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Watch out, someone is behind you!

To further reduce accident rates in the waste and recycling sector, The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that waste operators research and assess available vehicle safety products for best performance as technological advances have been rapid in this area. Most local authorities now source or specify their own vehicle safety technology, in addition to the vehicle manufacturers standard safety mechanisms. The reasons for this are many fold and differ from product to product. 

Back in April last year Innovative Safety Systems called for reversing radars to become compulsory on waste and recycling vehicles, following a fatal accident involving a member of the public in Brighton while a vehicle was reversing. Every measure needs to be taken to mitigate the dangers when a vehicle is reversing. This means a combination of stringent health and safety best practice, crew training and, a compulsory requirement for reversing radar. Waste collection vehicles can spend up to 20% of the day reversing and this is when the majority of accidents occur.

Most manufacturers fit a form of reversing alarm as part of their standard package, but these only warn pedestrians and other vehicles that the truck is manoevering and don’t provide the driver with any information. Radars alert the driver of obstacles behind the vehicle. Radar technology now allows for the detection of both moving and stationary objects from more than 10 metres away. Less sophisticated radars require a closing distance and are not as effective at detecting stationery objects.

Any reversing aids or safety technology needs to be ultra-reliable and rugged to withstand the demanding environments that these vehicles work in. The latest radar technology offers the driver the ability to programme specific detection zones, to be more or less sensitive, depending on the operational environment. Vehicle operators can also choose how to be alerted of any obstacles with both LED warning and buzzer warning options.

LED lighting is an area that has revolutionised vehicle visibility and offers operators a far more robust, brighter and more energy efficient form of illumination than traditional lighting.  It is also much more effective at keeping crews and members of the public safe, and is less prone to damage, which means less maintenance and less time the vehicle is off road.

In 2010 West Devon Council was one of the first authority’s to switch its entire refuse and recycling collection and cleansing fleet over to LED. LED is ‘low draw’ and uses only a tiny percentage of the power that equivalent traditional incandescent bulbs use - so no flat batteries. With no glass tubes to break and their internal parts rigidly supported, LED lamps are resistant to vibration and impact, making them perfect for the harsh environments in which refuse and cleansing vehicles operate.

LED lamps are an effective safety device because it is brighter and, being directional, it’s less obtrusive in residential areas. They can also help wth visibility. In 2007 the HSE investigated a fatal accident when a heavy goods vehicle collided with a caged litter vehicle, with crew member working on the grass verge, highlighting the vulnerability of people working alongside vehicles at the roadside. To prevent such tragedies from happening it’s important that vehicles working on highways and particularly those accompanied by pedestrian workers are as visible as possible.

High intensity LED light boards can be fitted internally or externally to refuse vehicles, caged vehicles, road sweepers and any vehicle where there are workers in close proximity. ISS has designed an exterior ultra-rugged waterproof light board that is durable and robust in the most demanding conditions.

In 2011 West Lindsey District Council equipped its new fleet of refuse collection vehicles (RCVs) with the full lighting package, including ‘caution workers’ light boards fitted to both the front and rear end of the vehicles. “These boards and warning lights make our vehicles more visible, and help to protect our staff and members of the public. Ultimately our aim is to reduce the risk of accidents occurring,” says resources and transport manager, Kevin Johnson.

Reverse camera systems provide additional visibility for drivers assisting them in performing difficult manoeuvres, particularly reversing, supporting the role of the reversing assistant. A quad screen function, available with certain models, provides total 360 degree visibility for the driver.

Go one step further and hard disk recording (DVR) technology enables vehicle operators to record up to three months of footage of vehicle activity. An increasingly popular piece of equipment among local authorities, DVR can help to improve health and safety best practice among crews, reduce the number of accidents, assist with investigations into insurance claims or complaints made against the staff or service, as well as enhance the efficiency of the waste collection service.  

In the private sector in particular, dangerous ‘slamming brake’ personal injury scams that can endanger crew members, have led them to fit DVR to their vehicles. Now available with a motion sensor facility this technology can also wake up and catch potential fuel theft or vandalism. In reply to the HSE’s call for ‘daily condition checks’ to ensure safety equipment is fit for purpose, the self cleaning lenses now available on cameras are a welcome new feature.

South Derbyshire District Council, requested hard disk recording equipment and reversing radars for its latest fleet additions. “We run a reliable service and as a relatively small district council we don’t experience too much aggravation,” says direct services manager Paul Evans. “However, there are often situations whereby bins are not left out or there is over-flowing side refuse.  We are looking at the ways in which this technology can help us to manage these issues more efficiently, as well as enhance the safety of our crews.”

Other developments in the sector include ‘live’ recording, where fleet operators can watch a vehicle in action, real-time, live on screen – using a router to stream the live footage.  3G is struggling to support the technology and further development is necessary before the equipment will be fully reliable and there is a high associated monthly costs of around £25+ per vehicle per month.

Once the 4G network is introduced into the UK the technology will be more reliable and worthy of investment, especially for national, multi-depot private contractors who can then monitor their fleets remotely. But for local authorities such a level of monitoring is very resource consuming and arguably not necessary as, in most cases, vehicles return at the end of each day for inspection and any incidents reported.

BOX OUT Save money and improve safety with DVR

In the case of Caerphilly County Borough Council, they have been specifying DVR equipment on refuse vehicles for some years and for good reason.  The refuse collection department was able to use the footage to illustrate to councillors, the problems being experienced with narrow lane access difficulties. And within weeks of receiving five new RCV’s all fitted with ISS hard disk recording, the council was able to successfully counter a claim made by a member of the public that their car wing mirror had been knocked off by an RCV.

“The recording clearly showed the wing mirror had already been damaged as our vehicle approached. This is one of a number of claims that we have been able to investigate, and discount, due to the footage we have recorded,” says transport manager, Phillip Griffiths. “We have also used this equipment to help us make sure our crews are working in a safe manner, in accordance with our procedures.  For example, we recorded that some crews were not fully utilising the role of the reversing assistant.  Thanks to the hard disk recording we were able to address this issue.”

BOX OUT LED Integral Cab Beacon

North East Lincolnshire Borough Council wanted an LED alternative for the traditional revolving cab beacon, so ISS set about developing a product with enhanced safety features and improved longevity.  But it had to be easy to fit so ISS developed a new bracket for fixing the beacon onto new trucks or retrospectively. 

“We wanted our new trucks to carry the latest safety equipment, and we recognised the superiority of LED lighting above traditional bulbs, not just in terms of enhanced safety but also reduced maintenance and vehicle down time. We are proud to be the first to showcase their new cab beacon,” says waste and fleet operations manager Chris Dunn.

Gavin Thoday is a director at vehicle safety equipment specialists, Innovative Safety Systems (ISS)

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