Aid, Don’t Replace, Safety Sense

Aid, Don’t Replace, Safety Sense

July 30, 2014

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly half (443) of the fatal workplace injuries at road-construction sites from 2003 to 2010 involved vehicles or construction equipment. Of those people killed, one-quarter died after being struck by a machine that was backing up.

Those numbers represent only one segment of construction activity. They don’t include accidents involving equipment at mines, aggregate plants, demolition operations, or excavations.

Automated safety devices are one solution for equipment-related deaths, specifically those designed to prevent blind-spot accidents. Backup cameras are appearing on construction equipment, and proximity alerts are available, too.

I rented a car that not only had a backup camera with audible alarm to warn me against obstacles behind, but also indicator lights on each sideview mirror to warn against obstacles alongside. System designers use technology in ingenious ways, for the safety of workers in and around machines. But they cannot replace the human element.

My brother nailed it. An avid Harley rider, he was T-boned by an inattentive automobile driver several years ago. He still rides, but his injury rides with him. I mentioned these sensors on cars, and he launched into a tirade against them. He—and the riding community, by and large—is against anything that makes a driver even less attentive than they already are. He believes drivers will rely on the audible alerts or “intelligent braking” instead of staying alert to the motorcycles in their midst.

Equipment operators can easily lull themselves into a similar sense of false security. Site workers have; they routinely ignore the sound of backup alarms.

As technology improves safety through automated warning systems, we cannot allow machine operators to become lax in the safety habits they already have. As I backed my rental car into its parking space, I glanced at the camera image, listened for alerts, but still used my sideview mirrors as I maneuvered.

Automated safety systems can and should augment the safety sense within the cabs, but it must not replace it.

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