This guest post from Gill Kemp, leader of Truckers’ Toilets UK and committee member of the British Toilet Association, is last in our series to celebrate World Toilet Day – TODAY – November 19 with the launch of PHLUSH Public Toilet Advocacy Toolkit.
The UK is getting ready for Christmas. The shelves are beginning to bend with the weight of all those Christmas goodies, but how do all these lovely things reach us? It’s our lorry drivers, of course, who cross the UK in order to keep the shops full of tempting foods, decorations, and gifts. We see the lorry, but do we ever think of the driver and how they cope while out on the road?
As leader of Truckers’ Toilets UK (TTUK), I have spoken to many people on the subject and the answer is unfailingly an embarrassed ‘no’. Until I overheard two women drivers talking about the lack of loos, I hadn’t considered working conditions of the drivers either. It was after discovering the difficulties experienced by lorry drivers of finding toilet facilities that encouraged me to establish TTUK, a campaign to improve access to toilets, hand-washing, and shower facilities for truckers when on the road.
In the forefront of the public-toilet scene in Victorian times, the UK has since being sliding backwards into a situation where toilets are becoming a rarity in many areas. For lorry drivers, it’s even worse.
In the UK, drivers are forced to take rest breaks by law after driving a certain number of hours. While service stations exist on our motorway, they are not in abundance and facilities with parking spaces for large vehicles are even more difficult to find. Instead, drivers pull off to laybys, and it is a rare layby that offers a toilet.
These laybys often become surrogate toilets, and drivers wait long periods to use them. Research has shown that ‘holding on’ and ‘urgency’ impact concentration – not good news when you’re driving a large vehicle or considering the safety of other road users. Many drivers also reduce their fluid intake; a potentially dangerous solution that can lead to dehydration. This also can impact the safety of other road users and has serious consequences for the lorry driver.
The use of laybys as a loo is understandable, and the resulting outcry from local communities is also understandable. It’s unpleasant and potentially health threatening. The current solution in some areas is to close the laybys, deter parking by signage and yellow lines, and name, shame, and fine those who are caught in the act of peeing. In other words, it is made an offense to carry out a basic human function and no suitable alternatives are provided.
There is now a driver shortage! How many people would apply for a position where working conditions do not guarantee access to a toilet and where obeying the call of nature can get you in trouble?
There is no legal requirement in the UK for authorities to provide public toilet facilities, but there is a requirement for companies to provide toilets for their workers. When it comes to ‘visiting’ personnel such as lorry drivers, these regulations are being ignored. Why? For many reasons, but the main one given is that facilities are left in poor shape after use by drivers.
Is this a good excuse to deny toilets? Some companies think so. I’ve seen photographs of some of these toilets, and they are grim but mainly because they have not seen a loo brush in years. They have broken fittings, a lack of hot water, and no toilet paper. Jack Sim, from the World Toilet Organization, says facilities must be kept clean to change habits. I think he is right. We need to change the mindset of ‘it is not my problem’. We need to change the belief that to close or refuse access to a toilet will solve the problem of mess – or at least move it elsewhere – because ‘it is not my problem’.
This is the attitude that TTUK is trying to resolve. We want authorities to think about lorry drivers when considering their transport strategies. We are also examining ways of increasing toilet facilities. The toolkit recently launched by PHLUSH, while focused on public toilet provision, is also useful in suggesting ways to approach issues impacting lorry drivers and other mobile workers. Lateral thinking and getting ideas from ‘outside the box’ is helping us make steady progress.
TTUK recently attended the Road Haulage Association Love the Lorry event at the Houses of Parliament. It was a great opportunity to ‘talk toilets’ for a couple of hours with those involved in the profession. Lack of toilets is starting to become recognized as contributing to the driver shortage. Though we have still a long way to go, we are on track for improving the working lives of those who keep our stores stocked.
Readers Note: Gill Kemp began her career in education and law and has also worked in the media. She is the Leader of Truckers’ Toilets UK and working to improve access to facilities for lorry drivers. She has given evidence on the effects of public toilet closures to the Health & Social Care Committee at the Welsh Assembly. On behalf of the British Toilet Association, Gill has chaired a joint venture with Hertfordshire Constabulary to revise a booklet on reducing vandalism in toilets. Gill is a Founder Director of an international medical equipment manufacturing company.
Editor’s Update: Just received latest issue of Truckers’ Toilets UK Newsletter, which you can download here. Truckers’ Toilets UK2-16.