The forest industry experiences some of the highest fatality rates among the industrial sectors in Canada. Many injuries and fatalities resulted from workers being struck by an object or piece of equipment. The proportion of cases in which vision or lack of good visibility was the principle factor or contributing cause is significant. Blind spots, obstructions, and poor lighting conditions are the most common factors contributing to vision-related fatalities.
The nature of forest industry sites often requires ground workers and heavy equipment to operate in close proximity. Proximity detection and alert technologies (PDAT) are already used by other industries such as construction and mining. Recently, FPInnovations researchers tested a PDAT system under typical operational conditions at Canfor’s sawmill in Prince George.
The system was a magnetic field–based proximity detection system that alerts both the heavy equipment operator and the pedestrian every time the magnetic warning zone, created around the machine, is broken. The system acts as a marker with two zones, Warning and Danger, which are indicated by an LED light and audible sounder for the pedestrian and equipment driver simultaneously. Several pieces of rolling heavy equipment are equipped with a magnetic-field generator while personnel are wearing a proximity sensor that detects the magnetic field from the generator and initiates warnings.
FPInnovations researchers are assessing the reliability of the system, particularly the correlation between the calibrated and actual detection range as well as its capability to detect and warn through obstacles like lumber decks, metal walls or heavy equipment.
Trials were designed to emulate typical interactions between workers on foot and heavy forklifts working in the shipping area, which is one of the busiest sites at the mill. Preliminary results show that in 100% of the cases, the PDAT system detected a warning/danger zone breach at an actual distance near the calibrated range, and frequently exceeded it. There were no significant differences in detecting distances between open and obstructed view conditions. However, choosing the appropriate calibrating range is a challenge since many variables must be considered to achieve an optimal range. The impact of operational equipment speed, nature of work and task, as well as number of pedestrians working in close proximity needs further exploration to better understand the system’s optimal use, strengths, and weaknesses.