For the past two years, Vosa officers in north-east Scotland have been advising haulage firms to use independent straps and ratchets to secure fertiliser bags to trailers. However, according to transport firms MT spoke to, this equipment can split the inner liners of fertiliser bags, which contain substances such as ammonium nitrate.

Operators are concerned that Vosa officers are continuing to target drivers and impose penalty points and fines on hauliers who use ropes or curtainsider straps to secure loads.

R&N Cessford, authorised for 29 vehicles and 48 trailers in Forfar and Brechin, is one of the most high-profile agricultural hauliers in the area. Director Martin Cessford tells MT that local companies are desperate for clarity regarding the regulations. "We are told fertiliser bags must be secured with a strap and ratchet across each row of bags rather than the traditional roping method, or to use the straps inside a curtainsider to secure the bags through the loops.

"We are concerned about fines and penalty points, but we are mostly concerned that damage to fertiliser bags caused by the ratchets could result in a serious accident or spillage."

Vosa says it has been working with the RHA and FTA on all aspects of load security, including transporting fertiliser, for the past two years. A Vosa spokesman says: "The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced some guidance recommending that pallets or some other rigid structure could easily be placed on top of the bags before strapping, so the straps would not need to be contacting the bags. Ideally, we’d like to see the bags secured with straps, we don’t want bags being held on by gravity only.

"Manufacturers should also provide advice on how their products can be secured for transportation. Alternatively, tarpaulin systems may be useful if the bags are open or if the load is being transported on a flatbed."

RHA head of technical services Ray Engley believes the regulations are clear on securing fertiliser in bags and says there is an open invitation to members to contact him if they have any queries about safe loading.

In 2010, the RHA called on the police, Vosa and the HSE to suspend enforcement action in respect of the security of live loads, such as large bags of fertiliser, except in cases where there was "clear evidence of an immediate and significant risk of personal injury".

Engley adds: "The RHA arranged a well-attended meeting for hauliers last year in Scotland at which the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) outlined the need to secure all loads that present a risk if unsecured. Hauliers raised issues, which were fully addressed."

Andy Mair, head of engineering policy at the FTA, says Vosa is in the process of finalising guidance for examiners on load securing checks at roadside and that he expects a more focused approach to apply soon.

Mair understands that in the future, minor problems with the way in which a vehicle has been loaded and the load secured will be dealt with through advice rather than enforcement action. "FTA has been working with Vosa and the HSL on this issue since 2010," he explains. "We were informed that Vosa would be rolling out training for examiners to enable them to identify high-risk loads from April this year.

"We are awaiting final details of what this will mean in practice, but Vosa insists that operators who are complying with the construction and use regulations should see no difference."

The haulage companies MT spoke to are concerned that by adopting an unapproved method of securing fertiliser bags to trailers, this could effect their Operator Compliance Risk Score. There is also the worry that traffic commissioners may not look sympathetically on any prohibitions brought to their attention.

Cessford says hauliers urgently need guidance regarding the situation. "It’s two years since we first raised our concerns, but we are no nearer any clarification regarding the law. Is it the case that fertiliser bags should be attached to moving floor trailers to make the process safer? We don’t know. We have always operated safely, abided by the law and prided ourselves on the highest standards and it’s important this gets sorted out."