‘Driving heavy goods, it's not something you go into lightly. There a lot of folk… going in there and they’re spending thousands of pounds getting their licences, thinking that heavy goods is a good job, it’s a good earner. They’re in for a fright.’
Job: Heavy Goods and Heavy Plant Driver.
Typical hours worked: 40–65.
Profile: Fraser is a white male in his early 50s. He’s self-employed and works across the UK.
Lorry driving is in my blood. My father was a driver before me, and he drove lorries for God knows how many years. It’s been a passion of mine ever since I was old enough to get in a wagon. When I was 18, I went into hospitality and worked all over Britain and abroad, but eventually I went and did my Heavy Goods Class 1.
Just coming up on three years, I got caught speeding three times and realised how easy it was for me to lose my livelihood. So, I decided to retrain and have something there to fall back on. I got my A77 ticket to operate a telehandler and a roto 1.
I’ve been working since last April pretty constantly on various building sites, doing sea and reservoir defences, substations, hotels, all kinds of things.
My working day
I’m operating a telehandler, which is plant machinery. I’m on a chemical plant, a water-treatment plant, and basically, all I’m doing is filling up a couple of silos with a product. I can spend, maybe, 20 minutes working and then be sitting doing nothing for about an hour, an hour-and-a-half. I just keep an eye on the plant and how it’s operating, and I take in deliveries of the product that goes in. It is quite short and sweet, and there’s not much to it, to be honest with you.
I start at 7am officially. I finish about 4pm. When I start, I just go into the office and say, ‘Good morning’, then change into my PPE, get my stuff sorted, go to my machine and I check it to make sure everything is in working order. I then go and check the plant to see what needs emptying, what needs to be filled and the product levels and things. I fill the one that’s empty or fill both, if need be, and discharge whatever is needing to be discharged. Once I’ve done that – I’ll just go and stick the kettle on, have some breakfast, and then sit and wait to do it all over again.
I think I’ve tried every working pattern under the sun. I’ve done night shifts, I’ve done day shifts, weekends. What I’ve got just now [at the chemical plant] is pretty good for a working day. I work 12 days, then have two off. So me working and getting home every night, it’s been offset with the fact that I’m working so many days. But I’m still getting home at a reasonable time, so it’s a fine balance. Now that I’m 51 this month, to be able to buy fresh stuff, come home, sit down, and cook a meal instead of living out of a can of beans is something I’ve missed, I spent years missing.
My other job driving heavy goods is very much what you make it. Timewise, an average day driving wagons is, maybe, 12, 13 hours a day, five or six days a week. It’s not something you go into lightly. There are a lot of folk – with this shortage thing just now – that are spending thousands of pounds getting their licences, thinking that heavy goods is a good job, it’s a good earner. They’re in for a fright. You’ll see there are groups on Facebook, and Samaritans. There are drivers that go on there that have all kinds of issues. They’ve got failed marriages, they’re going through divorces, they’re not seeing their kids. There are some hard choices that they make, driving lorries. It’s not for everybody.
*This graph shows Fraser’s score alongside the UK mean (average) for the 7 dimensions of our Good Work Index. Our CIPD Good Work Index interactive graphic offers further insight on the job quality of different occupations. You can see how your occupation compares to others in our index interactive tool here.
I’m doing a job that needs to be done. I don’t really see that I’m making a huge difference. It’s just that I do it differently. I’ve actually got involved, taken an interest and dug a bit deeper into how it works. I don’t really have any supervisors as such, I’m left to run it however I want to run it, there’s no interference.
At the start of the pandemic, I was tramping – living in the lorry – for a week or two or three weeks at a time, picking up deliveries and things. It was commonplace that we could go in the services to park up at night, where we sleep and things like that, but we couldn’t get showers, the shops were closed, we couldn’t get food. There were no facilities whatsoever. I was out last year actually carrying a bucket and bin bags to use as a toilet.
At the start of the pandemic, I was tramping – living in the lorry – for a week or two or three weeks at a time… we couldn’t get showers, the shops were closed and we couldn’t get food.
Heavy Goods and Heavy Plant Driver
Pay and benefits
I’ve got a limited company so when I was driving, I could pick and choose my own jobs – when I worked, when I didn’t work, where I worked, that kind of thing. It’s not always monetary. [The plant work] is probably the first job that I’ve done where I’ve done it for the money rather than to suit myself. What I get paid for doing what I do is just silly. As opposed to going on a drive, and I could be doing my 13, 14, 15-hour shifts and living away and having to do silly hours just to make a decent wage.
Compared to driving the wagons, I’m getting double the money for doing half the hours. I was originally contracted to do 18 weeks but I’m thinking my contract will probably be extended – maybe another couple of months – which suits me. I wouldn’t want to do it forever. I wouldn’t even want to do it long term because it’s so mundane. It suits me just now – I’m home at night, the money is good, and it will pay me, probably, over £50,000 a year just for sitting doing what I’m doing.
Health and wellbeing
I’m falling apart already. I need medicals for my heavy goods driving, I need medicals for plant driving as well, and I think, ‘All it takes is for something to happen and I fail one of them.’ Also, I had a blood clot a couple of years ago. The hospital, the doctors, think that my clot was caused by driving. I can drive ten hours a day and I’ll only stop for, maybe, an hour. I’m just unlucky that it happened to me.
I’ve been on blood thinners and things, and it’s not an issue for my medicals as such, but when you have blood clots in your lungs, they scan you for back pressure and your heart, just to make sure your heart is functioning properly. So when they did that, they found I had an aneurism in my aorta. Now, that is causing problems with the DVLA. If it grows to a certain size they just whip my licence off me. With plant, I can operate on some sites without a medical, depending on the site.
About four weeks ago, I got out of the machine and I went over on my ankle on a bit of an uneven ground. I was hobbling and limping about in severe pain constantly. I kept going into work, and the guys here were saying, ‘What are you doing here? You can hardly walk.’ But I knew that if I stayed off, then I’m not going to get any income, and if I’d been off for a month, they would have somebody else in there instead of me.
The job I’m on now, it’s boring and there’s nothing to it. It’s so mind-numbing and there’s no stimulation as such. I take my iPad in, I take books in and I read them. Sometimes, you just sit there and think, ‘What am I doing?’. It’s not going to go anywhere. There’s no future. There’s no advancement or anything like that. But then again, I work for myself.
The benefit for this project of me being there just now is that I paid attention to the installation team, the IT guys and things, I’m always asking questions. Now I know how it runs better than they do. Originally, I was there just to fill these silos up with the product, but now, I’m basically running the plant.
Relationships at work
I’m the only person operating the machinery at my plant, although there’s also other stuff going on. If somebody is there, we say ‘hello’, but I don’t really socialise with them as such. Everyone else is doing their own thing. Also some of the areas are cordoned off, so you're kind of stuck. Basically, we go in, we do a job, we get on, we’re civil, we’re very friendly. You do form bonds with people when you work like that, but when you move on these bonds disappear just as quickly.
Voice and representation
Heavy goods driving – it’s all changing, and I’m not convinced it’s for the better. Nobody is actually coming out and asking drivers what’s going on, why they’re upset or why there’s a shortage. They all go straight to these leaders of industry and all these things, and these guys are the ones that are making money out of the drivers not making money.
I love being on the road. It’s probably one of the few things in my life that I’ve actually been happy from and that I’m passionate about. I love the challenge of some of the places we need to get a wagon that size into, the way you can manoeuvre into some of the spaces and the things you can do with it – it’s hard to explain. But I don’t know how much longer I will be able to drive heavy goods, which is one of these things that you accept.
I don’t know what’s next, to be honest with you. Driving has changed so much in the past 20, 30 years, I’d like something that I can do, basically, anywhere, even from an office or something, and where I don’t need medicals. I want to be a bit more in control of my own destiny rather than looking for jobs that somebody else is picking and they’re reaping the benefit of it – not me.
1 A telehandler is a machine which has a boom that can extend forwards and upwards from the vehicle. Rotating telehandlers (known as ‘rotos’) combine both crane and forklift functions.