If you’re really lucky, at some point in your career, you will work for an organisation built on the achievements of a leader who has not only aimed high, but as also inspired others to innovate, achieve and deliver positive change. For Highway Care – and arguably for the highways industry – that inspirational figure is John Talbot; a man who experienced the dangers of working alongside live lanes of traffic early in his career and took it upon himself to do something about it. Several safety firsts and who knows how many lives saved later, John was honoured with a Highways Heroes Award this year and we wanted to share some of the many achievements that brought him that well-deserved accolade.
Back in 1976, when the newly-launched Ford Escort was being taken to the UK’s roads for the first time, John Talbot was running a vegetation management business, responsible for managing roadsides where authorities wanted to inspect safety barriers with a good line of sight. John knew he and his team were in jeopardy working so close to live lanes of traffic, and, rather than accept the risk as inevitable, he set out to look for a safety solution that would keep those working on and near roads out of harm’s way. John’s determination to fix rather than accept the problem took him on a journey of more than 6,000 miles across the USA.
The result was the introduction of a rapidly-deployable, temporary safety barrier to the UK for the first time. It was to be the first of many innovative solutions for a safer future that John would identify or develop for the UK over the next 47 years, gaining a catalogue of approvals for use on British roads that have helped keep drivers and roadworks operatives safer ever since.
Following the success of the rapidly-deployable barrier John introduced from the US to protect road workers, John was determined to reduce the potential danger to vehicles and their occupants too. The resulting innovation became known as the BG800® – a temporary barrier made of continuously smooth steel, which provides a low deflection solution, protecting all vehicles, including motorcycles, as well as those working on maintaining and improving the roads. The BG800® portable steel barrier remains a go-to solution for the highways industry and one of Highway Care’s most widely used products to this day.
But John didn’t stop at improving safety with temporary barriers. Thanks to John, Highway Care has been credited with a number of industry firsts, such as the first lorry-mounted crash cushion (1994), the first mobile light arrow and mobile red X for traffic management vehicles (1997), and led the way in the nationwide adoption of P4 end terminals (2004), first introduced to traffic black spots, including the M25, and has since been fitted in more than 300,000 locations.
John’s passion for improving safety, and his determination to raise standards – not just for Highway Care and our customers, but also for the industry as a whole – has made him instrumental in gaining approvals for best practice solutions that have changed the way safety is built into roads and deployed during roadworks. Many of the safety solutions we take for granted today are a mandatory requirement thanks to John’s efforts to identify safety issues, find or develop a solution, and campaign for it to become a standard requirement.
And those principles continue to the present day. John has not only been keen to embrace innovation from around the world, but also to adopt new technologies that can be leveraged to improve safety. For example, the use of automation technology to develop the Falcon Automated Cone Laying Machine (ACLM) highlights just how much John has embedded a culture of innovation and collaboration in Highway Care. Once again, it builds on John’s legacy of a robust approach to addressing a safety problem, finding a solution, making sure it delivers clear advantages, and campaigning for industry-wide use.
The ACLM is the latest game-changing innovation to tackle a safety issue in the UK highways industry, but John’s influence goes much wider. As the Chairman of Highway Care, John has also presided over innovations that have enabled the company to enhance safety for road users and road workers around the world. For example, our HighwayGuard™ MASH 16 TL-3 & TL-4 compliant portable steel barrier is approved for use by authorities across the USA and Australasia. First dreamt up at his dining room table, with the dedication of the in house engineering team at Highway Care, HighwayGuard™ is now protecting road users and workers across the globe.
When he established Highway Care, John founded an ethos of innovation and risk mitigation that is embedded in the company’s culture and articulated in Highway Care’s values: integrity, innovation, quality, collaboration and sustainability. For the past five decades, John’s leadership and commitment to safety have created a legacy that will continue to inspire positive change and deliver measurable, practical and innovative solutions for the highways industry for generations to come. That really is the definition of a Highways Hero.