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CROSS Safety Report

Mobile message board in strong wind

Report ID: 437 Published: 1 January 2015 Region: CROSS-UK

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A reporter raises concerns over mobile message boards adjacent to motorways after one moved into the motorway lane in windy conditions.

Key Learning Outcomes

For asset owners and service providers:

  • Supplier’s instructions regarding safe deployment should always be followed

  • Consider implementing a wind management plan which can assist in the safe operation of mobile message boards

Full Report

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The Full Report below has been submitted to CROSS and describes the reporter’s experience. The text has been edited for clarity and to ensure anonymity and confidentiality by removing any identifiable details. If you would like to know more about our secure reporting process or submit a report yourself, please visit the reporting to CROSS-UK page.


A mobile variable message sign was set up on a hard standing away from the hard shoulder on a motorway. When the wind caught the sign it acted as a sail and moved onto the region of the hard shoulder and lane one.

The manufacturer’s instructions advised that the sign should not be erected when the wind is over 25mph (11 m/s).  The reporter suggests that this is not a safe approach. It mirrors an approach taken in the entertainment industry with stage safety. (See comments below on this aspect).

Expert Panel Comments

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This emphasises the need, and obligation, for a risk assessed approach.  A moving sign on a motorway could have had catastrophic consequences and is in the category of a ‘high impact, low probability’ event. The 2011 Health and Safety Executive publication Preventing catastrophic events in construction contains the following warning:

'The industry may not be sufficiently aware of the potential for it to be associated with more major events (those involving multiple deaths and/or significant damage to property and infrastructure). These major or catastrophic events may have wide implications such as extensive delay or project failure, significant business impact, loss of money and loss of reputation for all concerned.'

If the wind design speed is 11m/sec and it happens to gust to 13 (who can tell accurately at such low speed?) the force jumps to (13/11)2 = 1.4 which might well eliminate any stability safety margin.  The standard safety lesson is enshrined in the word ‘sensitivity’. How sensitive is safety to the basic design assumptions?

The Highways Agency made the following statement:

‘It appears that the incident occurred when the mobile sign was in use, and the supplier’s instructions regarding safe deployment had not been followed. The highways authority keeps under review the use of all temporary and operational traffic management equipment and procedures, and where necessary will remind its Service Providers of their obligations, and the need to use equipment safely and only as advised by the supplier.'

In the entertainment industry outdoor temporary stages are frequently designed in accordance with the Institution of Structural Engineers publication: Temporary demountable structures. Guidance is given on the active management of such structures in the event of high winds. This, however, would not be practical for unattended items such as motorway signs.

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