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Eyes in the back of your plant – the operator’s perspective on using RFID proximity alarms

Gavin Elson, a plant operator of ten years’ experience and active member of the UK Plant Operators Group, shares his candid experiences and opinions about using OnGrade’s Site Zone.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, 67% of construction businesses reported serious risk of injury due to moving vehicles. Sometimes this risk escalates into a far more serious situation. In the last five years, there were 35 fatalities on construction sites in the UK – 21 of those were caused by being hit by a moving vehicle. It’s easy to understand how these figures have been generated. Construction plant is big, cumbersome equipment with blind spots. Operators often have no idea what or who is moving behind them, purely because they can’t see every bit of the vehicles’ perimeter from the cab. From the pedestrian’s viewpoint, there may be distractions, or a false sense of security that they have been seen by the plant operator who will then avoid hitting them accidentally. This is not always the case.

OnGrade’s radio frequency identification (RFID) proximity alarm, Site Zone, has changed the rules of this interaction for the better. The dual alarm system offers a new dimension on site safety, giving all site workers an extra level of control and protection. It’s not deterred by corners, blind spots, dust, smoke or poor light conditions. For employers who use RFID safety systems, it has become a vital part of the construction safety toolkit. Rather than just take our word for it, OnGrade thought it would be more constructive to get an end-user’s perspective, so we asked a seasoned plant operator, Gavin Elson, what he thought about using Site Zone.

What’s your job / position and experience?

I’m a plant operator. I am trained to operate a range of plant from loading shovels to dump trucks, telehandlers, wheel excavators and track machines. I’ve been doing this for ten years.

What proximity alarm system product do you use?

Site Zone, it’s an RFID Proximity alarm system by OnGrade. When someone walks too close to the plant I’m operating on site, an alarm goes off in the cab. Another alarm also goes off on the pedestrian’s hard hat to let them know they’re too close to the machine I’m in.

How long have you used it?

At the moment, I use Site Zone every day on my current job. I used Site Zone for the first time 12 months ago. The site that I’m working on has it installed on all the plant vehicles.

Has it made a difference to you work / how you move around on site?

Yes. It makes me stop and look! What are the best parts about it? My first impression about Site Zone was that it was a pain! It was always going off as so many people were near or walking around whatever machine I was operating. Then it got me thinking – this is what it’s like all the time, I just didn’t know it before. The risk of a pedestrian being so close to the [moving] plant is always there and I’m sure the majority of plant operators aren’t aware of how close they come to a possible accident each day. I’ve noticed a change in behaviour now, as the proximity alarm has deterred people on site from coming so near to the vehicle. They don’t like the noise! Having the alarm beeping on your hard hat and coming from the plant you’re next to definitely encourages them to be more aware of how close they get. It cuts potential accidents in half. Most building site accidents are still caused by people colliding with plant. I’ve found that having the proximity alarm makes the most difference when I’m operating telehandlers, excavators, tipping dumpers and rollers. There are blind spots on all of them.

How does it work?

As there’s a significant blind spot to the rear right-side of an excavator, drivers won’t know if someone is on that side. The RFID tag really helps in that respect. When it goes off I have to neutralise the alarm and physically turn and look to see who is behind me. My biggest fear is people coming up behind on the right-hand side that I can’t see. They don’t know which direction I’m going in and likewise, I don’t know that they are there and what direction they’re taking on foot. When the alarm goes off, you can respond quickly. Now that I have experienced having the alarm consistently for 12 months, it would be really stressful not having the warning system to use every day. I’m lucky that my current employer insists on having proximity alarms fitted to all the plant vehicles.

Is there anything you’d like to see improved about the alarm system?

The alarm sounder should be on a varying setting so you don’t become accustomed to hearing just the same type of noise and risk becoming complacent about it. A varying alarm setting would keep you fully alert every time it goes off. It would be useful for the alarm system to identify me as the operator so I don’t set it off when I’m getting in and out of the cab. Every time I cross the safety zone around the machine, I set it off. However, anyone else who comes into close vicinity of the machine, who isn’t the operator, should set the alarm off.

Have you ever specified it on a job or suggested it to a site manager or client?

No, I haven’t had that opportunity. But I believe that eventually, having alarms like Site Zone will be the norm. I think it’s necessary. It’s made a huge difference to the way I work and will do the same for other operators. The most important change would be to educate other plant operators and site managers about this safety system. We need more training and knowledge-sharing. The users-perspective is really what counts. Everyone should spread the word. Operators don’t often realise just how many people walk around the plant that they are operating. While Site Zone doesn’t stop a machine from working, it does let the operator know that someone is there. That makes a huge difference in site safety, it literally saves lives.

To find out more about Site Zone visit: www.proximitywarning.com/contact-us/

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