Well-managed Highway Infrastructure (WMHI) - Emerging Risk Management Considerations

  • We share key findings from a project to help understand how to evaluate highway clients and their risks
  • Look at the risks associated with cycling and electric scooters, and
  • Provide guidance on how authorities can improve their processes to ensure compliance with the latest code

Following the insightful webinar, Thursday 10 September 2020 – Steve Thomas, from the Workforce Strategies’ Liability Team, sets out his key findings following a major Zurich project to help understand how to evaluate highway clients and the risk they present. We also asked him to share his guidance about how authorities can improve their processes to help to ensure compliance with the latest code.

During the session, Steve outlined the various risk factors that need to be considered as part of the asset management, condition and safety inspection programme:

Cycling accidents can lead to catastrophic injuries 

As a by product of the COVID -19 pandemic more people are taking up cycling, either recreationally or for commuting, and it is also one of the three examples of daily exercise the government has advised people to engage in during lockdown. Despite the health benefits, new cyclists have less experience so are more vulnerable – unfortunately, occasionally the injuries suffered by cyclists as a result of accidents are catastrophic.

Strava, the internet service for tracking exercise using GPS data, aggregates and anonymises cycling data into a global heatmap, called Strava Metro. Using Strava Metro is a great way to discover routes that are popular with the millions of cyclists in the Strava community – you can view the most popular routes and workouts by county and by type of road. Metro provides additional insight for highway managers to make data-backed decisions on their networks, i.e. sections of the network with high usage will require greater monitoring and, potentially, attention/repair.

Electric scooter injuries are on the rise

As electric scooters have become more popular, with a number of ‘hire’ trials being rolled out across the UK, at Zurich we are monitoring this emerging risk. For instance, a user who is thrown from a scooter and into the path of a vehicle, even with a helmet on, can suffer traumatic injuries.

When determining how to prioritise response to surface condition for the above risks, we need to look at a number of contributing factors, including:

  • Dimensions
  • Debris
  • Standing water
  • Other road users – at risk/presenting risk
  • Lighting
  • Other hazards in the area
  • Junctions and crossings
  • Position in road/cycleway
  • Speed/gradient
  • Cyclist demographic
  • Claims history of the location

We then need to decide: Is the defect a danger to traffic, including these vulnerable road users? What is the level of risk and corresponding action required? The risk factors can then be used for setting categories for the network hierarchy and subsequently deciding on inspection frequency or future works.

WMHI: Is it really that different?

WMHI provides guidance to support the development of approachesto highway maintenance that are in accordance with local needs, priorities and affordability. Its 36 recommendations, broadly split across six different focussed areas, will now be relied upon by local authorities, practitioners, experts, lawyers and the courts as guidance – when the adequacies of the network in question are challenged. In terms of the new code and the adoption of a risk-based approach, is it really that different? Here is a summary of the most pertinent observations:

  • It is vital that any decision made in relation to a network risk is documented and recorded
  • Variations in condition (potential hazards) which present a possible risk to users must be recorded and responded to based on that risk assessment
  • Because of the reliance placed on the need to explain each risk-based decision, it is essential within the system, that those individuals who assess the risks are appropriately qualified
  • Whilst each local authority is able to devise its own risk-based approach, it must be able to justify and evidence those decisions

Zurich’s risk assessment – how are you doing?

We have developed a major programme to assess a client’s exposure to risk and to support our customers in order to help to improve their risk management processes. Throughout 2018 and 2019, a programme of customer visits took place to ascertain how well the requirements of the code were being implemented, and the overall effectiveness of our clients’ highway management framework. The review, known as a Grading, looks at 25 risk factors that align with recommendations in the new code.

Subsequently, our key takeaways thus far are as follows:

  • We’re working together with authorities that have found issues in terms of escalation in numbers of claims received
  • We have come across a lack of evidence of the higher level management decisions, to support claims defence, even when policy frameworks are satisfied in the context of delivery
  • Inspection regimes have the biggest variance in performance
  • Evidence of competence in terms of inspection is generally good, but there is room for improvement in terms of demonstrating this in respect of middle and senior management decision makers.
  • Internal investigation of claims is inconsistent, usually due to lack of understanding of the importance of the evidence that is being requested.

Advice for paving the way forwards

We understand the pressures and the significant work that goes into being compliant. Below are some of our recommended steps to consider, in order to continue progress with code compliance:

  • Do the basics well – fix known problems
  • Justify and agree variations to policy
  • Establish risk-based service levels for maintenance plans
  • Keep accurate records, monitor performance and address issues promptly
  • Maintain a consistent approach to inspection, hazard prioritisation and repair
  • Adopt the risk approach for the management of other assets the authority has responsibility for – slips, trips and falls can and do happen elsewhere!
  • If policies need to be reviewed post-lockdown – ensure these decisions are recorded
  • Seek peer-to-peer network support
  • Get an independent view from Zurich – we’re here to help