In the Sixties and early Seventies Recovery Operators thought little about their safety. It was accepted that the job was dangerous one, and few thought to do anything about it. The key to survival was quick reactions. If you heard a squeal of tyres behind you and took the time to look, you could end up very dead. Survivors did not look, they just ran and got as far up the central reservation barriers as they could!
The AA and the RAC had always provided their patrols with a 'Military Design' uniform. The AA's 'Army' uniform was generally thought of as inferior looking, to the RAC's 'RAF' uniform.
However the AA patrols thought their uniforms were warmer, dryer and much more practical for the job they were designed for. So much so, that RAC Patrols were eventually issued with an overcoat that was so good at protecting people from the elements, many garages tried to pinch them!
Motorcycle patrols were additionally issued with a basic 'tin lid' crash helmet and of course gloves. There were attempts to encourage patrols to wear a reflective strip and later a waistcoat, but on the whole this was ignored. It was only in the mid eighties that the 'hard shoulder services' started to count up the number of fatalities and as a result, they began to look seriously at solutions.
In 2004 figures released by the Health and Safety Executive, showed that "three out of five serious motorway accidents, involved a broken down vehicle on the hard shoulder and in 1996 alone, 13 of the165 motorway fatalities occurred on the hard shoulder. One of the trade associations estimates that there are approximately 6-8 fatalities every year amongst Recovery Operators and the Motoring Organisations Patrols".
Now, what about the Recovery Operators themselves? Well the picture below from 1984, gives you a good idea. Most operators wore overalls at the start and although they were later issued with reflective jackets, few bothered to wear them relying instead on their 'quick reactions' and 'dashing good looks' to survive everything!
Something had to be done to educate them and several good articles appeared in the industry’s trade magazines. A group of people from the Industry, the Motoring Organisations and the IVR (Institute of Vehicle Recovery), started to produce training videos, largely funded by the Motoring Organisations.
These instructive and thought provoking videos are called Life On The Edge. So far, seven have been produced. and it is fair to say that they have helped to save many, many lives. The people involved in creating them, should be very proud of the contribution they have made to safety.
In October 1994 Frank McAllister, the then Chairman of the
Standards and Safety Committee (and then, as now, a man not afraid to say
what he thinks), suggested that the industry needed to come up with some
sort of national image which included protective head gear as well as
clothing. Frank recalls "Initially there were inputs from every corner
of the Industry on the design of the proposed new clothing er , However
there was little agreement initially on the design of a new helmet '.
The new helmet had a safety strap to stop it falling off, therefore in the event of serious connection with a heavy object, it would stay put and protect the wearer. Then last, but not least, it had a shatter proof safety visor, which could be flipped up, out of the way depending on the safety issue being dealt with at the time".
Compare the 1984 pictures with the one on the right and you can see one very good reason why the number of Recovery Operatives hit by passing vehicles, is now on the decline.
The helmet shown is actually the very first prototype production unit which Frank still proudly wears for 'official occasions and opening supermarkets'. The uniform is the popular two piece outfit manufactured by Dickies (UK) Ltd and sold by Cardno Ltd.
Clearly it is important to protect the operative, but if you can give approaching motorist some extra warning, then they may be looking for you by the time they get close. The quickest and usually most effective way to do this is to turn on your Amber Beacon as you approach the scene of the incident.
Up until the seventies most recovery vehicles were fitted with a single Lucas rotating light (if they were fitted with anything), as shown left. That particular one is towards the end of the design, as the very first ones only had 21 watt indicator / break light filament bulb fitted.
The webmaster even remembers driving an Instant Services of Surbiton, Ford Anglia Service Van, fitted with two 3 inch lorry indicators. These were stuck on the roof, like a pair of Mickey Mouse ears.
The light given out by the Lucas unit was usable at night, but almost pointless during the day. Being a single light it only took one lamppost or a tree, to hide it from approaching vehicles. On later units, the filament bulbs were replaced with a halogen ones. The increased brightness helped, but as the luminance increased, so did the current drawn.
In the seventies dual light units made from two small sealed beam headlights, started to be imported from America. These were soon followed by four headlight units . Then the first of the 'Bar Lights' started to appear from America, which meant that it was much harder to for the lights to be obscured by a tree or a lamppost . In the UK Britax produced a fibreglass budget priced bar light and companies like Bryn Tennant's “Tennant Motor Services” also started to build a UK version of the American units, they were already importing.
Unfortunately as the lights got bigger and brighter, the current drawn also went up, with some units drawing in excess of 50 Amps! Even with the engine running it did not take long to flatten the vehicle battery. Just what you need to happen when you are up on the Yorkshire Moors in the middle of the night!
Today's light bars get round the current problem, by using more efficient LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology, that give off brilliant light but draw much lower current. At typical modern unit is shown below.
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