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A vision of vehicle safety

Sadly, it often takes a serious accident or even a death to act as a wake-up call to onsite safety.

It is all too easy to assume that factory vehicles provide perfect visibility, that cab operators can see all the way around their vehicle without any blind spots, and that they can always stop in time. It is also convenient to see mirrors and cameras as commodities that can be bought from the local DIY shop.

Over the years, Spillard Safety Systems has seen every possible visibility and safety hazard - from badly installed mirrors to cameras covered in mud, and site operatives playing football in front of a moving truck.

People are sometimes amazed when they are shown how something as big as a Land Rover approaching a machine can be invisible from the cab. And when the worst does happen, there can be terrible consequences in terms of human loss, compromised duty of care, possible prosecution, compensation claims and irrecoverable reputational damage.

The visibility issues on large heavy plant can, of course, vary widely. The risks on a site where people are walking around and cars are driven in confined spaces are far higher than on a brownfield or landfill site. But the basic essentials are always the same.

The operator sitting up in the cab of an excavator or any other machine needs to be able to see up to 12m all the way round, with no blind spots, and be able to stop in time, if necessary.

There are legal requirements, too. Manufacturers have to comply with the ISO5006 (operator’s field of visibility) standard for earth-moving equipment, while every machine at work should be assessed daily according to the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations.

Accidents can happen when operators believe they can see into blind spots or are not aware of them and their size. Yet visibility studies prove repeatedly that machines and vehicles do have blind spots - even when mirrors and cameras are fitted but poorly installed.

One quick and easy first step is Spillard’s widely used ‘1m stick test’: a stick is held at waist-high level and, if it cannot be seen all around the vehicle, then there is a definite need for a more in-depth risk assessment.

The more sophisticated next step is a visibility study for the individual machine. Carried out free by Spillard and taking about an hour, this maps the blind spots and shows how visibility issues could be resolved. More than 100 of these are now available as downloads for specific vehicles.

Safety aids to improve visibility start with the bare minimum of convex mirrors in critical places to naturally enhance the operator’s view of blind spot areas, coupled with training in safe practices for manoeuvring or moving off. Camera systems are the next step up, enabling the operator to look into specific areas including behind the vehicle.

At this point, however, there is the risk of driver complacency setting in, so object detection radar can be used to give an audible alert. But constant bleeping coming from a household waste site set within a residential area leads to unwelcome noise pollution, so radars can be incorporated into reverse alarms so that they activate only if a problem is detected.

The latest advance is the world’s first 360° surround-view camera system. It uses multiple ultra-wide angle cameras mounted in strategic locations to synthesise a quadra-spheric bird’s eye image of the vehicle. The operator sees a composite realtime view that looks just as if it has been taken from above the vehicle.

Anyone standing or walking within the programmed range of the cameras - from horizon to horizon as well as forward and backward - appears as a whole body rather than just the top of a head.

In the future, we are likely to see clever combinations of GPS, radio and vision systems for 360°object detection. But technology alone is not enough to ensure safety.

An important part of the answer is educating all the people who work on recycling sites about visibility risks and how to avoid them. This can include segregating traffic, more effective communications and understanding how people and technology can work together in an optimum way.

Pete Spillard, managing director of Spillard Safety Systems

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