriers are less secure, the foot weight has been increased, so the difference in stability between anti-trip and general purpose feet is marginal. This is important, as barrier feet or other equipment cannot obstruct the pedestrian walkway.

The final element is the clips. Again, flexibility, here, is key; clips compatible with different barriers on the market give the option for contractors to integrate styles.

Security and storage
The code also refers to security, stating that barriers “should be joined in a way that resists tampering”, and that if it is found that barriers are being tampered with and separated, then additional measures should be taken to secure them – “for example, by the use of clamps or ties that require a tool for removal”.

Traffic cones and other street furniture have long been a target for anti-social crime and the importance of reducing the cost of replacing stolen items has led to contractors placing greater focus on safety and security features. Indeed, the design of barriers is often a trade-off between wind stability and security, so that people – not least children – are not able to crawl through any gaps in barriers and access the roadworks.

Contractors are also increasingly mindful of their responsibilities in managing the health and safety of roadworkers, which has led to design innovations to reduce lifting and handling injuries. For example, incorporarating studs on the underside of the feet on the barriers give additional grip to road surface benefits, while handles have been built into the design of barriers to aid lifting.

Further recent developments have also seen stowaway areas for stability poles being moulded into the barrier. Not only do these help with storage but they ensure sites remain tidy, reducing the risk of roadworkers being injured due to tripping over poles lying on the ground. Weighted foot covers also aid site tidiness, as their use eliminates the need for sandbagging, which can cause the work area to become messy very quickly.

The updated Safety at street works and road works: a code of practice 2013 places extra importance on the design of road safety barriers to withstand certain wind speeds. At the same time, contractors have become increasingly aware of the health and safety risks that roadworks present to pedestrians, road users and workers alike. These factors, along with increased fear of litigation and greater emphasis, particularly during the lean economic years, on keeping a lid on costs, are helping inform the design of a new generation of roadworks safety equipment.

Baden Sparkes is director, road products, at JSP. 



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