Gary Escott, Director of OnGrade, discusses how Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology enables collision avoidance between vehicles and workers, raising the bar on safety.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there are approximately 5,000 workplace transport accidents per year, of which 50 result in people dying at work. The fatalities are usually caused by people being struck, falling off or crushed by vehicles.
Workplace transport specifically refers to activities involving vehicles used in a workplace. This doesn’t include any vehicles that are operated on public highways, unless they are being used to load or unload adjacent to a site or workplace. However, even in the familiar confines of private premises, depots or warehouses, collisions between vehicles and workers-on-foot happen.
Prescribed safety measures reduce risk, such as segregation of vehicles from pedestrians, better traffic routing, improved signage and slower speed limits where vehicles and pedestrians share work space. While these are effective to a great degree, RFID gives an extra dimension of detection for proximity warning. Poor visibility, standard PPE and cameras are also prone to compromised efficacy, since workers may be wearing ear protectors and may not be aware of oncoming plant or other vehicles.Pedestrian workers may also be distracted by activities on site, or by their own work, and may lose a sense of where they are in relation to vehicles. These distractions can pose serious problems, because pedestrians may assume that a plant or vehicle operator, being high up in a large vehicle will see them – however, this is not always the case.
Among the greatest vehicle/pedestrian collision risks is reversing vehicles, which accounts for a quarter of all work transport deaths. In the noise and bustle of a depot, or when operating a large lorry with blind-spots, it’s not difficult to understand how this might happen.
Therefore, it’s vital that both drivers and pedestrian workers know, without a doubt, when they are in each other’s danger zones.
How does a RFID proximity alarm work?
Just as people often talk about having their ‘personal space’ invaded by other people, the same principle applies when working in close proximity to moving vehicles. OnGrade’s site safety awareness campaign – ’don’t burst the bubble’- is based on this premise. As well as creating an effective RFID proximity warning alarm, SiteZone, we at OnGrade felt it was vital to educate workers about the risk of pedestrian/vehicle collision at work. So many site and depot workers are lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to sharing space with working vehicles.
Consider that each vehicle has a danger zone or ‘bubble’ around it, which should never be breached or ‘invaded’. It’s like the last boundary of physical protection between a person and a moving vehicle. When someone walks too near to a vehicle being operated on site, an alarm goes off in the cab. Another alarm also goes off on the pedestrian’s hard hat or sleeve, to let them know they’re too close to the machine. It’s a two-way system and when the alarm goes off, both parties know that there is the potential for an imminent collision and need to take action. For plant or vehicle operators, it means having to stop and look around to see where the collision risk is. Each ‘bubble’ can be adjusted to suit specific vehicles and site conditions.
Changing awareness and benchmarking for improvement
Vehicle operators notice a change in behaviour when using the proximity alarm for a long while. It deters workers on foot from coming so near to working vehicles. The alarm is loud and that’s a vital part of it, because no-one likes setting it off so they’re more careful about their movements on site.
A comprehensive proximity alarm system not only acts as a real-time alert but also allows for all activities to be logged online with a telematics system that sends data to the Cloud. This enables site and depot managers to identify any repeat offenders – those at most risk of injury from approaching vehicles without permission. Armed with this information, safety training can then be targeted where it will be most effective, and individual workers can be monitored to check safe working practices are being embraced.
This data can be shared across multiple sites, can be compared and benchmarked. Managers are then equipped to help cultivate a holistic standard of site safety practice across the company and encourage continual improvement. With access to accurate data, site managers can also improve efficiency and focus their time and resources for the wider benefit of employees and delivering required services.
Keep looking forward
Our studies and client feedback have shown that RFID proximity warning technology has had a significant and positive impact on protecting workers from the danger of collision, both physically and mentally. As more companies embrace the technology, and more technological advances are made, the potential to improve safety practices increases. In 2016 the launch of the first ever wireless proximity warning system* was a key milestone in the UK. That means that any vehicle visiting a depot, warehouse or site can be fitted with a proximity warning alarm at the gate and significantly reduces the risk of collision with workers on the premises.
Vigilance should be the byword for safety practice when pedestrians and vehicles are working in close proximity. But if you let your guard slip, RFID technology can tirelessly watch all your blind spots to keep you safe.