Focus on Diesel Spillages

Figures issued by Highways England in April 2019 confirm that it recorded over 300 diesel spillages from HGVs in 2018. At that time, the organisation issued its best practice guidance for commercial vehicle drivers and operators to help prevent diesel spillages from occurring, thereby reducing the number of incidents on the network and explaining the impact that they have. It’s no surprise that such incidents can place other road users at risk, compromise the integrity of both road surface and network, and have a devastating effect on water courses and the environment in general.

The focus is back on with the Government ‘Moving On’ blog that highlighted this issue just before lockdown on 9 March 2020. The guidance can be found here.

In as little as two hours, diesel left on the road surface leads to structural damage which requires road resurfacing and significant delay and cost to other road users.

From a study of these types of incidents, Highways England reported:

  • 41% of incidents were estimated to be 2 hours or less
  • 14% of incidents were between 2-5 hours
  • 22% of incidents were over 5 hours

The cost can be around £540,000 for a 4-hour delay on a busy route.

Despite these figures, a survey of over 200 fleet operators revealed that 42% don't equip their vehicles with spill kits. This would result in a spillage not being treated until a response unit arrived. In the time it takes for a response unit to arrive at the scene of a spillage, environmental damage, surface deterioration or even fire is likely to have occurred, which you may be liable for!

The guidance advocates that drivers can prevent spillages and improve safety by carrying out effective daily walkaround checks of their vehicle. Drivers should also be aware of environmental risks associated with diesel spillages and their impact on water courses, etc. Operators should equip their fleets with spill kits that drivers are trained to use. In addition, they should develop and communicate a diesel spill response plan, ensuring that drivers understand it.

Spill kits typically comprise booms, mats, sealant putty and portable containers. However, operators should also consider fitting fuel caps with anti–syphon devices and self-sealing tanks, installing guard rails to the sides and extending cat walks on the top of the fuel tank, for protection. You would be surprised how many of these spillages result from a missing/faulty fuel cap!

It is also believed that by improving their awareness of penalty notices and fines, operators can assist drivers to understand the implications on their vocational licences. Drivers can be prosecuted under Section 161(1) of the Highways Act 1980, which carries a fine of up to £1,000. Diesel spillage-related fines issued by DVSA can range from £50 - £100, depending on the severity of the offence. Fines for operators can be considerably more and the Environment Agency can issue unlimited fines upon conviction.

Of course, it follows that there are other benefits to operators. These include the avoidance of DVSA enforcement action, an increase in insurance premiums, a reduction in the risk of losing an immobilised vehicle, greater fuel costs and the impact on a schedule through the resulting delays.

The primary aim for Highways England is to demonstrate the importance of preventing and minimising diesel spillages and the costs associated with these incidents. The guidance is supported by the 'What is the impact and cost of a diesel spillage' leaflet, which highlights the impact and cost of diesel spillages. This illustrates real-life case studies of spillage incidents and features costs incurred by stakeholders involved in the clean-up and repair.


DVSA Moving On blog: March 2020

Highways England Diesel Spillage Best Practice Guide: April 2019

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