Driving up safety standards

You can't put a price on safety when it comes to handling waste on refuse vehicles. Gavin Thoday examines the latest technology and equipment available

With an accident rate four times the UK average, there is mounting pressure on the waste and recycling sector to find better ways to improve the safety of crews and the general public. Looking back five years ago, most refuse vehicles came equipped with some form of reversing or visual aid devices as part of the manufacturers standard specification, primarily reversing cameras and many with the optional reversing radar systems.

As the demand for improved technology has risen, most manufacturers now prefer to outsource such specialist ancillary equipment according to each customer's individual specifications. Most reversing camera systems are now analogue technology, and able to generate a continual, reliable, real-time image, which means no more frozen images.

And there are additional significant cost-saving benefits beyond improving safety standards to justify fitting vehicle safety technology. For example if a bin-lift is damaged during a reversing exercise, the cost of repair is significant. By fitting a reversing radar such collisions are avoided and a cost-saving is made. Perhaps one of the most significant new products on the market is hard disk recording.

Hard disk recording enables transport managers to monitor their collection service more effectively. Other local authorities find that they can now more accurately monitor if crews are following health and safety practice, and subsequently address any problems through training. Driving practices can also be better observed, and as a result more effective incentive schemes can be implemented to promote safe, accident free driving.

As well as monitoring performance and safety there are other commercial drivers for using hard disk recording systems, primarily reducing the risk and cost of insurance claims made against authorities by members of the public. Investigating insurance claims is a costly and resource absorbing exercise, and without hard evidence it can be difficult to disprove false claims. With DVR footage, when authorities receive a complaint they can immediately check to see if a municipal vehicle was involved.

At Innovative Safety Systems, we have found that a large proportion of our customers report an almost immediate reduction in insurance claim losses once DVR has been fitted to their vehicles. In fact most report how complaints and potential claims miraculously 'fall away' when the words 'recorded footage' are mentioned. All footage is water-marked and therefore credible as evidence in court.

It isn't just local authorities that are recognising the need to protect themselves and their crews from insurance fraudsters. Commercial recycling and waste operators report a surge in false claims and 'slamming brakes' personal injury scams, which have led them to fit DVR to their vehicles. The equipment, which can capture up to three months worth of footage, not only allows them to investigate claims, but means they can check on driving and safety practice, and better demonstrate any problems with accessing a customer's premises or when making collections.

Insurance companies also seem to be impressed and reassured. Although there are no direct discounts at the moment, we have been advised that reduced premiums are on the cards for those operators using DVR technology. Insurance companies are now acknowledging that installing this equipment reduces the total number of claims made, and helps to resolve claims much quicker.

Lighting technology, namely LED, is another example where improved safety standards go hand in hand with cost savings. We are developing and engineering every kind of warning light and beacon in LED. Not only is it brighter, and therefore a better safety device, but also much more energy efficient requiring 'milli-amps' compared to conventional bulbs so no more flat batteries.

Perhaps most importantly LED lights are far more rugged and can withstand the most demanding of environments - vibration, direct impact (such as low lying branches!) and extreme temperatures. With no failing bulbs to replace, maintenance costs and vehicle down-time are greatly reduced.

The range of vehicle safety equipment is growing fast and the technology is moving on even quicker, and we are driven by the demands of our customers to keep innovating new products that fit the individual needs of the waste management sector. As more and more authorities embrace this new technology it can only have a positive impact on improving the sector's safety record.

Gavin Thoday is director of Innovative Safety Systems


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