Qualifications for Abnormal Load Escorters

A Brief Background History

Ever since the escorting of abnormal loads was ‘de-regulated’ and leading up to the eventual self-escorting of abnormal loads in late 2003/early 2004, there have been concerns about the adequacy of the voluntary HA Code of Practice/Operating Guidance and the legislation surrounding abnormal load escorting.  Prior to this time, much work was undertaken by the industry (incl the likes of the HTA, ALEN, RHA etc) to create a safe & legal working environment and it was disappointing for those who had spent considerable amount of time contributing to its preparation that there would be little or no control over the standard of the escort driver or escort vehicle.

Over the ensuing years, the self-escorting industry established itself with a mix of hauliers own and independent escorters serving the requirements of abnormal loads hauliers operating throughout the UK.  The Abnormal Load Escort Network (ALEN) was setup to support industry standards from the start and was initially successful in creating a network of escorters who signed up to the standards.  As the industry established itself, the inadequacy of the Code of Practice & Operating Guidance became more apparent and in the ensuing years, many adapted their behaviour and interpretation of the codes of practice in what could now be described as evolving industry best practice.  In doing so, we have seen some interesting interpretations of marking and lighting; as well as an ‘evolution’ of escorting tactics that have been required to make-up for the perceived inadequacies of the HA Operating Guidance.

Industry commentators who had been involved with the negotiations in those early days, would say how an incident, however regrettable, may be required before the authorities sat up and took more authoritative action.  There have been incidents since, albeit none for which we are aware where the escorter has been at fault; and it is probably a credit to the escorting community that, especially after such a nebulous start, the first 10 years of this ‘new’ industry has established a generally good reputation; however, as predicted, there have been a steady stream of new entrants who have viewed the low barriers to entry as ‘easy’ and have come….. and gone almost as quickly.  It is also a credit to the abnormal load hauliers (and their drivers), who have ensured an equitable quality threshold by which escorters have needed to meet.

Notwithstanding, since the birth of self-escorting, the combination of; no supporting legislation and a deep dissatisfaction with the adequacy of the codes of practice has grown rather than abated over the ensuing 10yrs.  Escorters frequently risk their licenses and their livelihoods in their primary duty of adequately warning the public when escorting abnormal loads.  Practices used by the Police and escorters, even under Police supervision could; leave the escorter open to prosecution, simply for doing their job.  Whilst nobody wants to go back to before self-escorting, there was considerable scope for improvement – but would it ever happen and if it did, what would be the catalyst?

The Right Time

Subsequent factors such as the global financial crisis and the ensuing financial pressures on the public purse has led to organisations such as the Police continuing to concentrate their focus on crime and it has arguably led to Police forces adopting more controversial/inconsistent policies towards the movement of abnormal loads.  The increase of abnormal loads traffic in response to the upswing in wind farms has put pressure on Police resources as well as attracting criticism of the practices of revenue raising by excessive charging for activities performed as a public ‘duty of care’ (Leeds United Football Club -v- The Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police).

After 10yrs, something had to be done and a re-visiting of the existing Codes of Practice by the Highways Agency in 2012 did nothing to tackle the underlying issues.  Similarly, attempts to leverage what is probably the only real positive piece of legislation for escorters (The Police Reform Act 2002) failed (the act specifically states that a Chief Constable may delegate the powers of a Police Constable for the purpose of escorting an abnormal load…); but, in doing so provided a source of hope for the best way forward by giving constructive reasons/Police concerns.

Progress at last?

Consequently, the HTA approached the Association of Industrial Road Safety Officers (AIRSO), a highly respected and influential body of road safety professionals, who in turn, asked the HTA to make a more formal presentation to their Road Safety Advisory Panel in February 2011.

AIRSO broadly concurred with the problems that the industry faced and four main priorities were identified:-

    • An Accredited Training Programme for Escorts
    • Better Education for the Public
    • The need to clarify with ACPO the position about directing other traffic on the road
    • Possible changes in lighting regulations

The most important (and difficult) was that old favourite, standards for escorters; ie training and accreditation.  It is, and remains clear to the HTA that a credible qualification for escorters is the way forward as the basis of industry self-regulation that will achieve more consistent, quality standards as well as provide opportunities for escorters to develop to meet the future needs of abnormal load hauliers and to provide hauliers with more flexibility and choice (eg where a police escort is required).

A way forward was sought and, after some encouraging meetings with representatives from AIRSO and Skills for Logistics (SfL), government funding was gained to create the pre-requisite National Occupational Standards (NOS).  National Occupational Standards specify UK standards of performance that people are expected to achieve in their work, and the knowledge and skills they need to perform effectively.  The process fully engaged with industry and stakeholders via expert groups and stakeholder consultation in order that the ensuing standards are fully representational and supported by all interested parties.

The NOS for Abnormal Load Escorting was completed Jan 2013 which paves the way for the creation of the qualification itself.  At a HTA meeting in May 2013, the decision was made for City & Guilds (C&G) to provide the qualification and the HTA to become the Training Centre.  This was made possible by altruistic financial contributions from the following HTA members:-

    • Fasttrax - FTX Ltd
    • R Collett & Sons Ltd
    • JB Rawcliffe & Sons Ltd
    • Plant Speed Ltd
    • Abnormal Load Engineering Ltd (ALE)
    • HC Wilson Transport Ltd
    • GCS Johnson (Skeeby) Ltd
    • Allely’s heavy Haulage Ltd
    • Leicester Heavy Haulage Ltd

The processes for producing a brand new qualification for a young sector that is credible, appropriate and 'fit-for-purpose' are not to be underestimated - from; formulating 'best practice', unit writing, peer-review, industry and public body consultation to meeting C&G quality control and UK-wide implementation.  The journey has been long; but the start of a new chapter is now just around the corner......

The qualifications will be spilt into certificates of competence as follows:-