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Telematics and Job Site Safety


Construction Telematics

Telematics and Job Site Safety



Many equipment managers see the capabilities of both on-road and off-road telematics systems as they receive data from both vocational trucks and from all types of earthmoving machines. Some in the industry make the point that on-road telematics systems, because they have been in use longer than off-road systems, are more advanced in terms of the safety-related information they provide. Others in the industry, however, see things from a slightly different perspective.

“It’s not necessarily true that we’re behind on the off-road side,” says Mark Shea, product consultant, articulated dump trucks, John Deere Construction & Forestry. “It’s just that in some instances we haven’t yet fully utilized these systems. We have sensors all over these machines and can pull up data to analyze virtually any machine condition or operating situation.”

John Deere’s Tom Barnum, product consultant, four-wheel-drive loaders, makes the point also that data collection regarding safe machine operation might not be as critical on off-road sites as for on-road applications.

“On off-road sites,” says Barnum, “the supervisor often is in visual contact with operators and can react to improper behavior. But the truck driver is more independent, and the supervisor can’t visually see what’s happening. The off-road supervisor typically doesn’t need the level of data that the on-road supervisor might need.”

Tony Nicoletti, vice president, sales and business development, DPL Telematics, illustrates Barnum’s point by noting that a major concern for the on-road supervisor is speeding, an obvious safety risk.

“Telematics systems have progressed to the point that the safety manager can get a daily or weekly report that details infractions by speed, time, and location,” says Nicoletti, “allowing an opportunity to coach drivers. Newer technologies also offer the opportunity to track details about driver behavior—harsh braking, rapid acceleration, or erratic movements, for example—which can indicate unsafe practices and vehicle abuse.”

Among the more recent safety aspects of on-road telematics systems, says Nicoletti, is determining if the driver has the seatbelt fastened or if the airbag has activated. “If the truck slides off the road, hits a tree, and incapacitates the driver, an immediate alert is generated when the airbag deploys.”

That said, Thomas Coleman, CEM, heavy equipment manager, corporate, Waste Management, says that monitoring seatbelt usage in off-road machines also is becoming more prevalent, noting that the company has a particular brand of dozers and wheel loaders that reports this information via the telematics system, providing an immediate text or email alert to the supervisor if the belt is not fastened. Coleman also points out another machine feature, tracked by telematics, that he considers of great benefit in the interest of safety.

“A number of compactors on our sites are equipped with a single-lever steering system that must be manually locked out if the operator leaves the seat. If the telematics system senses that the armrest has been raised [to allow exiting the seat] without activating the lockout lever, an alert is sent to the supervisor, who can immediately address the situation. It’s so easy to lose focus or to take shortcuts when using heavy equipment, but those actions can place workers in harm’s way.”

Limiting use and access

Geo-fencing, as most know, allows telematics systems to set space and time limitations on machine operation. If these limits are violated, the system automatically sends an alert to a mobile device.

“From a safety standpoint, [geo-fencing] allows project managers to set boundary lines around ‘danger zones,’” says Aimee Hultzapple, telematics support specialist, Volvo Construction Equipment. “These borders can be set to wide areas—multiple miles, for example—or to specific areas of a job site. For example, waste facilities sometimes use geo-fencing to set perimeters around exhaust or burn-off valves to help operators avoid them.”

Heath Watton, regional manager, Southeastern Equipment Co., says that he has customers in the oil and gas industries who use the geo-fencing feature to limit how close machines above a certain weight can approach sensitive underground pipelines or underground structures.

DPL Telematics’ Nicoletti also notes that the time-limiting feature of geo-fencing can be used to reduce the risk of unauthorized use.

“We’ve seen instances of vandals having a demolition derby with machines or driving them into structures being built at the site,” says Nicoletti. “If someone is injured or there’s a fatality—it goes without saying, that’s a major liability. Being able to get an alert that something is operating outside of working hours reduces that liability. Better still, use the telematics system to lock the machine down during certain time periods with a remote-disable system.”

Preventing unauthorized use of such equipment as cranes, aerial work platforms, and forklifts is the idea behind OEM Data Delivery’s KeyPOD system, which communicates with the company’s MiniPOD data-transmission device. The system requires the operator to enter an identification code, which, if not recognized as that of an authorized user, will either prevent the machine from starting or illuminate a red light on the roof.

Preventing unauthorized use, however, is not limited to vandals or unqualified operators.

“Telematics systems that prevent machines from starting are obviously a theft deterrent,” says Nicoletti, “and theft can have safety and liability implications. For instance, if the thief doesn’t tie the machine down properly and it comes off the trailer and injures someone or causes property damage, the contractor might be placed at risk.”

As an added benefit, says Nicoletti, telematics data helps contractors evaluate complaints about the safe operation of their vehicles, whether cutting through residential neighborhoods, kicking up stones and breaking windshields, or causing damage from debris falling off the vehicle. Having detailed telematics history allows contractors to either validate or refute these claims.

System capabilities

Off-road telematics data that are readily available to the end user can vary with the particular system, the type of machine, and how the machine is equipped. Ken Calvert, director, machine systems, Komatsu America Corp., makes the point that some systems are designed to report primarily items that affect machine status—“the overall health of the machine, if you will,” he says.

“In terms of operator behavior,” says Calvert, “the data being reported from some systems are not immediate enough to allow timely intervention in situations that might result in an adverse outcome. The value of the data is to provide coaching opportunities for operators not following company-established rules for job-site behavior, such as exceeding speed limits.”

Calvert is of the opinion that machine owners who want more “robust” monitoring of operator behavior should request of machine manufacturers that such information be available in a timely manner. The point he makes about the immediacy of information reported via telematics is also well taken, and could in some instances be affected by the telematics system’s connectivity mode, whether by satellite or cellular system.

In some instances, safety implications of operator behavior can be inferred over time from telematics data, and the equipment dealer monitoring the data can intercede to assist machine owners in correcting problems.

“Brake usage and transmission speeds, for instance, are indicators that can be interpreted to assess operator behavior,” says John Deere’s Shea. “Dealers play a part in this by translating data into meaningful information.”

Waste Management’s Coleman cites the example of a truck in the fleet repeatedly sending alerts about high brake-oil temperature, allowing maintenance people to conclude that the operator was ignoring the retarder and using only the service brakes.

“Over-heated brakes are not effective on slopes,” says Coleman. “If we’re aware that the operator is not using the retarder, we can address the issue before it becomes critical.”

In other instances, data affecting safety is more direct and immediate. Volvo’s Hultzapple notes, for example, that the company’s haulers have a system that tests brake components and reports the pass/fail results through the Volvo telematics system (CareTrack).

Standard on John Deere haulers, says Shea, is a system that monitors both tire pressure and temperature, reporting information both to the operator and to the equipment manager via the John Deere telematics system, JDLink. The sensors for the system are strapped to the rim, inside the tire, to ensure greater accuracy. Exceeding load and speed ratings can rapidly create enough heat to ruin a tire, says Shea, risking both accidents and fire.

Coleman says that Waste Management has been testing tire-monitoring equipment for some time, starting with pressure-monitoring systems that did not communicate through telematics, but at least relieved the technician from having to physically use a gauge to check pressure and avoided getting dirt in the valve stem. More recently, Waste Management has been testing a system that uses in-tire sensors that report both pressure and temperature directly through a telematics system. The simplicity of direct-reporting, says Coleman, is what attracted the company to experiment with the system.

Yet another telematics safety-related feature for a number of off-road haulers is on-board weighing.

“Lights on the machine indicate load status to both the loader and hauler operators,” says Volvo’s Hultzapple, “but should the truck be overloaded, the telematics system sends an alert, informing the site manager that the machine has been loaded to the point that tipping could be a risk, possibly placing the operator and others on the job site in jeopardy.”

Incentives versus discipline

Stan Orr, FASAE, CAE, president & CSO of the Association of Equipment Management Professionals, takes note of an increasing number of companies that are using telematics data as incentives to promote safety, rather than as disciplinarian measures. The practice, he says, might be called the “gamification” of telematics, that is, according to Wikipedia, “the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts.”

“We’ve heard anecdotal comments about companies having checklists of safety and maintenance items that can be tracked by fault codes and the various telematics data points,” says Orr. “A competition of sorts is set among the operators, and whoever sets off the fewest codes of a particular type wins the game for that week and receives an incentive, maybe dinner or a bonus. Instead of the equipment manager chewing out the operator for over-revving the engine, the operator is rewarded for not doing it.”

Waste Management’s Coleman says that one of the company’s equipment managers posts the telematics data for hauler differential-lock usage in an effort to promote judicious use of the function, since locking differentials when not required accelerates tire wear. “It sets up a sense of competition among operators,” he says.

Jena Holtberg-Benge, director, John Deere WorkSight and ForestSight technologies, also sees telematics being used as a safety incentive.

“Using telematics as positive reinforcement of proper behavior—or as a training opportunity—improves the safety of the operation,” she says. “The on-road side is beginning to use telematics as a carrot, encouraging drivers to have good performance on the job and giving bonuses if they meet the parameters established for safe driving. This gives the opportunity to reward good behavior and to positively reinforce safe operation, rather than using telematics data to discipline.

“For example, in an off-road situation, say, in a quarry or steep-slope environment, you really don’t want to see telematics data indicating maximum speeds in relation to brake and retarder use. If it’s evident that the operator is avoiding these situations, then positive reinforcement will encourage continued good practices.”

Holtberg-Benge also passes along another reason machine owners should do all they can to positively influence safe operation.

“OSHA recently adjusted its penalties for inflation, and the result is a 78-percent increase in fines assessed for safety violations in the workplace,” she says. “We’ve had customers tell us that a contractor can be prevented from bidding if the OSHA recordable-incident rate of safety violations is too high. Reducing safety-related incidents enhances the prospect of bidding on jobs.”

In some instances, says John Deere’s Barnum, what appears from the telematics data to be improper or unsafe operation of the machine might really be indicating that the operator is not familiar with the machine’s features.

“Sometimes operators are simply unaware of a machine function and appreciate someone explaining it to them and why they should be using it,” says Barnum. “If the telematics data shows excessive brake use, for example, it’s possible that the operator is trying to drive through the brakes instead of using the clutch-cutoff. Approach the issue in a positive way by asking how often the clutch-cutoff is used. If you get a blank look, then you have an opportunity for training.

 “From the safety standpoint, the positive approach is better than the disciplinarian approach.”

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