It can&#x2019;t happen&#x2026;
&#x2026; but it did. There we were at Heathrow&#x2019;s Terminal 1 rank late in the evening of 1st November 2010, desperately hoping that we would get a fare and not &#x2018;blow out&#x2019; when we saw it. A big red fire engine with its blue lights flashing coming down the taxi rank lane until it was forced to stop by the waiting taxis. Where was it going? How could it get out? Are people in danger? These are the questions that went through my mind at the time. Realising that the fire brigade &#x2018;shout&#x2019; was not serious enabled me to take a photograph of the fire engine in the rank. Look at how little room there is between the vehicles and the metal barriers!
For those of you who don&#x2019;t know the layout of this rank, especially those who live outside of London, let me try to explain the layout of this rank and its approaches. When you exit the left hand lane of the airport entrance tunnel you are led on the left to the entrance to Terminal 1. The drop off point is up a ramp which is reasonably clear to find. Pickups have to be made from the car park which is accessed from the lower level. The entrance is from the immediate left lane and is compulsory for vehicles to enter once they have passed the high level indicator &#x2013; a metal bar set at the height limit for the car park. The taxi rank entrance is between the car park and the upper level ramp. There are signs indicating taxis only. To get to the entrance to the car park or the rank you have to make what is effectively a 180 degree turn. The private motorist who may be totally unfamiliar with the layout of the airport is often confused by the signs and may not realise that they are in the wrong place until they have committed themselves to start the turn and, as there is no &#x2018;escape&#x2018; lane will enter the taxi rank lane.
The previous design of the taxi rank was such that, in the event of a vehicle needing to exit from the rear of the rank they could do so by entering an adjacent lane. When the rank was redeveloped (about 2 years ago if memory serves me right) it was rebuilt only just wide enough for one vehicle at a time to pass along its width. To make matters worse a metal fence was placed to the immediate right of the lane, leaving only just enough room to open the taxi door and get out of the vehicle. There are also metal fences placed on the left hand side to keep passengers in line and out of danger from moving taxis. The end part of the lane widens out enough to get 4 taxis in the actual pick up point and carefully squeeze another vehicle past.
This is all well and good when the rank is moving but, as any regular user will tell you, there are times when you simply sit there without customers and, due to the poor design, without the possibility of moving from the rear of the rank to another which may be moving or to simply exit the airport without a fare. The same is true of those poor unfortunate &#x2018;ordinary&#x2019; car drivers who have mistakenly entered the taxi lane. There are a couple of pedestrian crossings where it was previously possible to carefully (with a taxi&#x2019;s steering lock) drive out of the rank but these were blocked off by metal posts, leaving no escape. There have been times when drivers, especially late at night when the last flight has landed, sit there in frustration unable to move. To my mind the whole thing resembles the fencing used to herd cattle as shown in old fashioned cowboy films.
It appears that, from the &#x2018;authorities&#x2019; point of view, the needs and desires of taxi drivers are of little or no concern. But what about Health and Safety requirements? The Health and Safety Executive&#x2019;s web site gives a great deal of advice which suggests that, among other things an organisation must
Identify the hazards
Decide who might be harmed Evaluate the risks Record your findings Review your assessment
It would take far too long to quote all the parts here but the section on &#x2018;Evaluate the risks&#x2019; is worth quoting. It states
&#x2026;look at what you&#x2019;re already doing, think about what controls you have in place and how the work is organised. Then compare this with the good practice and see if there&#x2019;s more you should be doing to bring yourself up to standard. In asking yourself this, consider:
When controlling risks, apply the principles below, if possible in the following order:
&#x2022; &#x2022; &#x2022;
try a less risky option (eg switch to using a less hazardous chemical); prevent access to the hazard (eg by guarding);
organise work to reduce exposure to the hazard (eg put barriers between pedestrians and traffic);
issue personal protective equipment (eg clothing, footwear, goggles etc); and provide welfare facilities (eg first aid and washing facilities for removal of contamination).
Improving health and safety need not cost a lot. For instance, placing a mirror on a dangerous blind corner to help prevent vehicle accidents is a low-cost precaution considering the risks. Failure to take simple precautions can cost you a lot more if an accident does happen.
Is this the section of HSE advice that has been used to place the barriers between the taxi rank
Can I get rid of the hazard altogether? f not, how can I control the risks so that harm is unlikely?
and pedestrians? In theory this may be fine if that was the objective, but what about the risks to the drivers of vehicles who may be trapped in the event of an emergency happening in the taxi lane? Had it been assessed and deemed that there was not a risk of sufficient magnitude to warrant any need for a method of escape from the lane? If that is the case it would seem that the use of that lane by a fire engine means that the assessment may be wrong. Have they taken account of the cases where taxis have burst into flames in the past? What if a vehicle breaks down in the lane? What if a driver is taken ill, how do emergency service personnel get to him/her? These are questions that need to addressed - or looked at again if an assessment has already been made. In the words of the HSE
Few workplaces stay the same. Sooner or later, you will bring in new equipment, substances and procedures that could lead to new hazards. It makes sense therefore, to review what you are doing on an ongoing basis. Every year or so formally review where you are to make sure you are still improving, or at least not sliding back.
Look at your risk assessment again. Have there been any changes? Are there improvements you still need to make? Have your workers spotted a problem? Have you learnt anything from accidents or near misses? Make sure your risk assessment stays up to date.
November obviously suggests that a review of assessment would seem necessary for Heathrow&#x2019;s Terminal 1 rank. I don&#x2019;t know if anyone else has reported this incident but I would suggest that the publication of this article would require BAA to look again at the layout. Now that a risk is public knowledge would there be a negligence claim in the event that something more serious happens in this lane? In the words of the Health and Safety Executive, &#x2018;Failure to take simple precautions can cost you a lot more if an accident does happen&#x2019;. As always I leave it for you, the reader, to decide.
I spoke to a Health and Safety expert who told me that assessments were on a case by case basis and decisions should be made using the best practice available unless, or, as quoted above, until an event occurs which requires an organisation to review your assessment. The event of 1st
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