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PhD Studentship - Highways England and Birmingham City University (BCU)

Birmingham City University - Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment

Location: BCU, City Centre Campus (Millennium Point) and Highways England, Cube, Birmingham

Bursary: £14,777 per annum (up to £16,500 depending on experience)

Fixed Term (42 Months)

Fees: All fees are paid.

Interview Date: 24th January 2019

Commencement date: May 2019

Project management team:  
BCU Academic Team: Professor David J. Edwards and Professor Mel Lees.
Highways England Team: Dr Iain Rillie and Mr Philip Proctor. 


This three and a half year, fully funded PhD scholarship post provides an excellent opportunity for a vibrant researcher to work with leading academics within the areas of: i) vehicle, mobile plant and machinery health and safety, and ii) additional digital/ automated aids and devices fitted to mitigate the risk of incurring an incident.

This PhD scholarship is being available via a partnership collaboration between Birmingham City University and Highways England. The successful candidate will be based in Birmingham (Britain’s second largest city) but will be seconded to either at Birmingham City University, Millennium Point or Highways England, The Cube depending upon the nature and stage of research work undertaken. Access to historical databases of information and data will be granted to the successful PhD candidate and the research will involve field research and collaboration with members of Highways England’s supply chain (including, civil engineers, plant hire companies, original equipment manufacturers and construction contractors).

This is a very exciting opportunity for the right candidate to: develop high quality evidence led impact in the important area of highways health and safety; secure a PhD in a highly novel area; and augment longer term employability prospects.


  • Good communication skills to express ideas effectively, orally, graphically and in writing;
  • Good UK honours degree (2:1 or above) or equivalent in a relevant subject area;
  • An ability to work effectively as part of an interdisciplinary team;
  • Self-management and planning skills to make optimum use of time;
  • Academic acumen to enable successful reporting through research publication in academic journals and marketing materials;
  • On a personal note, the successful PhD candidate should be enthusiastic, motivated, punctual, conscientious, trustworthy and a good team worker.
  • Willingness to travel within the UK in support of collaborative discussions with Highways England staff, supply chain and to visit construction sites as and when required for the research
  • Interest in the highway transport sector, specifically highway construction and machinery used to construct, operate and maintain the highway; and
  • An appreciation and understanding of statistical and modelling software that can be used to analyse large sets of both quantitative and qualitative data.   


  • A clean driving license;
  • Knowledge of pertinent health and safety codes of practice, legislation and regulations (such as the Supply of Machinery Regulations 1992 (as amended));
  • Knowledge of highway construction and mobile plant and machinery (e.g. wheeled excavators, pavers, wheeled loaders, vibratory compactors/ rollers etc.); and
  • Experience of working within the construction and civil engineering industry;
  • Knowledge of relative safety theories and contemporary practices;
  • A basic knowledge of sensor based technologies (e.g. deadman/ remote deadman switches, sonar systems and human proximity detectors) and additional safety aids and devices (i.e. convex mirrors and rear view cameras); and
  • Experience of working within the construction industry.


£14,777 per annum (up to £16,500 depending on experience) plus access to additional budgets to support the research and a dedicated budget from Highways England to sponsor an international conference event. The position will also offer opportunities for academic and industry facing management and leadership training.

Project Summary:

Highways England (previously known as the Highways Agency) is a government-owned company charged with operating, maintaining and improving England's motorways and major trunk roads. Their primary objective is to ensure that people can travel and work on the highway safely. Accidents and incidents involving mobile plant and machinery continue to occur within the highways sector and negatively impact upon the lives of those who work to build, operate and maintain our roads. Incidents continue to occur despite the best efforts of Highways England and members of the Highways England’s supply chain (including contractors, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and hirers) – these incidents also pose a serious threat to the health, safety and welfare of workers and members of the general public.

The interface between people and vehicles (including mobile plant and construction equipment) has persistently been a cause for concern to clients and contractors alike. In response, OEMs and alternative retrofit manufacturers have developed a comprehensive range of advanced digital technological solutions that should, in theory, ‘engineer-out’ incident occurrence. Such devices include: deadman/ remote deadman switches; convex mirrors; rear view cameras; sonar systems; safe load indicators; stability indicators; human proximity detectors and so on. Yet despite this attempt to create machinery and/or site safety systems that are ‘safer by design’, evidence suggests that the rate of incidents, accidents and fatalities remains fundamentally unchanged and at an unacceptable level.   

The impetus for research work conducted will investigate the socio-technical interface that occurs between vehicles, mobile plant and machinery and pedestrians/ workers and will actively seek the involvement of members of Highways England’s supply chain. Hence, participant action research (PAR) will be used to work with supply chain members, to co-develop new vehicle, mobile plant and machinery specifications and modus operandi; this will ensure that the research results and findings are more widely adopted throughout all industry. PAR will triangulate between extant literature, case study evidence gathered from field trials and secondary data (held by Highways England and participating members of the supply chain). An accumulation of evidence accrued and disseminated will be used to engender human behavioural change throughout industry, the redesign of site layouts and redesign of functional and ergonomic features inherent within machinery design or retrofit design. 


Please apply through the application portal.

Supporting documents include:

  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Qualification/s certificate and transcript
  • Supporting Statement – 500 word supporting statement detailing your experience and suitability to complete the research degree and applied work
  • Research Proposal – 1500 word research proposal for the project (including your potential rationale, methodology, hypothesis, and data collection timeline) – see application portal for template
  • Academic Reference
  • Professional Reference


Interviews will be held 24th January 2019 at Highways England, The Cube, Birmingham. Successful candidates will be notified of an appointment time via email.


For further details on this opportunity please contact Professor David J. Edwards

Telephone: +44 121 331 2401


Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Birmingham
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £14,777 per annum (up to £16,500 depending on experience)
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 6th December 2018
Closes: 21st December 2018
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