Racking and its accident protection is heading towards the spotlight, with the Freight Transport Association accusing national and European bodies of underestimating the forces involved in van accidents, and the strains they put on storage and transportation devices fitted to LCVs.
The FTA has accused both the Department for Transport and the European Commission of seriously underestimating the forces that can be generated in a van collision. Having commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory to investigate, it says that while the DfT Code of Practice on cargo retention is based on a deceleration force of just 1G, TRL’s findings show that a serious crash can generate more than 20 times that level.
“DfT and Commission guidance is largely inadequate as it fails to account for the stresses experienced in a typical collision,” says James Hookham, policy director at the FTA. “In fact court cases have shown that it can no longer be relied upon as a benchmarking device.”
As a consequence the FTA has produced is own best-practice guide on the safe securing of loads and equipment in light commercials.
“Although the frequency of injuries caused by loads in such accidents is comparatively low, the consequences of such injuries are of the gravest concern,” says Hookham.
Most, if not all, of the major suppliers have put their products through the European ECE R17.07 test that originated as a car safety standard addressing luggage hurtling forwards from the boot, and has no legal requirement for commercial vehicles.
Edstrom, for example, has had its systems’ crash-test witnessed by the Vehicle Certification Agency at Milbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire. It involved subjecting a van body fitted with shelving, drawers, roof bars and various accessories and loaded with test weights to a collision pulse of up to 20G, in line with the R17.07 standard. That’s the equivalent of a 30mph crash.
All the fixtures and fittings remained in place and the bulkhead retained its integrity. Nor did the drawers deposit their contents on the floor.
A professionally-built storage system that’s been crash-tested is likely to remain in place in a 30mph shunt if it’s been correctly installed, a home-made one probably won’t. Remember, if a vehicle is involved in a 30mph head-on smash with a stationary vehicle, the laws of physics mean that a 75kg item suddenly tips the scales at three tonnes. Also remember that employers have a duty of care to protect employees, and them being injured by low-cost or poorly installed racking won’t go down well with authorities.
Surely the existence of ECE R17.07 indicates that van load safety is being taken seriously? Not as seriously as it should be, argues Modul-System research and development manager, Anders Carlsson. “The collision tests that Modul-System has carried out so far have always used the same shock load as is used in collision tests on cargo restraint protection in cars,” he observes. There isn’t any legislative requirement to prove racking security and load tolerance. Modul-System has made extensive use of Volvo’s car safety centre in Gothenburg in Sweden to implement its tests.
Clearly it’s impossible to crash-test every single one of the almost-endless layouts of racks, lockers and so on that can be found in a van. “We do, however, have access to some sophisticated virtual crash-testing software so that we can simulate what might happen if we, say, add certain accessories,” says Tevo product marketing manager, Adam Mayer.
But whichever way racking moderation develops, it’s clear that the current safety-conscious environment will lead to increased focus on ensuring kit fitted to vans is up to the job, in all senses of the word.