Gaist recently joined forces with the Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG) to host a webinar entitled ‘Advancing safety inspections: the case for change‘ . The webinar was designed to help support local authorities to consider different approaches to safety inspections as well as debating and discussing how to help highway inspectors through technological advances; the importance of data when countering claims: reaping wider rewards through an innovative approach; and why safety will always be key to the work of highway authorities.
Taking part in the webinar were:
Chair: Alec Peachey, Content Director, LCRIG
Christina Liassides, Senior Consultant – Professional Services, Gaist
Nick Pates, Team Manager, Highway Maintenance at Bristol City Council
Paul Boss, Chief Executive, Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA)
Steve Spender, Chief Executive, Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE)
Safety remains a number one priority for local authorities as it does for any organisation responsible for managing the road network. Safety inspections remain a critical part of creating evidence for two things – to prove that councils are regularly monitoring for defects that could have immediate impact on the condition of the road and secondly, to provide evidence against any claims brought against them.
Over the last decade, the progressive and comprehensive development of condition surveys have helped councils build up detailed insight of the network to enable them to better identify suitable sites for surface treatments and plan more effectively. As a result, more councils are re-assessing their asset management and treatment plans to include more proactive maintenance as part of a toolbox of methods to maintain and repair the network.
Safety inspections are central to this but until recently development has remained static over the past decade. More recently, local authorities have been considering moving away from traditional approaches to highways safety inspections, especially since the launch of Gaist’s SafetyView. This new approach to highway safety inspections, offers comprehensive data capture and display for every safety defect across all inspection routes supporting every decision made with the best data and analysis available. It enables the quick evaluation of safety defects on the network, so that local authorities can prioritise repairs and free up valuable time for their inspectors.
It is this comprehensive data capture that can help support councils’ to make better decisions. As a result of having more detail, this enables them to have a holistic look at how safety inspection regimes can be more efficient, helping support quicker delivery times of works.
This was supported by Paul Boss, responding to a question about how safety inspections would be approached by 2030, he said use of high-definition and video as part of a modern approach to safety inspection surveys, either accessed at home or in an office, enables officers to study defects in detail and as a result, improve response times to work. “A more modern approach to safety inspections will not only improve response times but mean that defects can be repaired in a more efficient and sustainable way while providing a safer network. I think technology will continue to develop at a fast pace and maybe we will see a time when safety inspections are recorded from the air.”
Nick Pates agreed: “Technology is developing really quickly and the use of video and high-definition images to support our safety inspection and road condition surveys will be a trend that continues. SafetyView has enabled us to make our safety inspections more efficient by taking away the manual surveys and providing us with more detailed and accurate data. We will continue to use this technology as part of an important wider package that still makes use of engineers and inspectors that have the local knowledge and engineering expertise that means we can prioritise our work as part of our planned maintenance programmes.”
Speaking about the important balance between human interaction and technology, Christina Liassides said: “Technology makes safety inspections more efficient and easier for local authorities, but it doesn’t negate the need for experience. I don’t think any technology will fully replace human interaction but, in this case, will fully support inspectors and officers with the decision-making process. Speed of capture and connectivity will help this further-the fact that images can be assessed with date and time stamps to create really robust data.”
Steve Spender observed that in certain areas like footpaths, for example, walked surveys would have to be used but for high speed and highly trafficked routes, driven inspections with detailed capture would become the norm. “Local authorities are becoming accustomed to making better use of technology to enable better decision making and that will definitely continue. The ability to have more detailed data is invaluable to ensure better records of defects and to prioritise work more effectively and keep the local network in a satisfactory condition.”
Bristol City Council accelerated its work with Gaist on SafetyView as a result of the pandemic which meant it was not possible to have two inspectors in a car together. “But the next question for us is how to we avoid being not overwhelmed with data? We are fortunate to be a smart city and that means that we are using technology and receiving data from an ever increasing number of sources and for us its about how we manage that data and use it effectively for our needs and ensure it doesn’t just sit in a ‘cloud’ somewhere and be wasted,” said Mr Pates.
“Part of our role is just that,” Ms Liassides added: “We see making the data we collect from safety inspections and road condition data as accessible as possible, a vital part of our role in supporting local authorities. Behind every bit of technology like this there is a lot of development and behind that are lots of people so SafetyView is really a partnership between technology and people and that’s why we think it is important.”
Mr Spender went on to say that this new way of working did need to be supported by training. “I absolutely believe local authorities should be on this journey because the only way they are going to progress is to embrace what is available to them. But as more and more councils do so it is important we consider how that might affect policies and procedures and address that accordingly, backed up by training.”
He said that documents such as Well Managed Highways Infrastructure code of practice would have to continue to be reviewed to ensure that local authorities using any new technology or adopting new ways of working would not be penalised if a claim was made and it ended up in court. “The way lawyers work will mean that these sort of guidance documents would be used in court and we need to make sure that any authority that has deviated from anything in them is fully supported. So its about how we deal with and make reference to new ways of working while working within the confines of the guidance at the same time as making the transition to technological advances.”
All attendees agreed that technology such as SafetyView, which is improving safety inspections, was helping support local authorities to become more efficient and effective but also for inspectors’ time to be used in different ways. “It’s vital that as they embrace new ways of working, local authorities take the inspectors on the journey with them because there will always be this question over how dramatically this will change their jobs, or whether they will have jobs. But as has been highlighted, it has been developed to support them not hinder their work or to replace them. Highway authorities have an increasing number of priorities, so this is an opportunity for them. My advice as someone who has worked in asset management for a long time, is don’t rush this transition – bring over a small number of routes and then review it. Plans should be made and then progress can be reviewed against that plan and that makes this more hybrid approach between walked and driven inspectors backed up by this progressive technology, a lot easier.”
By moving over to the managed driven inspections with Gaist, Bristol has integrated the SafetyView system with its asset management system to great effect. “We have real confidence in the data, otherwise we wouldn’t be using it. SafetyView has meant we have saved time as well in the way we approach our inspections and we have used this to good effect to understand in more detail the depreciation of the network and approach the safety defects in more managed pieces of work. In turn, this has saved £200,000 on our revenue funding because we justify the investment in SafetyView from our capital funding. The exciting thing is, we are only just scratching the surface with this system,” commented Mr Pates.
He said that Bristol was determined that any change would not affect the team of inspectors they still rely on to provide expert advice. “We were very focused on implementing change in the right way to ensure our inspectors were a part of that change. But having the managed service that Gaist provide with SafetyView has also meant we can remove more inspectors from working next to live traffic on a regular basis, so there are many other benefits. We are also now not as reactive as we once were and a proactive approach has led to real benefits on the network.”
Attendees then went on to discuss how safety inspections help support claims against councils and give them the evidence to not only support claims but the confidence to make marginal decisions.
On this subject, Mr Boss said: “Safety Inspections have been the primary tool in providing evidence that a council has been regularly examining their network to show up any immediate hazards to the travelling public. If this isn’t done, then there is little or no defence against a claim. Video and high-definition capture takes this to another level.”
“This was why we developed a 360-degree camera to not only give us that more accurate detail but the fact that it can be viewed from a desktop or hand-held device anywhere at any time with each image date and time stamp is really powerful evidence against any type of claim,” adds Ms Liassides. The 360 camera also means that other assets are picked up along the route such as road signs as well as any other safety related issues that might have an impact on the carriageway or footway. “For me, the combination of SafetyView with the human eye reviewing the evidence in the context of everything else and with the previous local knowledge of a certain area, is a unique combination.”
But also, councils can reap further awards from adapting an innovative approach. So how can advances in safety inspections help with providing wider community benefits? “First of all, reducing the vehicle miles that inspectors are using is important, the safety element, but ultimately improving life for people by making highways safe and more accessible. We can also take money out of reactive maintenance and into planned and therefore, have less defects in the first place,” Mr Boss said.
“Reallocating more of our carriageways to sustainable transport means we have to be smarter in our approach to reducing work so technology has an important part in that and more proactive planned works, means we can reduce our carbon and hopefully minimise the amount of works we do because they are done in a more coordinated way,” added Mr Pates.
Attendees concluded that although there will always be a need for highway inspectors and their expertise and knowledge, technology that improves safety inspections will not only support their roles and highlight their importance in keeping the network safe but also brings many other benefits in helping support local authorities on their journey to become more efficient and more effective.
After a career in highways spanning more than 40 years, Kieran Collins, Highways Commissioner at Cheshire West and Chester Council, is retiring next month (November). Here, he looks back fondly on his time in the sector and provides an update on his plans for the future.