Equipe Partners with PRECO
Before a construction project can be started in the U.K., the site must be drilled so builders can fully understand the nature of the ground on which the foundation will sit. The rigs that do this drilling are extremely powerful, and entanglement with the drill has caused many human fatalities and injuries both in the U.K. and worldwide. Equipe Group, located northwest of London, incorporates Equipe Geosolutions, which develops new technologies for the global drilling industry, has developed the SAFER G system that would prevent any such accidents in the future. The system it has developed utilizing PRECO Electronics radar technology has not only made rigs vastly safer, it has also raised productivity to levels unseen in a decade.
Prior to the enactment of new regulations ten years ago, there was no requirement across Europe that these drill rigs had to be guarded to prevent workers from coming into contact with a rotating drill. With passage of the new rule, manufacturers responded by enclosing the rig entrance with heavy steel-mesh gates. The gates have dramatically reduced death and injury, but they’ve caused problems, too.
“The steel-mesh gates that now protect drill rigs have done a very good job of reducing injury and death to near zero,” says Keith Spires, Equipe Group’s Operations Director. “The unintended consequence of these gates has been an industry-wide drop in productivity in some activities estimated at 40 percent. Our goal was to maintain drilling’s excellent modern safety record, while returning productivity to its prior level.
In the course of a normal drilling job, Spires says, in some activities such as grouting and anchoring workers can add 40-60 sections of drilling rods to enable the drill to reach required depths. Each time they need to add a rod, workers must open the gates, load the rods in to the assembly, then securely reclose the gates. Repeating these extra motions so many times in a single day puts a big dent in the productive capacity of the rig.
On top of that, Spires says, the mesh gates have made it much harder for drill operators to visually monitor the rig making it harder for them to spot problems before they get worse. Staring through steel mesh, day in day out, also increases the eye strain on the operator. The gates are also heavy, awkward and prevent operators from placing the drill rigs in tight spaces. These heavy gates also have huge maintenance requirements often resulting in down time.
Short-range Radar Creates a Virtual, but Sensitive, Steel Gate
To improve the productivity of its customers, Equipe Group began looking for ways to replace these widely disliked gates with more modern safety technology. “We looked at infrared,” Spires says. “We looked at laser scanners. We looked at ultrasonic. We finally decided that the best solution was short-range radar. That’s when we started talking with PRECO.”
Equipe Geosolution’s choice of technology hinged on a couple of different capabilities. First, the system had to be able to operate in dusty, dirty, vibration-filled environments. It had to be strong enough to operate even after being struck by drill pipe and other objects as workers operated the rig. The most challenging capability was the need to be intelligent enough to detect some objects while ignoring others.
“For us, everything is designed around the human hand,” he says. “There can be all kinds of material ejected from the rig—chunks of dust, mud, rock, fluids. Some of the technology we looked at would react to grain of sand in the air and shut the drill down. We needed a system that wouldn’t react to anything smaller than a hand. But once it detected a hand (or anything larger), the sensor had to be able to react instantly to bring a drill spinning at 1,500 rpm to a complete stop.”
“The unintended consequence of the gates has been an industry-wide drop in productivity estimated at 40 percent.”
PRECO made the task of earning the CE mark easier by delivering radar units that,” Spires says, “simply do not fail.
A “Bullet-Proof” Safety Solution
Equipe Geosolution’s “SAFER G” solution is comprised of specially designed PreView Radar sensors bolted on either side of the rig entrance. The sensors are mounted on rubber cushions to reduce vibration, and are retrofitted with visible lights so rig teams can be sure the devices are operating.
The SAFER G solution is designed not to warn workers of danger, but to remove the danger itself. When a worker gets within about 4 feet (1.24 meters) of the rig, the radar sensors detect the person’s presence and within 200 milliseconds send a signal to the machine to stop. The motor then has another 600-800 milliseconds to bring the drill shaft to a complete stop to prevent the worker from becoming entangled in the drill.
To make sure that the solution works for each individual drill rig, Equipe Geosolutions customizes the sensors to fit each drill rig. First, it measures how long it takes that rig’s drill shaft to stop spinning once the motor is shut off. Then it places the sensors in strategic locations to ensure that the shaft will come to rest well before a member of the rig crew could possibly reach the drill. Spires notes that even if a rig worker is running at full speed toward the drill, the drill shaft always comes to a full stop well before the worker reaches it—every single time.
The SAFER G Solution Wins Cross-Europe Safety Seal
Spires makes his safety claim with the assurance that comes from literally millions of hours of testing. Before a manufacturer in the U.K. or Europe can put any product on the market, it must obtain what is known as a CE Mark. Earning this safety certification, he says, is not easy.
“There are about 100 individual components to the SAFER G solution,” Spires says. “Not only did we have to prove that each component was reliable. We also had to show that no matter what component—or combination of components—failed, SAFER G would still bring the drill shaft to an immediate halt. And we had to prove that this would be true amid rain, snow, heat, dust, and mud—in very low and high temperatures and ranges of humidity. As a final fail-safe guarantee, we install two sensors on each rig to provide redundancy.”
PRECO made the task of earning the CE mark easier by delivering radar units that,” Spires says, “simply do not fail. We tested the PRECO sensors so many times that at one point I finally said, ‘Obviously, PRECO’s manufacturing process must be spot on because these units just do not fail.’”
New Solution Keeps Safety Benefits, Returns Productivity to Previous Levels
The startling news for Equipe Geosolutions customers was that the precipitous drop in productivity that came with the steel gates could be regained.
“The sensors certainly speed up drill operations again,” says Spires. “Without the SAFER G radar sensor system, every time you want to do something at the drill head you’ve got to open the gate, and then the drill won’t start up again until you shut the gate. The introduction of drill rig gates caused a 40 percent drop in productivity. Equipe Geosolution’s PRECO Preview Radar-enabled safety system, SAFER G, has boosted productivity back to where it was before.”
Using PreView Radar to Take Action, Not Give Warning
Equipe Geosolution’s use of short-range radar represents an innovative application of PRECO’s technology. Normally, customers use PreView Radar sensors to warn equipment operators of approaching danger. Once alerted, the driver must apply the brakes or take evasive action. For Equipe Geosolutions the goal was to remove the danger altogether.
Spires says the SAFER G solution comes at an interesting time. While the U.K. has had the rig-protection regulation in place for a decade, it has only recently been put in place across Europe. Spires says his company’s goal is to demonstrate to rig manufacturers across the U.K. and Europe that their PRECO-enabled solution makes drill rig injury and death a thing of the past—and does so without those heavy, productivity-killing steel gates.
Implementing Safety In Loud Environments
Machines, vehicles, and ground employees must work in close proximity when working on an aggregate site like Idaho Materials and Construction (IMCCO), a division of Oldcastle. There are often homes nearby. The mixture of these elements can result in a loud environment where backup alarms become less effective and intrusive to the surrounding neighbors. Because of Oldcastle’s corporate commitment to eliminating hazards and improving operations, IMCCO contacted Preco Electronics, Inc..
The first priority was reducing blind spot accidents. Studies show that more than half the accidents at a construction site are due to blind spots. The second priority was increasing the effectiveness of backup alarms and reducing the noise levels for the surrounding neighbors within OSHA guidelines. Finally, IMCCO is a business, so protecting the bottom line was essential. The financial toll of an accident includes downtime, repair costs, penalties, and potentially years of litigation. Of course, this pales in comparison to the pain and suffering of a co-worker or his family when there is an injury or loss of life.
A Safety Solution to Reduce Blind Spot Accidents
The solution was PreView® Safety Alert System (PreView SAS). PreView SAS detects objects in the drivers blind spot, then warns the driver of the object through an in-cab audible and visual alert. The back-up alarm then increases in tone to warn those outside the vehicle they are in danger. The change in tone gets the attention of those surrounding the vehicle and keeps the site noise levels down by only activating the increased tone when an object is detected.
Since installing their first PreView SAS system on a wheel loader with great success, IMCCO has continued to integrate this system throughout their fleet and expanded it to their concrete trucks.
“Studies show that more than half the accidents at a construction site are due to blind spots.”
PreView sensors were 100% effective even with dirt, dust, mud, snow, fog, and the other extreme conditions common at any concrete site.
Safety Concerns Solved
IMCCO needed to solve three distinct issues: noise reduction, reduction of blind spot accidents, and different blind spot areas for each machine.
PreView Sensors are designed to detect moving and stationary objects in blind spots to significantly reduce accidents. PreView consists of three simple components: 1) external sensor; 2) in-cab display to provide visual and audible notification to the operator; and 3) cable system to connect the sensor and display. Coverage area for ICCO was set at 20’ per their specific needs.
This solved their safety issue. In order to solve the issue with the noise levels, PreView SAS was set up to control the sound level of the backup alarm.
When the sensor did not detect an object in the blind spot area, the backup alarm was active, but the volume was set at only slightly higher than the ambient noise. Once an object was detected, PreView SAS increased the sound level of the alarm to notify those outside of the vehicle of the reversing movement of the vehicle, while notifying the operator in the cab. The result was a reduction in noise level when there was no danger.
PreView sensors were 100% effective even with dirt, dust, mud, snow, fog, and the other extreme conditions common at any concrete site.
It Just Works
Florida City Combines Good Training with Good Equipment to Keep Incident Rate at Zero
Less than six months after he took over the City of Bunnell’s solid waste department, Perry Mitrano was subbing for one of his drivers and came within inches of killing someone. It was an anguished, unforgettable moment. And it reaffirmed to Mitrano, his department, and the residents of Bunnell that their modest investment in a PRECO Electronics PreView® Radar System was worth much more than the cost of the equipment itself.
Despite OSHA regulations calling for back-up alarms on large commercial vehicles, people continue to be injured and, tragically killed when trucks are being driven in reverse. For Perry Mitrano, Director of Solid Waste for the City of Bunnell, Florida, this is not an abstract observation. While backing up his trash truck in a condominium parking lot one day, he nearly ran over an elderly man who had knelt down behind the truck’s massive rear wheels to retrieve his car keys.
It Can Take More Than Being a Good Driver to be a Safe Driver
Mitrano has been around large commercial vehicles most of his life. In fact, in 2012 he out-performed 450 other drivers to take first place in the Mack Truck Driving Skills contest at the annual WasteExpo conference. He knows his way around trucks. Even so, he says, if it wasn’t for the PRECO radar system on his truck, the outcome in the parking lot that day could have been very different.
Beware the Back-end “Bubble”
“Backup cameras are wonderful. We use them on our truck and they help us avoid a lot of incidents,” Mitrano says. “But there is a zone between the bottom of the cameras and the ICC bar that I call the ‘bubble.’ It’s a blind spot where any objects that are lower than the bar don’t show up on your monitor. That’s where this gentleman was when the PRECO system picked him up and starting going off.”
“It might sound like a silly test. But we’re out in the community all day long and we want to make sure we know instantly if anything lower than the bar passes behind us. That could be a kid on a tricycle or a dog or who knows what. We navigate our vehicles around a lot of people, cars and objects every day, so we need to stay very alert.”
“We navigate our vehicles around a lot of people, cars and objects every day, so we need to stay very alert.” -Perry Mitrano
“If your radar picks them up, then you’ve got time to put your foot on the brake. And a stopped truck is a safe truck. Plain and simple.”
“The PRECO alarm is what reminds my drivers that they need to stop, get out and look for themselves.”
When It Comes to Safety, Pedestrians Can Become Creatures of Habit
In his career and as director of the city’s Solid Waste Department, Mitrano says he has learned a few things. He knows that his drivers spend more than a third of their average working day driving in reverse. And he knows that most people pay little attention to the beeping sound of a large truck backing up. In fact, research published years ago by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) concluded that people get used to the sound of alarms, not taking them as seriously as they should. Mitrano says his drivers see proof of this every day.
“Sometimes you see people in your rear view mirror. They hear you backing up. They’re waiting to give you the right of way. You’re waiting to let them go by. Finally you decide you’re going to move the truck—just as they decide to try and beat you across the street. You look back again and they’re gone. Maybe you spot them on your monitor screen, maybe not. But if your radar picks them up, then you’ve got time to put your foot on the brake. And a stopped truck is a safe truck. Plain and simple.”
At the End of the Day, It’s Up to Drivers to Take Safety Very Seriously
Situations like this point to another conclusion from the NIOSH report: Drivers who rely on backup beepers for safety can “lose the perception of responsibility for vigilant behavior.” Mitrano says it’s not unusual for some drivers to get lulled into complacency thinking that as long as their beeper is going off, people will get out of the way. The in-cab audible and visual alerts of the PRECO radar system make sure that complacency doesn’t set in.
Good Drivers + Good Equipment = Good Safety
Mitrano is proud of the fact that his department has gone more than six years now without an accident. He attributes this in part to the training he passes on to his drivers, and in part to the investment his department has made in safety equipment.
“I’m 58 years old, so I’m not an old guy. But I’m an old school driver. I was taught by a guy who said, ‘if you can’t see behind you, get out and look.’ That’s a pretty simple idea, right? The PRECO alarm is what reminds my drivers that they need to stop, get out and look for themselves.”