West Lothian uses risk-based approach to close in on targets

Dominic Browne

A council in Scotland has used a standardised risk-based approach template created by local officers’ body SCOTS to dramatically improve its ability to meet response times for road defects.

Under its new policy, which has been running for nearly a year, West Lothian Council has given itself more than twice as long to meet lower risk issues – category two.

Kenneth Brown, senior engineer for maintenance at West Lothian Council, said: ‘We used to have 40mm category one response and recorded 70 to 80 category one defects a month, which was much higher than the average for the SCOTS family group.

‘We were struggling to fix them and only repaired 60% of them within the 24-hour response times.’

In the SCOTS template there are standardised response times, which was subject of much debate as it does not align with the spirit of the new code of practice.

Kevin Hamilton, head of roads with Glasgow City Council, speaking on behalf of SCOTS at Traffex Scotland, said: ‘We set out minimum response times. This is not in the code of practice but during the development of this document it was felt there should be a minimum standards and consistency among authorities.

'There is a research project ongoing through the Scottish Road Research Board to try and get some objective evidence to support response times. It is very difficult to pin point what responsible response times should be.'

Under its new risk-assessment matrix based on the SCOTS approach, West Lothian has set a priority one response target as repaired within 24 hours, which remains the same from the old system.

However, a priority two response is now repaired within five working days instead of seven; a priority three response in 60 working days instead of 28, and priority four is repaired as part of programmed work. Rather than reviewed at the next inspection.

This has resulted in:

  • Priority one jobs – 87% completed on time
  • Priority 2 - 97% completed on time
  • Priority 3 - 95% completed on time

The aim of the SCOTS approach is to allow councils more time to carry out planned asset management, and develop a more measured approach to risk analysis from defects.

Mr Brown said: ‘The matrix has reduced the number of jobs dramatically and the early results show the shift towards more planned works resulted in less complaints. 

‘The aim is to get better use of resource to focus on planned. I think it will improve asset management in the long run. We still don’t make full use of that 60 days.

‘Recording is key to defending cases. On our system it is now mandatory for inspectors to record the risk of a defect as they cannot raise a job without doing it.'

SCOTS produced a suite of four standard template documents that councils could adapt to their needs: an overview document, a strategy template, a committee report template and an operations manual template.

All the documents were reviewed by legal advisers, risk consultants and insurers before being finally published in October 2018, when the new national code of practice for highway maintenance was released – Well-managed Highway Infrastructure - which brought in the risk-based approach.

The safety inspection strategy template is based on risk management as defined in ISO 31000 and covers how to review the road hierarchy, how to establish inspection routes, how to decide on frequencies and the methodology for undertaking the inspections.

The guidance calls for analysis based on the most probable consequence not the worst case scenario.

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