Groceries arriving at our door or an eagerly awaited purchase from Ebay are fast becoming parts of our everyday life. At some point in time, some of us may also call upon the help of the emergency services – fire brigade, ambulance personnel, police officers or breakdown engineers. Older relatives may be reliant on the support of visiting carers, whilst others of us find buses, trains and taxis a real benefit to getting about.
But how many of us actually think about what the conditions are like for these mobile workers, who play such a vital role in our life? I certainly didn’t until I overheard two women drivers discussing how difficult it was to find a toilet when they were out and about. Hearing about their problems encouraged me to investigate further and so I founded Truckers’ Toilets UK on Facebook to seek out views. It was a revelation!
I have IBS and any activity that takes me away from the comfort of my own loo is fraught with anxiety. Toilet location planning is essential. How much more difficult must it be for mobile workers – with or without IBS – who have very limited access to toilets every working day. Lorry drivers are a case in point. Nearly everything we buy has travelled by lorry at some point; we are reliant on their efforts and yet most of us remain unaware how they have to manage their toilet breaks during their working day.
By law, lorry drivers have to take rest breaks after a certain number of driving hours which means they need to find somewhere to park that can accommodate the size and weight of their vehicle. Not all delivery routes are via motorways and available facilities on any road routes are few and far between. Laybys are a popular choice by default for rest breaks on non-motorway routes, but how many laybys have toilets? Virtually none. Which leaves drivers with a dilemma: should they use the layby as a loo or ‘hold on’? There isn’t really a choice, is there?
So yes, many do use laybys as a loo although some resort to the ‘bucket and chuck it’ method. But how ever discreet they are, drivers run the risk of being fined if they are caught in the act. Awful, isn’t it? Certain councils actually punish drivers for using the roadside as a loo even though the council has not provided any facilities. Is this a sign of a caring council which so many claim to be? Presumably by instigating fines they hope to encourage drivers to move elsewhere to avoid the costs of cleaning up; never mind the effect on the drivers’ health. Nimbyism at its best.
But why don’t drivers use the loos at the companies they visit? Apart from the long distances between ‘pick ups and drops’ it would seem an obvious solution. However, in spite of the guidance from the Health and Safety Executive which clearly states that drivers should be provided with toilet access, some companies REFUSE drivers the use of their loos. The main reason given is misuse of the facilities. Having your toilets wrecked must be awful and incredibly frustrating if the actions are consistently repeated, but it’s only a minority of drivers who stoop so low, yet it results in the majority, who do know how to use a toilet properly, being penalised. Is this right?
So how does the lack of toilets affect the drivers? It’s not surprising to learn that the absence of facilities is contributing to a UK driver shortage. Would you work for a company where you can’t guarantee access to a toilet during your working day? What if you’re a woman in the early stages of pregnancy or have your period? How do you cope? Some drivers have to contend with ‘hidden’ disabilities such as IBS and suddenly find themselves in need of a loo. What then?
The scarcity of toilet facilities puts the health of all of our mobile workers at risk. ‘Holding on’ can damage the bladder and bowel and encourage urinary tract infections, kidney problems and other unpleasant conditions. Trying to find a toilet whilst driving affects concentration, a highly dangerous situation not only to the person in need but to other unsuspecting road users.
Even if a toilet is available there may not be suitable parking alongside it. Drivers of HGV vehicles require space, surfaces that can withstand the lorry’s weight and vehicle security.
Bus drivers and train drivers can’t just stop and dive into a loo either – assuming they can find one! A UK bus driver was sacked when he stopped his bus to use a toilet, and last year the lack of toilet facilities in Wandsworth led to protests by bus drivers. Taxi drivers may have to queue for a customer for long periods of time and drive for considerable distances without having access to a loo.
To add to the difficulties of mobile workers, toilets in our towns and cities are closing at a rapid rate as there is no legal obligation on councils to provide them. This is what the two women drivers I mentioned earlier had discovered. Where toilets are still available, drivers find there is a lack of parking spaces, a preponderance of double yellow lines and few facilities open at night.
If we want our goods delivered and services provided then we need to look after the drivers. The government has said it will cut the business rates on public toilet buildings, but at the time of writing nothing has happened. Requests to ministers to take action on the lack of toilet facilities fall on deaf ears and no one is willing to take responsibility. Even the unions and driver organisations seem reticent. Truckers’ Toilets UK – and Public Toilets UK – are working hard to redress the inequality of provision between office-based workers and the mobile sector and we are determined to win. Drivers are delivering our goods; shouldn’t dignity and respect be delivered to them in return?
Gillian Kemp [email@example.com] is the founder of Truckers’ Toilets UK, a pressure group working to improve toilet provision for lorry drivers in the UK. She has given evidence on the effects of public toilet closures to the Health & Social Care Committee at the Welsh Assembly and has chaired a joint venture with Hertfordshire Constabulary to revise a booklet on reducing vandalism in public toilets on behalf of the British Toilet Association. Gillian has a background in education, law and media and has worked with a number of charities. She is a Founder Director of an international medical equipment manufacturing company.