Fluid Spills Double

05/03/2019 update – 2018 figures for 01/01/2018 to 31/10/2018 3090 spills.  For the same period during 2017, there were 2870 i.e. the annual figures appear to have increased yet again.

From 2013 to 2017 the number of fuels spills recorded by Highways England more than doubled (full figures here)

  • 2013 1638 spills
  • 2014  1669 spills
  • 2015  1644 spills
  • 2016  2185 spills
  • 2017 3405 spills

These are only the ones HE know about, presumably those that gave rise to a contractor attendance.

In 2011, the ‘zero crossing policy’ was introduced. In brief, operatives are not to cross motorway lanes for example, to remove debris. This means Traffic Management must be employed to create a safe environment in which to work.  Commendable but TM costs money – vehicles (plant), operatives (staff) and signage. The result; central reservation cleaning is not undertaken – despite contractors receiving a lump sum payment to attend to this. Kier’s former claims manager was clear in 2016:

“The debris is a direct consequence of this zero carriageway crossing thing, because the guys that work on the networks get very frustrated with it because they feel that they should still be allowed to cross the carriageway.”


“consequence is you do end up with this tyre scenario*, and the reality is then no one wants to pay for the traffic management to get rid of the tyre, they have to wait ‘til they’re doing something else and then they get it then.”

*fraying tyres, exposed metal strapping, left on the roadside

The ‘something else’ is likely to be conducting a repair after a collision – Kier attend to over 5,400 / year.

  • Contractors receive taxpayers money to clear litter and debris. It used to be the case that contractor staff would cross live motorway lanes to collect debris
  • Now contractors must put cones out, close a lane (traffic management) before clearing debris
  • Closing a lane (TM) costs money, so some contractors are not doing it
  • Debris remains in situ’ and can lead to an incident; collision or fire


  • The debris left could cause a collision, fire, spill or gullies to block causing standing water and aquaplaning
  • contractor staff would attend to repair and when doing so, clear the debris (that caused the incident!)
  • Third Parties are not just paying for the repair, but for the TM put in place for the restoration – and when this is set up, debris is collected (‘picked’), third parties are paying for:
    • the TM and
    • the staff present who pick the litter

And it should be remembered; the contractor has been paid from public funds to clear the debris but may have failed to do so.

Debris left in situ’ can cause a collision that enables cleaning at the Third Party’s expense!

Ironic? Frightening? The process is profit-generating for the contractor – they attend an incident and submit costs for the repair.  Cleaning may only cost about £1,000 but it is disruptive, resurfacing is likely to start at about £15,000 and can top £100,000.

It also appears there is no clear guidance to contractors about how to address spills. Some seemingly knee-jerk re-surface presumably because Highways England rubber-stamp the invoices for payment.

21/06/2018 (W06B679) we wrote to a contractor about their staff undertaking debris-clearing when repairing. Clearly there was debris present, it was being collected, detailed on the operative’s time sheet for the repair period. The reply:

As previously stated, we will maintain elements of the network as required if Traffic
Management is in place. It is agreed that litter picking is paid for in the Lump Sum duty, the insurer has not been charged the man hours for this work. Litter picking was carried out while repairs to the Central Reservation were taking place.

The litter-pick undertaken because traffic management was in place – paid for by the insurer!

Possibly it is time for Third Parties to start demanding evidence the roads were cleaned as required by contract when presented a bill?


Is it fanciful to link debris with incidents? No …

Debris can cause a puncture (blow-out being the extreme form), fire, fuel spill, gullies to block, or cause someone to swerve to avoid.

Highways England reported:

  • Hundreds of lives are put at risk in collisions caused by items in the carriageway, or items that land on windscreens
  • Thousands of punctures are caused by sharp items

Customer Service Director Melanie Clarke is reported to have said:

“Cleaning motorways is expensive and time-consuming, and it is the innocent drivers who suffer. The money needed to clear litter comes out of their pockets and they are the ones who suffer the consequences if an item of litter causes a puncture, or a collision which closes a carriageway. 

The carriageway crossing policy is admirable, it protects the lives of contractor staff working on the roads. But what of road users?

24/03/2018 – fuel spill on the M2 @ 3am: Cause reported as:

A jack knifed lorry, however we understand there may also have been some debris which struck the vehicle.

Related Items:

For years, Highways England blamed motorists for burst tyres claiming that this resulted from the owner / drivers poor maintenance. But in 2018 it was reported:

24/04/2018 – 56% of tyres failed due to road/yard debris penetration. Bridgestone & Highways England reveal tyre debris study – more here.