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The dos and don’ts of using proximity alarm systems

Gary Escott Mar 5, 2019 11:02:00 AM
How to get the best out of a proximity warning system

Gary Escott, Director of SiteZone Safety, explains how to get the best out of a proximity warning system for optimised effectiveness in keeping workers safe from vehicle collision risk on site.

Safety professionals have worked very hard to create safe systems of work to keep workers safe in the course of doing their jobs. The regulations and practices that have evolved are effective for the most part, especially when it concerns the safe segregation of vehicles from workers on foot. However, in those industries where workers and moving vehicles all interact in close proximity, the risk of collision remains. Every year the health and safety executive reports thousands of fatal and non-fatal injuries caused by being struck by vehicle;  numbers which make for grim reading.

To help close that margin for error, technology has been introduced to enhance the safety standards further. Thanks to the application of RFID (radio frequency identification) proximity warning systems (PWS), vehicle operators and ground personnel are afforded an extra dimension of safety, as the system sees everything, all around, all the time. If a pedestrian enters a predefined detection zone, the proximity warning alarm system will alert the driver and the worker at the same time. With this technological capability, there is a reduced risk of parties colliding on a busy work site.

However, for this to work effectively it is important for site managers to understand how to apply the technology to complement existing practices. Otherwise, there may be some frustration when proximity warning alarms are set off, either too frequently or not frequently enough. Here are a few points to keep in mind to achieve optimal service from a RFID PWS:

Site Managers, know the dangers of your site: before implementing PWS, it’s important to understand the dynamics of the site where it will be used. This is in specific relation to danger zones or ‘hot spots’ where interaction between workers and plant vehicles is most frequent. The onus is on site managers, and health and safety managers, to communicate effectively ensuring that subsequent safety measures are applied in the right places.

Different vehicles require different safety parameters: the beauty of PWS systems, like SiteZone, is that they are fully adaptable to the users’ needs. Even though the underlying concept of PWS is ‘one size fits all’, it comes with an added bespoke feature to fine tune that fit. Users will not benefit from optimal safety performance if the system is on the same settings regardless of vehicle type and site configuration.

Set your safety zones correctly: setting correct PWS safety distances on machinery is often done incorrectly. This results in inadequate protection, or, as is often reported, too frequent activation of the safety alarm as vehicles and people pass through each other’s spaces. Using the PWS does not mean that it is safe to set the breach zones so short that the alarm is constantly set off. If this is the case, then it is unsafe for workers and machinery to be so close to one another anyway. Having too short a safety zone leaves no margin for error, even if an alarm goes off. Proximity warning alarms are not designed to be a nuisance, but an alert in real time to help workers avoid danger. If the alarm is triggered too often, the risk is that the workers and vehicle operators will begin to ignore it and continue with their action. SiteZone Safety can assist with the implementation process by conducting a detailed site survey to ensure optimum use of SiteZone proximity warning system.

If your site changes so must the PWS settings: as with all health and safety practice, if your conditions and operations change, so must your risk management strategies. This applies to the use of the PWS systems on any site. For example, if traffic/pedestrian segregation changes, then it affects the movement of machinery and people. Therefore, the PWS settings for both parties must change with it, as required. A static system, being used on a dynamic site is not a useful safety tool.

Regardless of the requirements and applications, it is very important to remember that a PWS should fit in seamlessly with existing health and safety protocols. It helps to make them better, rather than making them obsolete. Employers don’t have to rewrite the safety handbook, because the existing safety practices are good common sense, coupled with gradual improvements through experience. Systems like SiteZone and its variants offer an enhanced factor to the existing processes, which creates an even stronger safety infrastructure in which workers can function. It must be a complement to existing practices, not a replacement.