Published On: May 22, 2023

Head of Communications & Marketing Hayley Terrell recently attended the New Civil Engineer UK Roads Conference. Here, Hayley gives us a summary of the event and the insights she brought back to the office with her to share with the team and inform our continuing focus on innovative solutions for a safer future.

It’s not always easy to take time out of a busy work schedule to attend conferences and events, but often it’s well worth the pause in the day-to-day, because knowledge sharing and gaining fresh insights is integral to innovation.

That’s certainly the feeling I left the New Civil Engineer UK Roads 2023 Conference with yesterday (18th May), after a packed itinerary, engaging speakers, and a passionate discussion about safety for operatives maintaining our motorway network.

With a morning session chaired by Neil Levett and an afternoon session chaired by Belinda Smart, Deputy Editor of New Civil Engineer, the event brought together all aspects of the road maintenance and improvement community, including a wide range of civils contractors, consultants and supply chain partners, like Highway Care. There is always considerable value in combining such a broad range of expertise in the same place, and so much of the insight I’ve brought back to the Highway Care team was from informal discussions during the day, as well as the excellent speakers and facilitated discussions.

It was useful to hear more about the priorities for #RIS3 from National Highways Director of Strategic Planning & Analysis, Adam Simmons, and interesting to hear the importance being placed on maintaining the existing road network to a high standard, rather than increasing it, as we have during #RIS2. For Highway Care, the focus will continue to be how we can support contractors to deliver that investment safely, and how safety and efficiency benefits can be combined in innovative solutions.

The challenges and opportunities for the highways industry were highlighted during the keynote speech from Dave Buttery, Director of Roads Strategy at the Department for Transport (DfT), United Kingdom. From decarbonisation and electric vehicles, through to environmental issues such as drainage and water run-off, it is clear that highways are part of a bigger picture of infrastructure management, climate change action, and technological change.

During the afternoon, the format of the event shifted from listening and learning, to active debate and knowledge sharing. Delegates were offered the opportunity to choose a table discussion and I, unsurprisingly, made a beeline for the table discussion about safety for highways operatives on the motorway network, led by Vicki Glover from Kier Highways. Dan Perks, Operations Manager at Connect Plus, Dave Bailey from David Bailey Consulting, Jay Francis from Infrastructure Matters and Rory Davies from Onwave, joined our discussion too. I was able to share some of the benefits being experienced by the Balfour Beatty plc team from using our #Falcon Automated Cone Laying Machine (#ACLM) on the #M25 by Connect Plus Services, both in terms of avoiding the risk of operatives working close to live lanes of traffic, and in terms of the additional #Healthandsafety benefits, such as avoiding #musculoskeletal strain and exposure to traffic fumes. I was also able to talk about the development of our #SwiftGate Automated Lane Closure System too, currently entering trial phase with Kier Highways and the benefits it will have for safer and more agile lane closure, along with the potential to support the first ever boots off the ground road closure. I touched upon the trials that have been done for our #RB50 hostile vehicle mitigation (#HVM) system, to look at the suitability of this system for protecting maintenance teams from vehicle incursions.

But not all of the table discussion was about products and technologies; fittingly during #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, we also discussed mental health and wellbeing for highways operatives. As a mental health first aider and someone who has worked in the highways sector throughout my career, this is a topic I’m quite passionate about because we are still not doing enough to tackle it. We need to change that, and, as we discussed during the event yesterday, we also need to consider the impact of working environments on highways operatives. Shift patterns, working away from home, abuse from the public, and the stress of working in a hazardous environment can all have a big impact on mental health. We touched on the upcoming #stampitout campaign by Kevin Robinson at Safer Highways and discuses how across the industry, more consistent and predictable shifts would help. For example, less littering would dramatically reduce the requirements for closures and lessening the amount of time operatives spent in harm’s way as they collect it.

The event also included a fascinating panel discussion about lifecycle management of our road infrastructure, and the point was made that our strategic road network only accounts for 2% of the total road infrastructure in the UK, with the remaining 98% managed and maintained by local authorities. That one statistic raises the important question of how we cascade learning and best practice from what’s happening on the strategic network to the other 98% of roads. It became even clearer to me that the work Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG) is doing with local authorities is vital in this regard. As an LCRIG member and a company working to improve safety for operatives and drivers across both the strategic road network and local roads, it was a reminder that investing in building our knowledge and taking opportunities to collaborate through events like this are more important than ever.

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