The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says the waste industry is one of the UK’s most hazardous sectors to work in, and vehicle safety is a key concern.
Eight people in the industry were killed by moving vehicles during the past five years. It can also be hazardous to the general public: HSE figures show that 12 members of the public sustained fatal injuries arising from “work activities in the waste sector” in the past five years. Three of these were collisions with vehicles on waste sites. And there have been deaths on public roads, including the tragedy in Glasgow in December 2014 in which six people died after being struck by a collection vehicle.
Waste businesses deal with a wide range of activities, vehicle movements and equipment and therefore have to cope with a number of risks. In the past few years some firms have grasped the nettle, while innovative safety systems are making their way to the market in response to demand from the industry itself.
“As a family business, we’ve all got children – we would hate that knock on the door. We decided that we wanted to be able to put our heads on our pillows at night and our drivers to do the same”
O’Donovan Waste Disposal is one of those trailblazers. The company recently won an award from the European Transport Safety Council for its efforts to improve vehicle fleet safety. The judges had warm words for O’Donovan’s “strong leadership”.
Managing director Jacqueline O’Donovan provided that leadership. “As a family business, we’ve all got children,” she says. “We would hate that knock on the door. We decided that we wanted to be able to put our heads on our pillows at night and our drivers to do the same.”
O’Donovan wants to be seen as a leader and to exemplify the fact that SMEs can achieve a lot “without it costing millions”.
“It’s top-down, all the way down to the waste handlers. I’m quite a driven person, if you excuse the pun. As a family we are passionate about the industry and our passion comes through our work, interaction with staff, our safety and our goal to excel in anything we do.”
Being based in London, the company’s drivers face a particular challenge when on busy public roads. Between 2008 and 2013, 55% of cyclist fatalities in London involved a heavy goods vehicle. This is why in September O’Donovan got involved with the London Cycling Campaign to promote the ‘bike tubes’ initiative, a series of guided rides co-ordinated by experienced cyclists to highlight dangers.
“I’m a firm believer that education is the key,” says O’Donovan. “The more we can educate cyclists, the better. We are constantly educating the HGV driver, who is a professional.
“On our vehicles we use proximity sensors, cameras and fresnel lenses. We have gone belt and braces so the driver feels comfortable when he is carrying out his day’s work. We don’t want to be the cause of any accident because we didn’t put in a £10 fresnel lens. The more we can put up without giving the driver a cognitive overload, the better.”
O’Donovan is also a champion for Transport for London’s (TfL) Construction Logistics & Cycle Safety (Clocs) initiative, which sets out vehicle standards. This led to the company buying three vehicles to pilot new features – in conjunction with manufacturers MAN, DAF, Volvo and Mercedes – as well as retrofitting its 85-strong fleet with safety innovations including lower side-guards.
The Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety (Clocs) report was published in February 2013 by Transport Research Laboratory. It found that:
- Blind spots on construction vehicles could be larger than general haulage vehicles
- Road safety was not considered in the same way as health and safety on-site
- There was little understanding of the impact of construction activity on road safety
- There was no common standard for the industry to work to in order to manage work related road safety
She got involved with Clocs through her work on the Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (Fors) – a European accreditation programme to promote fleet safety, efficiency and environmental protection.
“I sit on the Fors governance board – the only representative of an SME,” says O’Donovan. “It is very important that our sector is covered because it is easy for blue chips to be able to say ‘we’ll do this, that and the other’ because they have got a rather large purse. This industry is full of family independent companies and for them it’s a totally different ball game.”
So what does being a champion for Clocs involve?
“One of our biggest challenges is the culture change. Lorry drivers predominantly want a lorry that looks like it’s on steroids. We’ve been to various manufacturers to see what safety features they have got to offer. Some have been slow to step up to the plate, to be honest. I think they thought it was going to be an overnight thing but, from what I understand, design to conception takes five to seven years.”
But it’s not just vehicles on public roads that O’Donovan is concerned about – it’s also getting on and off landfill sites.
“In the winter months you need an off-road vehicle for a landfill site. You might only need one for 10% of the day, but that 10% is crucial.
“It ruts badly in wet weather and you’re climbing over rough terrain. A site could be hundreds of acres – you could be in the south-east section one day and the north section the next. You can’t construct roads; there is no quick fix. That’s a real challenge for us and one we haven’t cracked yet.”
Although conceding that the waste industry has a bad name, O’Donovan thinks safety has improved “humongously” during the past few years and that standards will continue to improve.
“It has come on in leaps and bounds. Clocs eventually is going to go nationwide. There are probably different issues outside London and different types of roads. I think it is slowly filtering through – the industry has a conscience and it’s the right thing to do.
“I like to think that what we are doing is proving you can be rewarded for doing it right, and people do come to us for advice. I feel like the mother figure for the SMEs in this industry.”
This year’s RWM exhibition featured a number of safety gadgets, including products from Ongrade to help with on-site safety. Its SiteZone proximity warning system was developed four years ago and has gone through several upgrades since then. The concept is simple: each employee wears a radio-signalled electronic tag which triggers an alarm if he or she is too close to a vehicle. Ongrade came up with a slogan and campaign to underline this: ‘Don’t burst the bubble’.
Director Gavin Escott said he worked with another company, GKD Technik, and customers including FCC Environment and Powerday to create a system specific to UK working practices.
“Powerday has been using it for quite some time and was one of the earliest companies to come on board,” says Escott. “It is using SiteZone at its biggest facility, Oak Sidings, and a new site in Enfield.
“We’ve also got a large number of systems across FCC’s UK sites. This is not replace what you are already doing – it is [designed] to complement it. That’s really important because we want our product to go into the right sort of environment where people have the right sort of attitudes.”
Before starting Ongrade in 2010, Escott was a director at construction safety equipment firm Prolec. He is also a chemist by training and was involved in the carbon monoxide detection industry: “You always have to remember that there is a person at the end of this. I have seen when things have gone wrong and every time it’s shocking.
“Unfortunately, you still see things on-site when you think ‘why on Earth did you do that?’ We’re all human and we all make mistakes. It does make you very aware.”
Escott mirrors O’Donovan’s view that technologies and systems are being driven by the market and by customers rather than by the HSE or bodies such as the British Standards Institution.
“I get asked whether we get called in before or after an incident. It has changed quite dramatically. In the past we used to get called in if there was a near miss but now we’re getting called in pro-actively. That’s a really positive thing for the industry.”
Escott says he gets involved in a lot of site surveys at MRFs, waste transfer stations and landfill sites, and that “no two are the same”. An example of how such close working helps to develop new technology is when Ongrade came up with a sensor that could stand the rigours of being attached to an excavator or loading shovel. The company also developed a system for what Escott calls “one of the most hazardous operations on a landfill site” – towing vehicles out by the bulldozer.
“Typically, most companies want a protection zone of around about 5m around the vehicle. The towing strap between the bulldozer and the truck tends to be about 3m. So what happens is that, as the bulldozer reverses up, the guy in the cab of the truck is setting off the alarm on the bulldozer.
“That is undesirable. It’s a nuisance and the bulldozer guy will probably assume that the alarm is going off because of the guy in the truck – but it may not be. It could be a pedestrian he hasn’t seen.
“So we developed a limiter that sits with the guy in the truck limiting the ability of his tag to be detected by the bulldozer. As soon as he steps out of the cab, he is in play.”
The system also logs each time an employee ‘bursts the bubble’, allowing companies to check trends and working practices.
This function is something Powerday’s health and safety manager, Andre Rayson, finds invaluable. Rayson has 24 years’ experience in the construction industry, mostly in health and safety. He says one of the highest risks to manage is vehicle/pedestrian segregation.
“You can have your walkways marked out and barriers in place, but there are always areas that cannot be covered that way,” he says. “I’ve witnessed big projects that have ground to a halt when the HSE comes on-site and found people walking among vehicles.
“In our main yard we now have two traffic marshals and two banksmen. They focus on their main job of dealing with vehicles coming in instead of worrying about all the workers wandering around.
“The guys actually like it. They started off with the tags on their arms which didn’t work too well because they got damaged. The up-graded tags are now on a clip at the back of their bump caps. They vibrate as well, to let you know you are the one that set off the alarm, and that avoids confusion.”
So is the industry changing for the better? “Yes, 100%, because it’s got no choice. Everyone always thought the construction industry has got the highest rate in incidents in the workplace where, in actual fact, it’s the waste industry that has the highest number of fatalities. People are recognising that more and more.”
It is clear that waste is determined to improve its record and there needs to be a wholescale cultural shift to put safety at the top of the agenda. As Escott puts it: “If you can change people’s behaviour, that’s the real win.”
Recent vehicle safety developments
- Bournemouth Council is trialling RCVs from Dennis Eagle equipped with Innovative Safety Systems’ Reaclear reversing aid and Cyclear cyclist warning display system.
- Dennis Eagle’s Urban Safety Vehicle skip-loader was developed in conjunction with Clocs. It includes the Dawes Highway Safety, a pneumatically operated guard designed to prevent accidents if a cyclist falls and is dragged under the wheels of an HGV.
- Hampshire-based Waltet Materials became the first UK waste company to install Dawes Highway Safety’s Peoplepanels on its fleet. These are made of tough, shatter-resistant composite plastic, and are designed to be fitted over the under-run bars or side guards of an HGV.
- Bywaters worked with vehicle safety specialist Sentinel Systems to install the Bike Hotspot System on more than half of its 50-strong fleet. The system includes an auto-breaking device while reversing.
- B&M Waste Services renewed its fleet with Dennis Eagle Elite 6 vehicles, which includes Euro 6 engine, low entry and cyclist safety cab vehicles.
B&M director Graham Curtis said: “We realise that being out among the public with such large vehicles poses a risk. This improved visibility therefore reduces risk of injury to cyclists and other road users. Additionally we have installed blind spot and reversing cameras so our drivers can see what’s around all four sides of the vehicle while driving.”