Putting the control back in the hands of the operator by providing them with the tools they need to perform their jobs safely increases the safety of all roadways and the vehicles that use them.
By Ed Renna
We all know the dangers of blind spots when changing lanes at 70 MPH on an interstate highway; operating hauler and municipal sanitation vehicles increase that risk exponentially. Under most circumstances, blind spots make up the area surrounding the vehicle, and cannot be seen while the driver is looking forward or through the side and rear-view mirrors. These zones continue to be the biggest headaches for large vehicles, given there can be multiple blind spots on either side.
Fortunately, enhanced safety technologies are available to haulers and municipal sanitation vehicles to help minimize these, helping reduce preventable incidents created by the lack of blind spot visibility. Typically, waste equipment’s primary blind spots are located on the rear and sides of the vehicles. It is often the case that passenger vehicles traveling in adjacent lanes of the roadway will fall into these blind spots, making it impossible for larger equipment operators to see the car or other VRUs (Vulnerable Road Users). This situation instigates unnecessary risk, given the innovative technologies that are available on the market.
Putting the control back in the hands of the operator by providing them with the tools they need to perform their jobs safely, increases the safety of all roadways and the vehicles that use them. The solid waste management sectors and their drivers can take advantage of both sophisticated high-tech systems and simple, low-tech devices to give themselves improved awareness of the area surrounding their vehicles.
Available Blind Spot Solutions
• Solution 1: The driver turns their head, essentially keeping it on a swivel. However, this not an option for most loaded trucks given the dimensions of the vehicle;
• Solution 2: Wide-angle mirrors and blind-spot mirrors, whether they are standard mirrors or wide blind spotter mirrors, placement is everything;
• Solution 3: When adjusting mirrors and head-turning do not do the trick, side-view cameras and other camera systems are the next development to solving blind spot visibility. Side-view cameras are similar to backup cameras—with turn signal activation, the visual display unit shows a wide-view of the lane beside the vehicle;
• Solution 4: Blind spot monitoring or radar-based object detection systems; this approach can detect other vehicles, objects and humans located to the rear, front and sides of the vehicle. Blind spot monitoring systems represent a broad category of safety devices that reduce the risk of blind spots by increasing driver awareness and safety that has led to a decrease in the incidence of collisions.
Blind spots are, by definition, invisible to us. No matter how often we are reminded to “check our blind spots” we cannot—at least on our own. That is why we need the assistance of mirrors, cameras and sensors to gain perception.
Blind spot monitoring radar-based systems give drivers current information with audible alerts, without relying on human interaction for accuracy. Cameras still require operators to take their eyes off the road and look at an in-cab monitor to detect an obstruction in their blind zone(s). Additionally, harsh environmental conditions on roadways and at waste and disposal sites can cause elements such as moisture, dust, dirt, mud, rain and snow to build-up on the lens, making cameras hardware unreliable at times.
How Blind Spot Monitoring Works
Blind spot monitoring systems available today may use one or a combination of technologies to detect objects and obstacles. Depending on the use-case scenario, blind spot monitoring systems can be programmed to act as a slow-speed VRU awareness solution or a lane change assistant while traveling at high speeds. To increase reliability in detecting VRUs like bicyclists and motorcyclists in side blind spots, engineers design best-in-class radar technology that can ignore stationary objects using vehicle speed messaging. This advancement successfully limits the amount of nuisance alerts while driving in the crowded urban environments collection crews frequent.
When moving vehicles, VRUs, or objects are detected, the blind spot monitoring system will give off active alerts, warning operators of the possible collision with audible and visual warnings. In some instances, systems come with integrated in-cab monitors or mirrors with flashing icons—all solutions designed to combat distracted driving and loud environments.
When blind spot monitoring systems give off an alert, the driver must follow a course of action—recognize the danger and react appropriately to avoid the collision. Advanced rear and front blind spot monitoring technologies can also be integrated with automatic braking systems, successfully creating level-one automation solutions in automobiles, mining machinery, and other large vehicles and equipment.
Testing, Testing, Testing
Throughout the development and reconfiguration of a solution gaining momentum from the automotive industry, blind spot monitoring systems are now becoming the optimal solution to safety while on collection in urban environments, as well as for on-road hauler blind spot protection.
Before purchasing a blind spot monitoring system, find out how reliable it is, what its false-positive statistics are and how successful it has been in reducing incidents once implemented. The key to making a blind spot monitoring system work for your team is to ensure that it consistently warns the operator when something enters their blind spots. Regardless of the worksite and weather conditions, the system should not create frustration with false alerts. False alerts can lead operators to believe all alerts are possibly false-positive, prompting the operator to tune out alerts, exposing them to potential blind spot collisions.
These systems must go through a rigorous testing process with numerous data processes, followed by additional testing to eliminate false alerts before they are released. When it comes to safety solutions, the technology must be able to do what it was designed for, because each time it falters, people are left vulnerable. It is not about getting this technology out quickly; it is about getting it right.1
By integrating radar with other active and passive technologies, the ultimate collision mitigation safety solution comes into focus. Through the overlap of systems, sensor fusion further mitigates the possibility for errors, increasing reliability and safety.
Not All Blind Spots Are Equal
Reducing incident and fatality rates in the solid waste and recycling industries can seem like a perpetual game of catch-up. According to the Solid Waste Management Association of North America’s (SWANA) 2018 fatality report, 42 workers lost their lives while out on collection. Being struck by passing vehicles while on collection remains the leading cause of worker fatalities in the industry.
“Several factors likely contributed to the increase in solid waste worker fatalities in 2018, which were concentrated in collections,” said David Biderman, Executive Director and CEO of SWANA, in a recent report. “First, the economy strengthened last year, which meant both more waste to collect and more cars on the road. Second, motorists continue to hit and kill collection employees with tragic frequency.”
Fortunately, blind spot monitoring systems help solve the issue of being struck by their own truck. However, solving vehicle blind spots cannot be placed solely on the shoulders of the industry. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, blind spots are the cause of nearly 840,000 incidents, resulting in 300 fatalities. Signaling blinds spots are not only an issue for solid waste management vehicles to combat but all on- and off-road mobile vehicles and equipment.
National support has been brewing behind the “Slow Down to Get Around” initiative, inspired by the National Waste and Recycling Association’s (NWRA) 2016 safety campaign. The campaign reminds motorists to drive carefully when near collection vehicles, and that with proper awareness, fatalities are preventable. Under the law, drivers must travel below the speed limit and avoid distractions when passing stationary garbage or recycling collection vehicles.
At WasteExpo 2019, the NWRA introduced Collection for Life, a pledge program designed to use contributions, to generate regional and national public awareness campaigns to help protect the lives of drivers and helpers on the road in the waste industry. Until the public understands that they are risking the lives of those working in the waste industry by driving distracted, collection employee lives will continue to be at risk.
The Solution Lies within the Industry’s Blind Spot
In 2016, the NWRA created a three-year safety strategy focusing on the improvement of the industry’s safety performance, reducing injuries, accidents and fatalities on the job. At top of the list, the NWRA sought to reduce the fatality rate by 50 percent across the sectors of the industry at large, and moving collections off of the top 10 most dangerous jobs list in the U.S. Unfortunately, from 2016 to 2018, worker fatalities while out on collection increased by 83 percent.
According to the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), “…decades ago Denmark was able to achieve zero fatalities among MSW collection drivers and helpers at a time when the American fatality rate was 46 per 100,000 workers. Collection methods and technologies were similar in both nations, as was the composition of the waste stream.” The successful prevention of fatalities in Denmark was attributable to its occupational safety and health interventions, and NYCOSH speculated this indicated that continuing elevated injury, illness, and fatality rates among MSW workers in the U.S. was likely caused by insufficient occupational safety and health intervention.
It is essential to understand the resulting injuries, illnesses and fatalities from working in waste management are not inevitable. The hazards and exposures that cause them are not either. There have been known and effective methods for preventing, eliminating and reducing these safety issues. However, currently within the industry’s blind spot, is the all-encompassing concept of safety. With the current pace of safety solution adoption within the industry, the successful execution of safety strategies to improve the industry’s incident and fatalities rates are prevented.
Technology is the Key to Safety
Technology has improved vision capabilities, so people no longer have to turn their necks or remain perpetually uncertain about changing lanes safely, and engineers have come a long way in the development of those solutions. In terms of being human beings, people have not come as far in figuring out what is in their blind spots. Accounting for all of the different variables associated with the full range of waste management machines and equipment, technology is the key to safety.
It is undeniable that safety helps the industry grow and thrive. However, the industry cannot depend on safety technology alone to solve its grave safety concerns. “When safety is a core value for all haulers and municipal sanitation departments, and we don’t rely on the latest technology to rescue the industry from its subpar safety performance, we’ll have fewer accidents, injuries, and claims as well as lower employee turnover and happier workers,” Biderman said. The industry must find its blind spots, internally and on-road, to discover the “unknown unknowns” and increase awareness, critical thinking, and gain the realization of what is unknown to find solutions.
Blind spot monitoring systems and the fusion of safety technologies can bridge the safety gaps within the industry. Autonomy is the future, that is undeniable, but in this future autonomous world, every spot is a blind spot without a human operating the vehicle. To reap the rewards of full autonomy and transform into its potential, the industry must continue to embrace and further use blind spot detection technology. Autonomy at this point in the U.S. is collision mitigation. Like all driver assistance technologies, blind spot monitoring cannot replace good driver habits.
Ed Renna is the Eastern Regional Waste and Recycling Sales Manager at PRECO Electronics (Boise, ID). With more than 30 years of sales, service and leadership experience in public, private, and government sectors, Ed Renna has worked under the PRECO Electronics umbrella for 14 years in various sales, service, and executive roles. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit preco.com.
1. John Fadgen, PRECO Electronics Chief Engineer.