Most safety devices have been designed for refuse collection vehicles, but what about vacuum sweepers? Malcolm Bates visits a sweeper operator with ‘a clear vision’ on that very issue.
There have been plenty of new safety systems aimed at reducing injuries to operatives in the waste and recycling sector, as well as to pedestrians and cyclists. But most have been designed to be fitted to refuse collection vehicles (RCVs). What about vacuum sweepers?
In many ways, Martin Woodgate is entirely typical of contractors involved in the wider waste, recycling and cleansing sectors. Twenty years ago, he started out
the hard way by purchasing a secondhand truck-mounted sweeper, which he drove – and fixed – himself.
Based beside the busy M25 Motorway ringroad that encircles London, his initial contracts tended to come about either as a result of a local council (commune) machine suffering unplanned downtime, or another sweeper hire contractor being unable to supply a machine at short notice.
In other words, he was at the end of the sweeper ‘food chain’ and had to take whatever jobs came up. Today? His company, C&M Plant, has a ‘blue chip’ customer base.
Twenty years experience has taught Martin pretty much all there is to know about operating truckmounted vacuum sweepers in one of the busiest, most demanding urban environments in Europe.
What sort of lessons has he ‘learned the hard way’ then? Several. Having started out with secondhand equipment, he’s learned that buying the best – and then looking after it – pays dividends. In the early days, sweepers were hired-out to customers on a ‘self drive’ basis and often came back needing expensive repairs. Today C&M Plant hires sweepers out on an almost exclusive ‘with driver’ basis to reduce damage.
The current fleet comprises DAF and Renault-based Johnston and Scarab truckmounts and the company is careful when recruiting new drivers, encouraging them to look after ‘their’ vehicles. “Having started out as a driver myself, I know that it’s often the little things that can cause frustration to drivers,” he explains. “So our drivers are encouraged to tell us what we can do to help make their job easier, safer or more efficient,” he adds.
It’s an approach that has not only resulted in the units operated by C&M Plant being amongst the cleanest and most highly-specced machines in London, winning the company prestigious contracts such as ‘Crossrail’, it has also thrust Martin Woodgate to the forefront of the industry by his calling for higher standards of sweeper safety as well – even though the extra equipment adds to the cost of a new machine.
IT’S A VISION THING
Examples? Firstly, all the latest C&M Plant truck-mounts have colour-coded front bumpers and specially-finished mirrors, steps and other safety-related fittings picked-out in bright ‘traffic yellow’ so they stand out. In addition, a full 360-degree CCTV system is installed, together with a ‘driver cam’ and a special ‘right turn’ camera installation that activates the driver’s in-cab screen as soon as the right turn indicator is engaged.
In the UK (and other right-hand steering markets), left-hand drive chassis used for truck-mounted sweepers, a right turn in heavy traffic can present a ‘blind spot’ when turning, so to be doubly sure, all new sweepers are specified with a glazed lower window in the ‘offside’ cab door as well.
Sweepers often work at night or in poor lighting conditions. This raises other safety-related issues, as Martin Woodgate explains. “Because they are moving slowly when working, sweepers must be seen as soon as possible by other road users. But because yellow beacons are commonplace, they are often taken for granted by cyclists and pedestrians. So our units have extra high intensity flashing yellow lights, front, side and rear, as well,” he explains.
A PIVOTAL MOMENT
But it was an incident experienced by a C&M Plant sweeper driver involving a mother pushing a child in a pushchair that focussed Martin Woodgate’s attention on safety and has today made him something of a ‘safety guru’. “One of our drivers was sweeping a busy neighbourhood shopping street, when he noticed a young mother pushing a pushchair close to the edge of the kerb.
She was texting on her mobile phone and was not looking where she was going,” Martin explained. If you’re already feeling concerned at an impending incident, you’re right to do so. “As the pushchair drew level with the sweeper, the driver noticed the child was holding a toy and attempting to touch the kerb brush as it passed,” Martin recalls. It’s OK. Nothing happened. But it could have done.
A toy could have got caught in the rotating brush, shattered and caused injury. But what if it had been a scarf? It could have pulled the child out of the pushchair in seconds. It could have been fatal.
The incident helped highlight a potential issue – pedestrians and cyclists don’t consider the potential danger of getting close to a sweeper while it is working. So as a result, C&M Plant now fits high-viz yellow discs onto the top of rotating brushes and flashing LED lights on them.
For night working, the whole brush gear is illuminated by LED lamps and to further increase safety around the brush area, C&M Plant is advocating use of a domed cover to the kerb brushes.
‘LONE WORKER’ CONCERNS
These features might sound modest to install. As indeed they are. But together, they are a significant attempt to improve sweeper safety. There is however more to sweeper operations than just ‘sweeping’. Much of the work involves the driver having to leave the cab – ei ther to unblock the pick-up trap, or nozzle, to operate the wanderhose, or to use the high pressure lance when washing street signs.
“As drivers work alone, as employers we have to consider their safety when they are working outside of the cab,” Martin Woodgate explains. “That has to include measures to help prevent violence being used against drivers, or the potential theft of the vehicle,” he adds. “The problem is, sweepers need the engine running and the PTO engaged while working and that represents a security risk, as well as a potential source of injury to our drivers,” Martin Woodgate suggests. He’s right. And that’s without even considering any terrorist threat ...
The solution? With no suitable system on the market, Martin Woodgate and his workshop manager Tony Pennell set out to design and build one. After two years development and trials – and the granting of UK Type Approval – the unit is now fitted to all sweepers in the modest C&M Plant fleet.
How does it work? Utilising the handbrake (parking brake) circuit, a valve prevents the PTO being engaged until the brake has been activated. The flipside is, the safety interlock prevents the vehicle being driven away if the PTO is still engaged – in effect immobilising it, even if the brake control itself is released.
So what next? It’s still early days, but the C&M ‘PTO Safety Interlock’ is simple to fit – and retrofit – and could become a major contributor to the safety of any vehicle required to work with the PTO running, while the cab is unattended. This could include skip trucks, tipper/ grab units and yes, even refuse collec
tion vehicles (RCVs). Currently, C&M Plant is having the Interlock manufactured in small numbers in the UK, but more recently, Martin Woodgate’s work on sweeper safety has come to the attention of Faun Viatec in Germany, where a new ‘SSV’ (Sweeper Safety Vehicle) is being jointly developed to promote the whole subject of safety and security.
When complete early next year, the prototype SSV will incorporate a full range of safety measures and will be put to work on long-term trial in London to enable other operators, potential hirers and safety campaigners to see the benefits for themselves.
As Austin Anderson, UK development manager at Faun Viatec, confirms, “Local councils, commercial contractors and construction industry hirers throughout the world are increasingly looking for efficient, low-emissions equipment to work on their contracts.
But enhanced pedestrian and cyclist-friendly safety features are also now increasingly seen as the difference between winning a contract or not,” he explains. “So on that basis, we at Faun Viatec are excited to be working together with C&M Plant on this new project vehicle.”
What can we conclude from this story? Work hard and you will succeed? Attention to detail pays dividends? Giving drivers ‘ownership’ of their environment, can improve both productivity and safety? And if you’re not happy with things the way they are, do something about it yourself? All of the above, probably!