Modern workplaces with moving vehicles and machinery expose pedestrians to the risk of injury or even death.
Blind spots or low visibility conditions can make it difficult for drivers to see pedestrians in time, causing accidents, the outcome of which can be very costly to the organisation due to higher insurance premiums; cost of repair to damaged vehicles or plant; expensive equipment and personnel downtime; OH&S investigations; negative reputation; and lowered worker morale.
Statistics provided by Safe Work Australia (2013) show 156 (71%) of 220 fatalities in 2010 involved a vehicle or moving equipment. The number of people being trapped or hit by a vehicle has risen over a 3-year period. The figures do not include another 110 workers killed travelling to and from their workplace and 44 bystanders killed as a result of a worker’s activity.
The report highlights several negative consequences of workplace accidents: Typical serious workers’ compensation claims involved 4-week absence from work; 25% of all claims resulted in 12 or more weeks off work; 57,600 notices were issued by authorities; $15.5 million in fines were issued by courts; and compensation and related costs totalled $60.6 billion (4.8% of GDP).
The cost estimate includes direct costs (payment of wages and medical costs) and indirect costs (lost productivity, loss of future earnings and social welfare payments). The costs do not include the downtime for the organisation or vehicle/plant repair costs.
What is being done to reduce risk?
The modern approach involves minimising risk by applying a range of measures, each of which contributes to overall improvement. Safety management programs use the ‘Hierarchy of controls’ method wherein various layers of safety processes are used: Eliminate the hazard altogether (eg. remove dangerous machine); Substitute the hazard with a safer alternative (eg. replace machine with a safer one); Isolate the hazard from anyone who could be harmed (eg. keep machine in closed room and operate it remotely); Use engineering controls to reduce the risk (eg. attach guards to machine to protect users); Use administrative controls to reduce the risk (eg. train workers how to use machine safely); Use personal protective equipment (PPE) (eg. wear gloves and goggles when using the machine).
Organisations typically use a variety of these safety layers to lower risk. Initiatives such as driver training, keep out zones, slow zones, rear view mirrors, driver processes, and high visibility vests all help reduce overall risk; however an unacceptable number of incidents still occur in these workplaces.
Blind spots (out of view of mirrors or driver’s vision), poor visibility (low lighting, smoky/dusty environment or blind corners) and building entry/exit points, all present an increased risk of collision. Wearing a high-visibility vest is not effective when the person cannot be seen by the driver.
What else can be done?
Recent advances have led to the use of technologies capable of detecting people near vehicles such as radar, ultrasonic, infrared, wireless, RFID and GPS. Each technology has characteristics suited for some applications but no single technology suits all applications.
For instance, GPS requires satellite view to obtain a fix; radar can produce false detections from bouncing off almost any surface; infrared and ultrasonic can be affected by heat and interference from industrial switching sources; wireless can be influenced by reflections from metal objects; and RFID can be impacted by low frequency interference and has limited detection range.
Despite the limitations, these technologies offer another ‘layer’ in the overall process of lowering risk to make the workplace safer. RFID and wireless technologies can operate in dirty, dusty and low visibility environments without distracting the driver’s normal functions and do not require maintenance.
When used correctly, the wireless and RFID technologies offer a ‘gap’ between people and vehicles, keeping them apart and providing the drivers sufficient awareness of people or objects close to their vehicle. They can also be used to provide general warnings to pedestrians such as activating warning lamps when entering or leaving a building, enabling the driver to perform normal duty without distraction.
These systems only alert drivers when a breach of the ‘gap’ is detected, allowing them to look out, take preventive action and avoid an incident.
Wireless and RFID technologies operate by detecting special signals sent from compatible devices fitted to pedestrians or other vehicles. Pedestrians and other objects must be fitted with a device in order to be detected.
BodyGuard proximity warning system
The BodyGuard proximity warning system offers flexible risk reduction for Pedestrian to Vehicle; Vehicle to Vehicle; Vehicle to Fixed Plant or Machinery; and Vehicle to Area (operating warning devices when vehicles enter specific zones) situations.
BodyGuard reduces the risk of collision by alerting the driver when someone is detected too close (in the ‘gap’). The system provides a chance for the driver to stop the vehicle and avoid an incident. BodyGuard improves the organisation’s bottom line by also preventing non-injury collisions that can otherwise cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for the duration the vehicle is out of service as well as downtime resulting from OH&S investigations.
BodyGuard proximity warning system provides both audible human voice alerts and visual warnings. The last 8000 detection events are stored digitally to enable analysis of ‘near-miss’ situations, offering a proactive tool for risk reduction management.
Typical applications of BodyGuard proximity warning system include open-cut mining operations; construction; and logistics/warehouses.
The BodyGuard proximity warning system is available from Orbit Communications .