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Diesel move a threat to height work

PLANT - Banning red diesel for vehicle-mounted access platforms threatens safety, warns Scott McCall

AT PRESENT, vehicle-mounted access platforms and mobile cranes are permitted to use heavily discounted red diesel because of their classification as construction plant.

But the Government has announced it will ban the use of red diesel for vehicle-mounted platforms in the 2006 budget, when a number of vehicle types are removed from entitlement ? although owners may be given up to 12 months to comply.

The vehicle-mount sector has been able to use the fuel since 2000 because my company, Nationwide Access, along with fellow hirer PTP (now Loxam), won a Court of Appeal decision that year overturning HM Customs & Excise's ruling that we had to use fully taxed ordinary 'white' diesel.

Justice Dyson said at the time that vehicle mounts should be viewed in the same manner as mobile cranes. Now the newly expanded HM Revenue & Customs wants to reverse that ruling, which to me is flying in the face of all the evidence.

Our vehicle-mounted access platforms only use the public highway when travelling to and from the worksite and as such are not primarily intended for road use. An analysis of our operators' working hours last year showed that 90 per cent of their time was spent working on site ? therefore there is no logical justification for HMRC banning the use of red diesel.

White diesel carries an additional hydrocarbon duty, which means it costs roughly 65 pence per litre more than red diesel. Our current operated hire rates are calculated with the vehicles running on red diesel and, with such a significant increase in costs, it will not be possible for the hire company to absorb them.

These costs will be passed on to the end-user, which will mean an estimated increased cost of hire of 20 per cent.

This will have to be shouldered by British business as a whole. Powered access use has increased rapidly during the past few years; many sectors now depend on it and their end-products and services are priced with its use included.

Other plant, such as mobile concrete pumps and road sweepers, will be prevented from using red diesel under the proposal.

The resulting cost hikes could undermine the Government's safety agenda. If access gets too expensive, people will find other, cheaper ways of working at height, such as ladders and man baskets.

This would undermine The Work at Height Regulations (2005). Many access users now put safety before cost. The ban on the use of red diesel could reverse this trend.