Don't burn out from work-related stress

Written by: Gary Escott | Published:
Waste operatives are on the front line of safety risk every day, says Gary Escott, director at SiteZone Safety

Work-related stress has become one of the top reasons for absenteeism across various industries. Eventually mounting pressures in high-risk industries take their toll, and workers just can’t face their jobs.

In 2018, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found that two thirds of waste industry fatalities were due to inadequate safety management provision. Their findings were shared in the report entitled Common human factors underlying worker fatalities in the waste and recycling industry.

Organisational failures in identifying safety risks and having sound business plans as to how work should be carried out were missing. There was often a lack of effective control measures or enforcement and SMEs were marginally at more risk than larger companies.

For safety management to succeed there must be complete buy-in from managers and workers. Without it, an unreliable safety culture is created, where too many accidents happen, injuries are rife and fatalities occur. Working in such an environment, where risk of harm is high, takes its toll on the operatives out in the field.

The HSE’s report considered ‘risk perception’ as one of the causal elements of safety breaches. The HSE’s high injury and fatality figures in 2017 suggest that spatial awareness is not always present, as 23% of all worker fatalities were caused by being struck by a moving vehicle.

When fear becomes part of your working day

There is often the misconception that operators of big vehicles, such as excavators and loading shovels, have a visual advantage and know what’s going on all around them. Their focus, however, is operating the vehicle and doing their job.

Plant operators have given us feedback, citing that one of their concerns is hitting a colleague they can’t see behind a vehicle’s blind spot. It makes their working day stressful while trying to function safely.

Combatting one risk at a time

On hearing this feedback about fear of collision, we realised that using an RFID (radio frequency identification) proximity warning system (PWS) could make a real difference to a vehicle operator’s working day. This is especially useful for those who are working in confined and busy conditions – just like a waste site or depot where vehicles are continuously driving in and out, loading and offloading, where plant is moving waste and all around these vehicles are personnel on foot.

After using our PWS regularly, the feedback began to change from our clients as workers felt more secure using PWS to detect personnel collision risks they couldn’t see.

It’s not dissimilar to blind-spot technology for cars assisting safe changing of lanes; technology detects and informs of the risk of oncoming vehicles from behind, obscured in the blind spot. The motorist avoids having to make a sudden and stressful emergency manoeuvre to avoid an oncoming vehicle.

A study carried out by Balfour Beatty Rail showed how behaviours changed when using an RFID PWS on site. Site workers were not so anxious and pedestrian personnel were more vigilant about their distance from vehicles.

One of the usual suspects which causes plant and vehicle operators anxiety on a regular basis, as we’ve discovered, are large plant vehicles with blind spot.Commonplace on construction sites, plant vehicles can be sizeable with quite a few blind spots as a result. Having spoken to plant operators, the blind spot is one of the most stress-inducing aspects of operating a vehicle such as an excavator, telehandler, tipping dumper or roller. They never know when someone might stray into the machine’s blind spot while the vehicle is moving.

Another issue is vehicles and people sharing tight spaces.At busy sites there will always be crossing points where people and vehicles have a higher likelihood of interacting. The HSE makes it very clear that where such points exist there must be robust measures in place – signage and signals.

Despite signs and barriers as part of segregation measures, there are still accidents. Lorry drivers, forklift operators and dumper operators are all examples of jobs where, while loading, offloading, turning and reversing, visibility can be hampered.

Listen to employees’ safety concerns

Waste operatives are on the front line of safety risk every day. If they voice concerns, then as employers and safety professionals we have the power to mitigate the risks still reflected in the HSE’s statistics.

Applying technology in safety measures doesn’t make existing practices obsolete. Instead it enhances practices enough to virtually eliminate certain risks. In my experience, the waste industry is advancing with its collaborative approach to knowledge and data-sharing. I think there is a stark realisation that openness is necessary to drive the innovation that safeguards ordinary workers so they go home unharmed at the end of the day.

Gary Escott is director at SiteZone Safety.

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