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25th February 2021

A Day in the Life of a Ballast Driver – Meet Simon Appleyard

Simon Appleyard

HGV veteran Simon Appleyard has spent 20-years on heavy-haulage work, with almost six of them working for Ainscough Crane Hire as a crane ballast support driver. “We deliver various ballasts for all different types of cranes to different sites all over the country, from 130 and 150-tonners right up to 500 and 1,000-tonne cranes,” says the 40-year-old Yorkshireman, who works out of Ainscough’s Ossett depot near Wakefield.

When it comes to supporting Ainscough’s mobile crane fleet there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ day. Every job is different reckons Appleyard. “It can be anywhere in the country, I’ve been up as far as Wick in the North of Scotland to make a delivery, and as far South as Devon and Cornwall. It’s as and when you’re needed.”

That means plenty of days and nights away from home. But, whatever the load or destination before Appleyard hits the road, after the obligatory ‘morning brew’ there’s a full vehicle walk-around check. Modern information technology helps. “We use an app on our company-issued PDAs [personal digital assistant] called ‘CheckedSafe’,” he tells us. “It’s really good, it runs through all the things you need to be checking on your vehicle and trailer. We then send it straight into our office, so they’ll have it immediately. If there are any defects, or the vehicle isn’t roadworthy we ‘Make the Safe Choice’ and we don’t put anyone in danger.”

Either the night before or in the morning, Appleyard liaises with the Transport Office to confirm what time his ballast artic has to arrive. “If it’s big crane-like a ‘500’ where you’ll need three trucks, we’ll work out if we can all turn-up at the same time and run down together,” he says. “Otherwise, we’ll space them-out so there’s a suitable gap between them.”

On arrival, before anything else happens, the first task is to get properly kitted-out. “As soon as we get out of the cab it’s PPE on,” says Appleyard. “Even though we may not actually be on the site, it’s on with the high-vis, hard hat, boots. So, if we do need to go on-site right away we’re ready and not delaying the rigging time for the crane.”

Negotiating a Cat 3 STGO artic through Britain’s major cities offers plenty of challenges, not least when the journey can actually be made. “If we’re going into major cities like London, Manchester or Leeds they have embargo times, which is basically the rush hour in the morning and the evening and you’ll not be allowed to travel in those times,” confirms Appleyard. “So, nine times out of 10 we’re delivering outside those times.” Day or night, whatever the arrival time, there’s still the matter of keeping a close watch for cyclists and pedestrians, especially in stop-start traffic. The 360º CCTV on the latest Scanias helps ease the burden. “It certainly does. But you still need to have your wits about you and keep your eyes open, while the training we receive from Ainscough helps,” reckons Appleyard.

Managing COVID-19 adds an extra challenge. However, Appleyard reports: “As drivers, we’ve managed really well. We have a lot of depots all over the country where we can park-up overnight where there are hand-sanitisers, regularly cleaned washing facilities, gloves and face coverings – everything is provided for you. We always keep a safe distance when we’re working on-site too, so we’ve been OK. We generally work to having one-driver dedicated to one vehicle, this clearly helps. We’re in our own trucks all the time” says Appleyard, who adds: “That works out better for us. We can keep it to the company clean 5S standard, though to be fair you could step into anyone of the trucks and they’re
all spotless.”

Talking of which what does Appleyard think of the latest Scanias? He’s undoubtedly impressed with his new XT. “It’s really good. I’ve got a 650, personally, I don’t think you need any more horsepower than that, especially as we generally never run over 100-tonnes gross – unless it’s one of the largest crawler car-bodies that can take us up-to 118-tonnes. But even so the 650 is still more-than-enough.” It’s a vast improvement from the previous model. That also had an automatic but the auto gearbox in this one changes a lot-quicker, the drive is a lot more comfortable.” For his regular overnight stays, the flat-floor S-cab sleeper also gets his full-approval. “It’s really comfortable with more-than-enough room, the new cab is very well thought out.”

Article as featured in Heavy Torque Issue 25

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