Watch your back
Rear-vision cameras help improve safety in the work zone
Work-zone safety efforts usually concentrate on keeping
workers and traffic separate. Traffic control, signage and barriers are
integral parts of every roadway construction project. Yet while highway
construction workers are exposed to significant risks on the jobsite, motorist
traffic is only half the problem.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health
(NIOSH) notes that over half of work-zone fatalities are inside the work area
and do not involve motorists. Many of these workers are on foot in the work
zone when killed by construction vehicles moving in reverse. According to
Stephanie Pratt, co-author of the NIOSH study Building Safer Highway Work
Zones, "the balance has definitely tipped toward non-motorist types of
fatalities among workers. For example, you hear of backing-over incidents all
the time involving dump trucks and other types of construction equipment inside
the work area."
While visibility garments and back-up alarms can improve
work-zone safety, they don't go far enough. An orange vest does not make
a truck transparent. The driver still cannot see what's behind him. The
following Fatality Assessment Causation Assessment (FACA) reports attest to
"A thirty-six-year-old construction inspector died
when an asphalt dump truck backed over him. The decedent was wearing an orange
reflective vest and hard hat at the time of the incident. The dump
truck's backup alarm was operational and functioning properly. The driver
of the truck stated that he never saw the decedent."
"A twenty-seven-year-old construction flag person died
when a tractor-trailer dump truck backed over him. The decedent was wearing an
orange reflective vest and hard hat at the time of the incident. The dump
truck's back-up alarm was operational and functioning properly. The
driver of the truck stated he looked into both of his tractor's side
rear-view mirrors and did not see the decedent."
The Laborer's International Union of North America
urges the use of collision avoidance technologies to prevent dump trucks,
earthmovers and paving equipment from backing over people in work zones. Joseph
Fowler, executive director of the Laborer's Health and Safety Fund,
explained, "One of the largest causes of road construction fatalities is
a worker being backed over by moving construction equipment. Many technologies
currently exist to avoid these events, yet they are not widely in use in road
A recent Department of Energy Safety Bulletin offered a
solution: "Workers can become accustomed to the sound of backup alarms in
construction sites, thereby reducing their effectiveness in controlling
accidents. Concerns about continued hazards have led industry to develop
supplementary control measures to warn of people or objects in the
operator's obstructed view zone. Such measures include rear-viewing video
The Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) uses
camera systems in surface mining operations in lieu of spotter personnel. OSHA
and NIOSH standards do not make specific mention of this technology, yet both
FACA reports mentioned above recommend "use of additional safety devices
for heavy equipment to warn drivers when someone is in their blind spot."
In testimony before Congress, Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of MSHA,
stated, "MSHA has shown that video cameras improve safety around these
vehicles. We are continuing to urge mining operations to employ this and other
technology to reduce the chances of blind-spot accidents."
The decision to install camera systems on haul trucks and
mining shovels at the Cortez Gold Mines in Crescent Valley, Nev., was easy to
make following a rash of backing incidents. Chris Chrestensen, mine trainer,
said once a 300-ton-capacity mine truck or a similar-sized water truck backs
over a pickup truck, investing in a camera system is a no-brainer. He
researched other possible solutions, such as a sonar system, but decided a
video system provided the best solution. Today the mining operation has 18 haul
trucks, three water trucks, two P&H electric shovels, one hydraulic shovel
and several wheel loaders wired with the camera system.
"If you prevent one serious injury, the cost of the
video system is insignificant," Chrestensen said. "But when you
also consider the impact an accident can have in downtime of equipment and lost
production to conduct an investigation, it further validates the investment.
The cameras just have a way of increasing the ease of operation and the
efficiency of the job at hand. They improve safety by eliminating backing
incidents, and I think it's because drivers are much more attentive. With
a monitor in their cab, they really have no excuse for not knowing what's
Jose Mercado, fleet manager for the city of South Lake
Tahoe, Calif., has been using rear-vision cameras on his vehicles for more than
eight years. The system allows the operator to view on a small in-cab monitor
what the wide-view camera picks up behind the vehicle. "A lot of people
don't understand the dangers of being around this equipment. We put signs
on the equipment telling them to stay back 100 ft, but you're always
going to have somebody come up behind you," said Mercado. The 12 motor
graders that clear snow from the city's streets each have a camera
system. "Since we've put them on, we've dropped our accident
rate of backing over vehicles down to zero. Prior to this we had accidents
where a motor grader would actually back up over the hood of a vehicle."
The waterproof, shock-resistant cameras have since been added to storm drain
cleaners, loaders and heavy-duty trucks.
Kevin Bauwens, lead mechanic for Lake Tahoe's Public
Works Department, said the video systems have reduced backing incidents
significantly, even though motorists continue to challenge the potential danger
of following too close. As for maintenance, the systems have proven to be quite
reliable. "Even with the high vibration of the graders, there's
very little maintenance that's required," he said.
"Operators have to wipe off the lens occasionally, but
that's about it." Bauwens also has his service truck equipped with
a camera system, which he finds useful when backing up to a piece of equipment
that needs servicing out in the field. "The distance gauge printed on the
monitor screen lets you know exactly how close you're getting to an
object. That allows me to back right up to the equipment," he said.
Mike Pollock has worked behind the wheel of the
department's grader fleet for more than 20 years, and he's
experienced his share of hazardous road duty. For Pollock, the camera system
has proved helpful numerous times. "I always use my mirrors and the
camera when backing up, and the combination of both provides a pretty clear
view of what's going on behind my grader," he said. "The
camera system hasn't eliminated all accidents, but it's been very
The AGC Ready Mix Council also has begun using camera
systems. Recent statistics show that roughly 90% of their accidents occur while
a truck is backing up. Since the installation of cameras in the preliminary
test trucks there have been no incidents reported by those who have the systems
installed. The Ready Mix Council explored several options but came to the conclusion
that camera systems would be the most effective for reducing and hopefully
eliminating backup accidents.
There is no single solution to improving highway work-zone
safety. Legislation, awareness and education all play a part in protecting the
trucks and those who need to work around them. Rear-vision cameras offer a
workable solution to construction backing accidents. Improved visibility, day
and night, is available for construction environments right now, and cameras
are being used with great success in comparable industries.
From the driver's point of view, the best tool in the
tool box is improved visibility. Eliminate the blind spot, and let the driver
see for himself.