The tools and equipment carried in the rear of any local authority maintenance vehicle should be properly secured and organised, both for health and safety reasons but also for greater operational efficiency, explains Kevin Woodward, managing director of the Vehicle Enhancement Division of Bott.

Local authority service and maintenance vehicles are used to carry a variety of items. For example, a van might transport anything from domestic appliances, sanitary ware and electric showers to spare parts, hardware and tools. Some vehicles might also carry items for emergency repairs, such as equipment to unblock drains or to secure broken windows or doors. And very often these items are stored in a vehicle until they are needed ' especially spare parts and repair equipment, which are used in emergency call outs or unforeseen circumstances.

But no matter what items are stored and transported, fleet managers should ensure that high-quality, professional in-vehicle storage equipment is installed, and that employees know how to use the systems properly ' as this can improve health and safety, and also operational efficiency.

It's essential for local authority fleet managers to fully understand and appreciate the health and safety implications related to unsecured loads. If a collision occurs and items have been left lying around the rear end of a vehicle, or haven't been correctly stored and restrained, they could significantly increase the risk of personal injury. The force created in a collision can turn unsecured items into very dangerous, heavy missiles ' a gas bottle, for example, could become 20 times its normal weight and be catapulted forward at the same speed the vehicle was travelling.

It's not just important to restrain or lash down large, heavy goods either ' if stored incorrectly, smaller items are capable of causing serious harm too. Even hardware like nuts, bolts and screws and small tools like tape measures, spirit levels and screw drivers can become harmful projectiles if they aren't properly secured.

And if items end up flying through the air to the front of the vehicle, serious injury or even death could be caused ' known as “secondary injury”. Unsecured tools and equipment not only threaten the driver; they could break through the windscreen or window, potentially harming other road users and pedestrians.

Poorly secured items can also cause drivers to become distracted ' for example, if something starts rolling around in the back of their ;vehicle they could be tempted to take their eyes off the road to check it isn't being damaged, especially if it's an expensive or fragile item.

It must be remembered that under the Corporate Manslaughter Act, introduced in April 2008, local authorities can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter if serious management failures result in a gross breach of duty of care, and they can face unlimited fines. In addition, the Health & Safety (Offences) Act, introduced in January 2009, has increased penalties for people who break health and safety law, and has provided the courts with greater sentencing powers.

All local authority fleet managers must therefore ensure that their service and maintenance vehicles have adequate systems in place for restraining tools, equipment and goods, to ensure that items won't cause any harm if an accident does occur.

We strongly advise the use of high-quality, professional in-vehicle storage systems, as poor-quality, low-cost solutions are unlikely to withstand the impact of a collision, and could actually be hazardous if they become detached.

Leading in-vehicle storage providers will always make load safety their top priority. Bott carries out a variety of safety tests at our factories, covering endurance, tensile, tear-out, vibration and load. We also conduct realistic crash tests, partly in conjunction with the automobile industry and the TUEV Technical Inspectorate.

Local authority fleet managers can rest assured there is a wide choice of products on the market from leading manufacturers, to suit all budgets. We would suggest modular solutions are most preferable, as they provide a huge amount of flexibility. For example, vehicles can be kitted out with different combinations of drawers, containers, boxes and shelving units, depending on requirements.

Whichever type of system is chosen, fleet managers should make sure that all components lock securely into place. For example, drawers, cupboards and service cases must include a latching system so they will not open when the vehicle is moving.

Ergonomic, user-friendly design is another key area. For example, it's important that items can be accessed easily and safely, and the amount of bending and stretching involved is limited. Where possible, employees should be able to access drawers, cupboards and containers from outside the vehicle, while keeping their back straight.

Drivers must also be trained how to use storage systems correctly, and should be properly advised on weight restrictions and how much equipment that can safely, and legally, carry. Most vehicles have a maximum weight that can be placed across the back axle and if this is exceeded the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) can take legal action.

In addition to offering important health and safety benefits, professional in-vehicle storage can improve efficiency too. Storage systems help to keep items well-organised, so tools and equipment can be easily and quickly accessed when required. This leads to shorter retrieval times, improving efficiency and productivity. In addition, organised storage can help to give a positive impression to the general public. After all, if it takes an employee minimal time to locate an item it will present a good image.

Some in-vehicle storage providers offer underfloor modules, which give generous storage space and quick access to tools and equipment. Meanwhile, the floor area can be kept clear for other larger items, perhaps being secured with straps via lashing points.

In addition to storage systems, some manufacturers offer very useful optional extras that can also help to improve operational efficiency. For example, applying a specialist waterproof interior coating means wet equipment can be loaded into a vehicle without causing any damage ' meaning valuable time isn't wasted either drying the equipment or the vehicle. Another useful addition might be a fold-out desktop for completing paperwork or accommodating a laptop.

Bott has recently launched a new product ' Bott Vario ' which has been designed to improve safety, modularity, ease of access and load security. Alongside these benefits, the product has been given lan attractive, instantly recognisable modern design and weight has been reduced across all components.

The result of a three-year multi-million pound development programme, Bott Vario combines anodised aluminium, powdercoated, high-strength steel and high-grade plastic, which gives the system its sleek appearance and reduces weight by 20 to 30%, significantly increasing payload. The lightweight construction also helps to retain precise road handling in critical situations, and reduces fuel consumption ' helping to ease the burden of rising fuel costs. And even though weight has been reduced, Bott Vario has been successfully crash tested in accordance with ECE R44.

The storage system can be completely aligned with the requirements of different local authorities, and with a wide variety of depths, sizes and shapes on offer, can be tailored to virtually every vehicle type, including those from Citroën, Fiat, Ford, Iveco, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Peugeot, Renault, Toyota, Vauxhall and Volkswagen.