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Take Unsafe AA VRS Units Off The Road

Monday, January 13, 2014

Safety Regulators Must Force AA To Act On Concerns That Changes To Vehicle Recovery System Risks Death And Injury To Road Users

Safety regulators must insist that every dangerous AA vehicle recovery unit is taken out of service until identified risks have been dealt with says GMB.

GMB, the union for AA roadside and recovery staff, has written to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Driver & Vehicles Standards Agency (DVSA) asking them to intervene over concerns that changes to the AA’s vehicle recovery systems (VRS) run serious risks of death and serious injury to road users.

GMB has taken this step after AA directors failed to investigate the risks arising from changes to the VRS equipment. See copy of GMB letter to AA.

The first change is to the load bearing limits on the winch mechanism in the VRS to a limit above the manufacturer’s original safety settings for the equipment. This means the information on limits displayed on the security sealed control box is wrong. Second the steel cable used to winch a vehicle has been replaced with a fibre rope which changes the safe working limit of the winch cable. The combination of these changes has led to a number of instances where the winch cable has snapped leaving the extremely heavy recovery equipment crashing to the floor with a serious risk to the operator and other road users.

GMB has warned AA that that the most serious risk arises when a vehicle is being recovered on a hill. Then if the winch cable snaps this risks an out of control runaway vehicle that can kill or injure other road users. On the flat when the winch cable is bearing the weight of a vehicle if the line snaps there is a risk a dropping vehicle could kill or maim persons near it. In both cases the recoil from a snapped cable could cause serious injury or death.

GMB has told HSE and DVSA that the use of this VRS equipment is covered by both the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (1998), and the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (1998) and the HSE enforcing these regulations and DVSA enforcing the regulations relating to safety on the highway.

Paul Grafton GMB Regional Officer for AA staff said “GMB expect HSE and DVSA to protect road users since AA directors have so far failed to investigate these serious risks.

These safety regulators have to insist that as a matter of urgency every VRS unit is taken out of service until the following items have been rectified:

· All VRS equipment to have their winch load bearing limits reset correctly back to the manufacturers (J&J Engineering) original settings.
· A new winch cable is fitted with the appropriate safe working load marking displayed on the control boxes.
· A full risk assessment to be reviewed.

Patrols know that getting AA to spend money eliminating these risks on is only going to become harder in the coming months. This is because the plan is to split AA and Saga into two entities allowing Saga to pursue a float that could raise £3billion as early as the first quarter of 2014.

If this happens the private equity owners will have stripped a total of £5.5 billion from the two organizations since 2004.

Most of Acromas’s current £4billion debt will be left in the AA and securitised against annual fees paid by AA’s motorist members for breakdown cover.

This is reckless. The accounts show that already nearly half the income in roadside assistance is spent on servicing debts, taxes, interest and profit etc leaving 53.4% to be spent helping with breakdowns.

After the SAGA float each patrol will be burdened with £1.3m debts requiring interest payments per patrol of at least £53,000 per year. This is nearly twice the average wage paid across the AA."


Contact:  Paul Grafton, GMB Organiser on 07714 239092 or 0208 397 8881 or GMB press office 07921 289880 or 07974 251 823.

Notes to editors

GMB letter of 19th December 2013 to AA - no action taken.

 Mr Steve Dewey, AA Director of Road Services, The AA, Fanum House, Basing View, Basingstoke RG214EA

Dear Mr Dewey,

GMB Safety Concerns on the use of VRS Unit within the AA

I am writing to you formally to raise H&S concerns that have been brought to my attention by a number of GMB members working in the AA.

As you are no doubt aware the use of this equipment is legally covered by both the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (1998), and the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (1998).

Under both these sets of regulations it is very clear what responsibilities the employer has with regard to using lifting equipment. This includes the suitability for use of the equipment and it is in this area that GMB has major concerns.

I have had reports of the control mechanism of the winch operation being breached and modified outside of the manufacturers and suppliers instructions. This has the potential for serious harm, not only to GMB members but also to the public. It will also negate any original load bearing information present either on the control box or as extra written information, which again is a requirement under the regulations.

In addition if this practice is not agreed by the supplier it could have serious consequences for insurance provision, and I am unaware of this modification being covered by any risk assessment, which should of course be supplied to the operatives.

Concerns have also been raised over the change from a steel winch rope to a fibre rope which has snapped unexpectedly on a number of occasions, which again have potentially very serious consequences for both operator and members of the public.  As part of the lifting equipment it should be suitable and strong enough for the task, and be able to accommodate the load weight.

Apparently this problem is exacerbated by the adjustments made to the “amps draw” winch setting is done by ear and not by measuring equipment which does not give confidence in either reliability or consistency. This may also fall outside the competency stipulation of the regulations.

Here again, what is defined by the HSE as “Hardware measures” covering the provision of comprehensible information for the operatives is lacking by using this approach. Again I am not aware to any risk assessment process being involved in this, or what measures are being implemented to reduce overall risk.

In essence the operatives, following a number of incidents, do not feel that the equipment is being used in accordance with the manufacturer’s original specifications. Before involving the government regulators (HSE &  DVSA) GMB would like to meet with you to deal with the issues raised internally and would anticipate a positive response to the concerns raised.

As a matter of urgency I would suggest placing every VRS unit out of service until they have the following items rectified;

1. A new winch cable fitted with the appropriate Safe Working Load marking displayed.
2. All VRS vehicles to have their winches re set correctly to the manufacturers (J&J Engineering) original settings.
3. A full Risk Assessment to be reviewed.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Grafton, GMB , Regional Organiser


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