Executive Q&A: How video is helping eliminate safety threats in the collection industry

Executive Q&A: How video is helping eliminate safety threats in the collection industry

SmartDrive COO Jason Palmer discusses how onboard video systems are changing the way waste is collected.

June 13, 2018

New onboard video technologies have opened the door to better safety, liability protection and cost savings for today’s waste haulers. Waste Today talked with Jason Palmer, chief operating officer of San Diego-based SmartDrive, to discuss how these fleet systems are changing the way waste is collected.  

Waste Today (WT): Waste collection is notoriously one of the most dangerous industries. Why do you think that is?

Jason Palmer (JP): There are numerous factors that contribute to the dangerous nature of waste collection. First, the industry utilizes heavy, powerful machinery that, if not used properly, can lead to serious injury or death. Unique to the industry, a waste collector’s workspace is in and around these vehicles, typically with one person driving and the other getting in and out of the vehicle at designated stops. If the driver of the collection vehicle is not paying careful attention to surroundings and the location of the employee operating outside of the vehicle, it quickly becomes a hazardous situation.

Additionally, as collectors travel through neighborhoods, there is a greater chance of children running or biking in front of or around the vehicle. With major blind spots on waste collection trucks, especially while backing, this is an extremely dangerous combination. Also, unlike most heavy equipment fleet operations, waste collection necessitates work from both within and outside the vehicle, sometimes with a collector riding on the back of the truck, continually jumping on and off. Unforeseen road conditions, general exposure to traffic and temperamental weather all contribute to hazardous working conditions. Risk factors associated with waste management not only affect the vehicle operators, but also can endanger nearby commuters and property, which reinforces the industry’s reputation for danger. 

WT: What are some of the most common preventable accidents you see in the waste collection space?

JP: Preventable collisions occur when proper safety guidelines aren’t followed. This can be anything from loaders falling from the vehicle, misuse of equipment or simple mismanagement of space that can lead to personal injury or property damage. For example, if a container isn’t fully secured to the waste vehicle, it poses a significant threat to anything within its swinging radius. Unsurprisingly, distracted driving—particularly cell phone use—and unsafe driving behaviors are among the biggest contributors to preventable collisions. 

WT: How can technology and training better equip waste collection workers to avoid these accidents?

JP: With advanced technology and improved training, waste fleets can ensure they are taking the necessary steps to reducing preventable accidents. Increasingly, waste fleets are adopting telematics and video-based safety programs, which offer real-time insights and transportation intelligence that is capable of transforming massive amounts of data from a variety of onboard and back-office systems into actionable insights, allowing managers and drivers to take proactive steps to improve safety. Video provides fleet managers invaluable context to the circumstances of each collision or risky incident, enabling targeted training and personalized coaching to improve driver performance and safety. This allows fleet managers to zero in on the highest risk skills and areas where standard operating procedures and safety guidelines are not being followed—before a collision or incident occurs, which helps to bring employees home safely.

WT: What kinds of new technologies are hitting the market that can better safeguard today’s workers?

JP: As more and more waste fleets adopt video-based safety and analytics solutions, they are realizing significant benefits. With a fully managed video safety program, fleet managers are able to review data in real time and target driver coaching to improve driver performance, eliminate risky driving behavior and prevent collisions. Only with video do fleet managers have visibility to contextual information regarding when the driver was speeding, practicing unsafe following distances, failing to look behind the vehicle before backing, etc., allowing them to intervene before it causes harm to the driver, another person or property.

In addition to video-based safety programs, a variety of other technologies are positively impacting waste collection fleet safety. For instance, collision avoidance systems can give visual or audible guidance providing direction for safe following, which can help to train drivers to maintain proper following distance, improving time to react to situations that happen out on the road. When something serious happens, they can also provide immediate warning of an impending collision. Remote diagnostics are critical for identifying emergent mechanical or system failures and routing vehicles for service to ensure driver and fleet safety. Systems that automate the tracking and management of driver hours can assist in curbing driver fatigue and limiting preventable accidents.

WT: How can adopting some of these newer technologies benefit businesses and business owners in the long run?   

JP: In addition to improving safety, video-based solutions save significant costs by reducing frequency of collisions, thus saving on costs associated with legal claims and vehicle and property damages. The costs savings are even more significant when video can exonerate the driver and company in collisions in which another party was at fault. With a managed service video safety platform, within minutes of a collision, fleet managers will know exactly what transpired. Services that include options to add multiple camera views or to access and leverage existing cameras on the vehicle provide an even more complete picture of the surrounding areas and any nearby pedestrians, etc., leaving no question as to what really happened. This mitigates the risk of false accusations and can prevent a costly claim. If the waste collection driver is at fault, the cause of the collision can be easily determined, speeding the claims resolution process and saving time and money. 

Video insights also play a role in improved customer service by enabling follow-up conversations with customers about issues like inaccessible waste containers. Footage that shows overflowing bins can lead to additional revenue opportunities by facilitating timely sales calls to increase frequency of pickup.

WT: How open have drivers been to video technology being adopted on their trucks? Is there a fear that they’ll constantly be “under the microscope?”

JP: With drivers, especially those who have been in the industry for decades, the focus lies on trust and respect from within their company. A video safety program works best when fleets are transparent and open in their communication and approach to implementation. By emphasizing that a video safety program is there to be used as performance training, to improve fleet safety by helping drivers improve their skills and to exonerate drivers when they are not at fault in a collision, fleets can successfully and seamlessly ensure driver buy-in. By incentivizing driver improvement through monetary or non-monetary rewards; approaching driver coaching as a collaborative, constructive conversation; and reaffirming a shared commitment to bring drivers home safely, fleet management can optimize driver acceptance. Many drivers point to the exoneration benefits, and indicate they won’t work for a fleet that doesn’t have a video-based safety program in place.