The BOSS: A new solution to roadwork incursions

Ben Duncker

Ben Duncker, commercial director at Highway Care, discusses the need for a solution to tackle the issue of roadwork incursions and introduces The BOSS (pictured), which might just be the answer.

'The unpalatable truth is that if this continues someone is going to be killed.’ These were the words last summer of Karl Brooks, National Highways’ programme delivery manager in the East Region after it was revealed that roadwork incursions on the strategic road network (SRN) during the first five months of 2023 exceeded those recorded for the entire 12 months of 2022.

It’s an alarming statistic, but worse still is the fact that those numbers do not highlight the true extent of the problem. It isn’t just on the SRN that roadworkers are at risk from vehicle incursions into the work zone; works on the local road network are just as vulnerable, and potentially even less protected.

While working on any road involves inherent dangers, that does not mean that workers should have to accept incursions as an unavoidable hazard.

Picture: The BOSS solution on display 

Anyone who has seen near-miss footage of workers throwing themselves out of the path of a moving vehicle can appreciate how terrifying it must be, even if no injury occurs. The impact goes beyond whether anyone is injured or killed due to an incursion. Such incidents affect the mental health of workers, their confidence in safety while at work and, ultimately, retention and recruitment in the highways sector.

National Highways has said that safety is an ‘absolute priority’ and has campaigned for improved public understanding of the need to respect lane and road closures. Educating the public about the dangers to both motorists and roadworkers when incursions occur is an essential part of tackling the problem. But it is not a complete answer.

We need a multi-faceted approach. There is a duty of care for employers to protect workers from all incursions; whether they are malicious, intentional or accidental. And, of course, there is a need for innovation to provide safety solutions that are practical, agile and effective as both prevention and deterrent.

As a company that deploys workers on the UK’s roads, and a business dedicated to bringing to market innovative solutions for a safer future, Highway Care have been keen to enhance our portfolio with a solution that can play a part in preventing incursions safely and easily. We knew we needed to introduce something quick and simple to deploy, easy and convenient to transport to site and safe for both motorists and roadworkers, and we’re excited to introduce a system that does all of that with the launch of The BOSS.

Barriers to an incursion solution

While signage, barriers, tapers and light arrows can all be used to alert road users to the fact that there is a work zone ahead, none of these provide the physical protection needed to keep roadworkers safe if a motorist opts to ignore them, or becomes confused about a suitable route.

The problem – until now – has always been that physical measures designed to be robust enough to keep roadworkers safe have been considered unsuitable for use in the highways industry for two important reasons:

1. They could protect roadworkers from impact but presented a risk of injury for the vehicle’s occupants, along with the likelihood of damage to the vehicle and/or the road surface.

2. They were cumbersome and heavy and took time to install, which made them operationally onerous, particularly for temporary road or lane closures involving critical works in a short closure window.

When working with our partner, Stuer-Egghe, to develop a potential solution for protecting workers from incursions, we were conscious that the system would need to overcome these safety and operational hurdles, while providing effective protection.

Feeding market insight into the design process and leveraging our knowledge of hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM) systems from the security side of the Highway Care business, we were able to provide expertise to support the development of The BOSS.

Picture: The BOSS in action

Showing reckless drivers who’s BOSS

An ultra-lightweight HVM system, The BOSS is made up of components weighing 8kg each and totalling less than 70kg for a three-metre span, which allows installation by a single operative in just a few minutes.

The name stands for Barrier On Strong Spikes, and The BOSS comprises a robust mat with the eponymous strong spikes pointing outwards, which brings the vehicle to a controlled stop.

Unlike police stinger devices, which only puncture the tyres, allowing the vehicle to continue moving, The BOSS works by also inhibiting the vehicle’s wheels and axle, utilising the spikes to capture the wheels and prevent them from turning. Each complete three-metre set consists of six strips with revolutionary stopping technology, two covers, two storage compartments for easy transportation, eight simple locking mechanisms and three coupling plates.

What makes The BOSS a gamechanger is that it can bring a vehicle of up to 7.5 tonnes to a safe, controlled stop without endangering the vehicle’s occupants, thanks to smart design and techniques used in the manufacturing process.

The product has been tested and certified to the new ISO 22343-1 standard for HVM systems introduced in March, proving its safety and effectiveness in bringing the vehicle to a controlled stop in the safest possible way for both the occupant and the people and property in the vicinity.

As well as winning on safety for both road users and roadworkers, The BOSS also overcomes previous operational and functionality challenges. Because it is a flexible and lightweight mat, it can fit easily into the boot of a car and be deployed quickly and easily as a surface-mounted system without the use of any additional tools, or incurring any damage to the road surface. The BOSS can even be installed in a pedestrian permeable configuration, while still providing an effective defence against incursions, enabling workers to step into and out of the work area unhindered.

And because it is so quick and easy to lay, and so lightweight, The BOSS also provides a flexible solution that enables workers to remove and replace the protection to allow authorised vehicle access, or to reconfigure the incursion defence system as work progresses.

Coming soon

The first units have arrived in the UK and the Highway Care team will be demonstrating the system at events throughout the summer and autumn, including the LCRIG Innovation Festival and the International Security Expo in September. We will also be inviting people to come and see the product and our business development team will be taking demo units out to customers too.

The BOSS is deceptively simple, but what sets it apart is the fact that it considers how to mitigate a potentially life-threatening hazard while overcoming the considerable safety and practical objections that have allowed incursion rates to remain at such a high level due to the lack of a viable solution.

We know that there is strong support for implementing best practice to protect roadworkers, not just from highways contractors and their employees but from the public too. A YouGov survey, conducted with more than 2,000 British adults in 2021, revealed that 58% of respondents didn’t feel enough was being done to protect roadworkers.

The arrival of The BOSS means that there is now scope for something to be done on the issue of incursions with a system which, we hope, will become first a protection, then a deterrent, then a catalyst for behaviour change.

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