Every decision made on maintaining the highway network contains an element of risk. This is particularly the case for a Street Scene Inspector assessing how much risk is produced by a defect in this infrastructure. The previous guidance suggested appropriate inspection frequencies for different classes of road with most highway authorities then developing broadly similar safety defect intervention levels, which varied with road class or location. This was probably a rudimentary form of using a risk based approach? The Highway Safety Inspection Manual takes a further step in this risk based process by giving more flexibility in dealing with defects and introducing a methodology of assessing the risk associated with individual defects.

The previous use of a defined intervention level meant that a 40mm deep pothole would be considered as a safety defect whereas a 35mm one could be left in perpetuity. There was an element of defence in adopting such a rigid policy, as this was essentially what every other authority was doing. This simple approach has been tried and tested but has led to the need to defend this policy in court when dealing with personal injury claims or alleged damage to vehicles.

Defending a defect where a number of people had for instance fallen on a trip of 15mm on a busy section of footway and leaving the defect until it reached the arbitrary 20mm intervention depth is questionable. However, this has been almost standard practise in such situations. Whilst being able to defend these claims is saving an authority money, it does not help an elderly or infirmed pedestrian sustaining a painful and distressing injury.

By introducing a simple risk matrix for a Street Scene Inspector that takes further account of the expected user of this particular footway, this defect could be investigated and in all likelihood repaired. The former ‘intervention level’ will therefore be replaced by developing lower ‘investigatory levels’ to allow the application of the risk based approach.

This risk based approach comes into all elements of highway maintenance with risk assessment being a key part of asset management. Accordingly this opportunity is being taken to include the Asset Management Planning process into this document.

The Code of Practice ‘Well Managed Highway Infrastructure Opens in a new window’ (COP) states that it is intended to assist authorities developing their own levels of service in accordance with local needs, priorities and affordability. This approach is embedded in this document but there is also an awareness that authorities will share best practice and in the case of the south west a carriageway hierarchy set has been developed, which is being used as the basis for developing many of these risk factors.

Participation by the authorities in the ‘South West Highways Alliance Opens in a new window’ should provide some consistency of approach in interpreting some of the COP. This group encourages collaboration and assists in some cross boundary matters.

The existence of the COP provides an opportunity for all authorities to re-assess their policy documents and in the case of Torbay allows a complete re-write of these.

Highway Safety Inspection Manual
Code of practice and risk management