While many waste management companies are embracing backing safety with various combinations of spotters, rear-facing cameras and obstacle detection systems, statistics show that continued improvements are in order.

Brian Diehl


Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Labor hosted a Stakeholder Meeting on Preventing Backover Injuries and Fatalities in Washington D.C.  Now, don’t go to sleep. If you know the importance of keeping people from finding their way under your trucks’ tires, skip down to the “Backup Cameras” header, below.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 79 workers were killed in 2011 when backing vehicles or mobile equipment crushed them against an object or rolled over them. The meeting’s eight-page summary mentions the waste industry no fewer than 14 times. Waste truck backup accidents are so common, dozens of lawyers have posted Web pages dedicated to this issue.


A quick search on the Internet showed that this year alone, a grandmother in Hawaii, an elderly man in Florida, a woman in New York, two sanitation workers in Indiana and another sanitation worker in South Carolina were all killed by collection trucks backing over them.


Waste trucks have become part of life’s daily fabric. “Garbage trucks” are in every corner of every neighborhood—often with a swarm of bike-riding boys in tow, waiting to see things hydraulically crushed and swallowed by the truck’s gaping mouth.  These trucks are so ubiquitous, people fail to recognize that they are, in reality, 25- or 30-ton monsters with huge blind spots and minimal stopping power.  Unfortunately, those who work around these trucks must be reminded frequently as well.


The safety meeting explored backup hazards, measures to reduce them, whether cameras and other technologies are being used and driver, spotter and pedestrian training.  I was drawn to the report’s technology section mainly because I’ve been working with hardware and software companies since I started with NEC in 1992.


Backup Cameras

Only 10 percent of construction equipment uses cameras or sensors. The immense amount of dust and tight operating conditions onsite can create many maintenance issues. The waste management industry, for the most part, has embraced rear-facing cameras to the point that some companies consider a truck to be out of commission if its camera is inoperable.


Cheap cameras have flooded the market and, though they may look nearly identical to quality cameras, they may not be as waterproof or dustproof as you might want them to be.  When shopping for cameras, there are a few basic parameters you should look for:

  1. Is the system ruggedized? Was it designed for commercial use and the day-to-day road vibrations it must endure?
  2. Is it a color system with nighttime video capabilities?Color can be an important factor in helping a driver quickly recognize obstacles. While night vision is always black and white, collection trucks should be ready to safely handle early-morning and late night maneuvering.
  3. Guarantees. Is the system backed by a company that has a history of excellent service?  A guarantee is worthless if the company doesn’t stand behind their products.
  4. Ease of Installation.  Sure, every company boasts “easy install,” but who translated the manual? Can you call them with questions?
  5. Flexibility. Can you add more cameras or a recording system at any time or do you have to purchase a whole new system?  Can side-mounted, blindspot cameras be added without a hassle? How about a digital video recorder?


Backup Sensors

Some companies don’t want the distraction or the expense of an in-cab camera.  For these organizations, obstacle detection sensor systems come into play.  These bumper-mounted sensors operate just like the ones you see on the bumpers of luxury cars.  A display shows the driver exactly how many inches their bumper is from any obstacle when backing up.  Some systems use radar, while other systems use sonar to accomplish this.  Just make sure that, if you purchase a sensor system, it offers a warranty of at least two years—backup sensors are often mounted where they can come into contact with collectors throughout the day.


Combined Systems

While it is possible to combine camera systems and backup sensors in a cab, multiple displays will have to be installed on, or in, the dashboard.  A single-monitor, ruggedized camera and sensor system should be capable of displaying a 120 degree view behind a truck, while simultaneously showing on-screen, exactly how close the rear bumper is to any person, pole, wire or wall.


Radio Frequency Identification

Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags were also discussed in the report; however, this would require the company to tag any possible backover hazard—including people.  Of course, with the public involved, this solution is more applicable to construction sites, scrap metal companies and, possibly, post collection facilities (though public access to these facilities can be hard to control).


Cost of Technology

It was pointed out that vehicle cameras are becoming smaller and cheaper. In addition to this, installation costs for fleets can be exorbitant if the camera or sensor system was not designed properly or if installation instructions are vague.  Short antennas on cheap wireless systems can cause mounting problems and add hours of maintenance department frustration.


Wired cameras are still your best bet for a good signal in the cab and for fewer upkeep issues.  A fleet of 20 trucks can be outfitted with a professional, color, single camera system for under $315 each. However, wireless obstacle detection sensor systems are the way to go for easy installation and fewer wires to run to the cab.  For a fleet of 20 trucks, a quality sensor system should run about $250 and offer a warrantee for at least two years.  Careful with bargain-basement pricing—you’ll get what you paid for!


Unique Solutions

Since many workers—and even pedestrians—have become numb to the sound of a truck’s backup alarm, some technology companies have instituted variable beeping for obstacle detection systems.  The closer the object becomes, the faster the beeps are played.  Other companies have developed white noise alarms, which are only heard when directly behind the vehicle.  These have been installed with great success in post collection facilities.


In the same vein, to introduce a new sound into the workplace, some organizations issue whistles to their employees.  This low-tech solution introduces a new sound into the workplace and, when heard, should halt every vehicle in hearing range.


This brings us to the final challenge for workplace safety:  training. But, that’s the next chapter in the report and an extensive issue. In the meantime, feel free to visit the report at  www.osha.gov/doc/topics/backover/01082013_dc_stakeholder_meeting.html. If you’re interested in additional safety ideas, check out www.avatarfleet.com, which offers some excellent reading on the topic.


While many waste management companies are embracing backing safety with various combinations of spotters, rear-facing cameras and obstacle detection systems, statistics show that continued improvements are in order. We must remember that people are used to seeing waste trucks and they assume these lumbering giants are safe to be around.  By installing cameras and obstacle detection sensors, safety can remain an active priority for drivers and crew.


Brian Diehl is the director of marketing for Mobile Awareness (headquarters), a developer and manufacturer of rugged backup cameras (VisionStat®), backup sensors (SenseStat®) and combined video and obstacle detection systems (VisionStat Plus®) for commercial use. To-date, Brian has drawn more than 1,344 safety cartoons to help waste management companies improve safety and decrease insurance costs. He can be reached at [email protected].