5 Simple Tips to Improve Vehicle Safety in the Workplace Aug 13, 2018Views: 325
We often think of the work we undertake on site as being the most safety critical part of the job. Yet the tasks carried out by individuals are also often the easiest and most predictable to control, and the ones we have the most experience dealing with. A lesser appreciated but equally tangible risk comes through vehicles, and the interactions between drivers and workers in and around worksites.
While mandatory site safety training covers the basic tenets of vehicle safety, it can often underwhelm when it comes to the prevention of risks, which must be delegated from above. The following tips should not be used in lieu of training, but offer a bit of additional insight into the risks posed by vehicles, and some of the most effective ways to prevent them.
Having an instructor conduct vehicle safety training on your site, or a similar mock test site, is an excellent way to ingrain key safety principles in workers. People can actively engage in things like traffic management, and get a better sense of how the environment, vehicles and individuals coalesce to create potential safety hazards. Better yet, training conducted on your own site will familiarise them with specific blind spots, and reiterate the findings of your own risk assessments.
An interesting concept that can complement or even replace on-site training is virtual and augmented reality training. More familiar as the preserve of video games and science fiction movies, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have already been applied in the training space to great effect. VR creates an entire world for your to inhabit and explore in a realistic fashion, while AR ‘overlays’ digital images on the real world through the use of special glasses.
The benefits of these technologies are easy to intuit. With virtual reality, you could potentially import designs from CAD tools to perfectly recreate your site, and populate it with safety hazards for players to spot and avoid. With AR, you could physically stand on the site, and see digital recreations of these hazards. In both cases, this allows for the feeling of genuine danger - such as having a truck hurtling towards you - without any genuine potential for harm.
Of course, none of this should replace classroom training options such as the NEBOSH course, which offer a more comprehensive rundown of the various facets of vehicle safety. It’s widely appreciated that many people learn better by doing than reading, however, and any practical experience you can give yourself or your employees can only help with your preparation.
Frequent risk assessments
Risk assessments can be seen as burdensome, and there is a reluctance to reappraise them when it seems like every risk is already accommodated for. Yet something as simple as a new type of vehicle, or even a new model of the same vehicle, can bring with it entirely different safety requirements. Crossing points seen as safe may be blind spots on other vehicles, while stopping distances are easily overestimated.
The size of the vehicle, safety provisions, visibility and numerous other factors can make it a very different threat that may not have been accounted for, or communicated to workers. Frequent and comprehensive risk assessments are an obvious and necessary antidote to this, and site managers and supervisors should ensure that any lessons are communicated widely and implemented in time to make a difference, not as a reaction to something that’s already happened.
Trucks and other heavy vehicles pose an obvious danger when travelling at high speeds, hence the rigorous training and frequent refreshers required to drive one. At slower speeds however, the issue is often one of awareness more than recklessness or decision making. A large vehicle in a small space with multiple blind spots puts the onus on pedestrians to act intelligently, with the driver somewhat powerless if they aren’t paying full attention.
The advent of effective vehicle safety technology (VST) has been a particular boon to truck drivers, massively improving their awareness of what’s around the vehicle. Sensors can now provide comprehensive blind spot detection with radar technology, while cameras can provide a visual feed of the sides and rear of a truck. Active braking meanwhile uses a combination of visual and sensor data to prevent collisions, something that’s much easier and more reliable at low speeds.
These cameras and sensors can also be used to monitor the driver, with driver drowsiness detection systems becoming commonplace. These alert the driver if they are suffering from drowsiness and potentially deadly ‘microsleeps’, and can even send a signal to a supervisor or other member of the business, to ensure the person gets off the road. Other features such as lane departure warnings and anti-jackknifing technology complete the modern HGV driver’s armoury.
All of this comes with an obvious caveat, and it’s the same one that could affect driverless cars: you still need an attentive driver. Like proper usage of PPE, safety systems should only be deployed in an emergency, and not relied upon on a regular basis to correct lapses of driver attention. CPC driver training should already drill this home, but you can expect to see VST and driverless features mentioned with even more prominence in future courses.
Oftentimes drivers are not best helped by the state the site is in. Gaping blind spots, tight turns, clutter and poor signage can confuse those who are not already familiar with the site, leading to mistakes and misunderstandings. They also often don’t help pedestrians and personnel, who may lack important visual cues on when and where to cross, or the direction that traffic is coming from.
Where possible, you should consider making changes to the topography of the site in order to better accommodate large vehicles. If there are objects obstructing a driver’s visibility or which might force them to drive differently, move them if this is an option. If they are static, you should consider placing mirrors and warning signs to highlight the risks, and at the very least should inform the driver ahead of time.
You may also want to look at changing gradients and improving grip where this is possible and necessary, as well as ensuring that loose earth or bracken doesn’t create a risk for vehicles. Awareness of vehicle schedules and locations is also important for workers, who should be briefed ahead of time. You could even look to create a ‘crosswalk’ for people crossing frequent lanes of traffic on a site, such as in the spaces between structures.
Encourage a safety culture
Conducting risk assessments and training up drivers and workers is all well and good, but if your site culture doesn’t encourage safe working practices, it might all be for nothing. Employees who end up working overtime or long periods without breaks could end up fatigued, making them less likely to notice an oncoming vehicle. The same can be said of drivers, who may be under pressure to make multiple deliveries.
Oversights can happen at even the most rigorous businesses, and small issues going under the radar can quickly snowball, with hazards ignored or employees feeling more free to take small risks. This failure to stick to regimented safety advice can lead to poor decision making, and a lack of readiness if an emergency situation does arise. When it comes to large and heavy vehicles, such mistakes can lead to serious injury and even death.
The importance of safety should be reiterated at every opportunity, with regular refresher training and actively evolving protocols for managers and supervisors. This also needs to be impressed upon employees and any external contractors, who should have well-worn routines to ensure the consistent application of safety rules and protocols.
Safety is often characterised as being ‘nannying’ and over-cautious. Look at the steadily falling statistics for injuries and accidents, and it becomes evident that it’s actually about saving lives and limbs in the most efficient and effective way possible. Instilling a disciplined approach to safety on your site will reflect the broader discipline of your business, and the reliability of your employees in their daily work.
Lee Sadd is a senior trainer at health & safety consultant and training provider SAMS Ltd. SAMS is a leading provider of online safety courses and classroom courses in the Kent area, as well as offering business advisory services and event management solutions around the UK.
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