EHS Spotlight: Traffic Jam ​

Aug 15, 2019, 20:32 PM
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July/August 2019

By Megan Quinn

Trucks, mobile equipment, and pedestrians cross paths in scrapyards each day. The interaction can lead to serious accidents, but creative solutions can reduce the risk of traffic-related injuries.

Traffic-JamOne afternoon, an employee of United Scrap Metal (Cicero, Ill.) was picking up her children from school when she noticed a mobile radar detector and “your speed” display designed to keep parents from driving too fast through the pickup lane. She thought back to all the visitor vehicles, mobile equipment, and fleet vehicles that routinely drive in, out, and around United Scrap Metal’s yards—and a flash of inspiration hit her. “The team member came back to our safety committee meeting and said, ‘These radar detectors would be really useful for the traffic in our yards,’” says Adam Wilk, United Scrap Metal’s national compliance manager. The company has since installed one as a beta test at its Cicero location to limit in-yard traffic to five miles an hour—a move that has since reduced the possibility of traffic accidents, he says.

In the hustle and bustle of daily operations, scrapyard traffic can pose as much of a safety risk as other types of distracted driving, says Andy Knudsen, general manager and co-founder of Zero Accident Consulting (Libertyville, Ill.), which offers risk-management services for insurance companies. “We have a lot of knowledge about the types of traffic problems that can occur in scrapyards because we are often provided with claim data on scrapyard accidents from the insurance companies we represent,” he says. In April, a customer visiting a scrapyard in Minneapolis died after being hit by a semitruck that was backing out of the yard. Other scrapyards have reported everything from minor fender benders to near misses in which an inattentive forklift driver narrowly avoided hitting nearby workers while on the job.

Creating a traffic management strategy can be tricky because no two scrapyards are alike. Some have cramped layouts that make it hard to maneuver trucks and mobile equipment, while others have blind spots or tight corners that add safety concerns. Yet yard managers have implemented a variety of creative traffic solutions to reduce accidents. “There’s always a lot going on out there,” says Jerry Heitman, safety and environmental health manager for Sadoff Iron & Metal Co. (Fond du Lac, Wis.). “You have to reduce distractions as much as possible.”

Go with the (traffic) flow

Good yard traffic management starts even before a vehicle enters the yard, Knudsen says. “First off, is there a clear entry point for people that makes it obvious where to go?” he asks. Visitors—including contractors, industrial and retail customers, inspectors, and new employees—should be able to drive into the correct part of the facility even if they are not familiar with it. This is especially important if the scrapyard has multiple entrances for different purposes, such as both a scale entrance and an employee-only side entrance. One of Sadoff’s facilities is set back from the road, so workers put up a 12-foot flag at the entrance. Its prominence gives drivers time to slow down and enter in the correct place. United Scrap Metal handles this by sending its new brokers and contractors an e-mail with a map of the facility and details such as the required personal protective equipment, the speed limit, and a list of facility rules. “That way, they know what we expect before they even get here,” Wilk says.

Once a vehicle enters a scrap processing facility, ideally it continues to travel in one direction instead of needing to back up or turn around to exit, Knudsen says. Some scrapyards he visits have lanes that guide retail traffic in one direction and industrial traffic in another, or they assign these two types of customers to entirely different entrances, both of which are far away from the parts of the scrapyard where mobile equipment operates. That’s the case for United Scrap Metal’s Cicero, Ill., facility, which has one entrance for its recycling center that’s open to the public, and a separate entrance for all commercial customers, Wilk says. “Ideally, you don’t really want any of your public traffic interacting with yard equipment,” Knudsen adds. “Even if your workers are generally very attentive, you don’t want to add too many variables that can cause distractions that can lead to accidents and injuries.”

Bluestar Metal Recycling (Elyria, Ohio), which serves a mix of industrial and retail customers, decided to redesign part of its yard in 2006 to create a drive-through system specifically for retail customers, who might not be aware of the possible safety hazards of a scrapyard, said Vice President Bill Ivancic in a 2007 interview with Scrap. It ensures their vehicles will not have to cross paths with mobile equipment or industrial truck traffic. Customers selling cans or other scrap metal who pull into the drive-through lane don’t need to get out of their car—a Bluestar employee will greet them and remove their materials instead. If they do choose to get out of the car, “the area is well-defined with signs and floor striping as to where customers have to stay,” Ivancic explained. Vehicles never need to back up or back out of the drive-through area, even when customers go to collect their payment, he said.

Sadoff’s headquarters in Fond du Lac, Wis., has “customer-safe” lanes where workers bring out totes to collect scrap from the customers’ vehicles. “They can unload everything there, and they are in a spot that doesn’t require PPE because they are not near processing equipment or mobile equipment,” Heitman says. Employees still keep a watchful eye on that area, however. “We’ve had some incidents where one customer hit the wrong pedal and ran into another customer’s car,” he says.

Seeing the signs

Because of space constraints or other layout issues, not every scrapyard can accommodate one-way traffic or drive-through setups. Wayfinding signs, arrows, lights, or other well-labeled signage can help make it clear where your facilities allow visitors and employees. At several of Sadoff’s locations, trucks with large loads follow painted arrows through the yard, then they look for brightly painted signs that label bunkers that correspond with their load. Drivers who can see their destination clearly are less distracted when they drive through the facility, Heitman says. “It’s an inexpensive solution—you just buy some stencils and spray paint.”

Signage is also important to inform visitors of the general rules of the facility. Sadoff prints a layout of the facility and a list of rules on the back of each weight ticket, but other yards post them in public areas like the front gate. Knudsen recommends posting scrapyard rules in an easy-to-see location, which can serve as a reminder to both visitors and employees as they come to the facility. “Posting the rules—even seemingly obvious things like visitors must wear closed-toed shoes—can make a difference,” he says.

A personal touch

The downside of signs is that even the biggest, most colorful signs don’t work if people don’t read them, says one Midwestern recycler. He says he gets frustrated when customers ignore posted signs or walk past safety cones meant to mark off-limits areas. “If people aren’t reading the signs and not paying attention, it’s an issue,” he says.

Some scrapyards have addressed that issue by having “greeters,” Knudsen says. “Their job is to say hello, ask [customers] what material they’re bringing, and ask them if they have been there before.” One Southern scrapyard does this particularly well, he adds. The yard assigns an employee to escort new customers throughout the facility at all times. This person radios other employees in the yard to let them know if a customer unfamiliar with the facility will be in their area. This protocol helps keep members of the public out of potentially hazardous areas, helps with traffic flow throughout the facility, and provides an added customer service element that has earned the company good Yelp and Google reviews.

United Scrap Metal has a similar traffic management team whose main job is to greet commercial truck drivers and orient them to the facility, Wilk says. The traffic managers, who wear special high-visibility PPE to separate them from yard team members, remind drivers of the facility’s safety rules, then point them to the correct staging area to wait until it’s safe to pull forward to the scale to load or unload scrap. The traffic managers stay in radio contact with each other and other workers in the yard to coordinate the scrap deliveries and make sure the trucks move smoothly and safely throughout the facility, avoiding fender benders or other accidents, he says.

Sadoff sometimes provides a similar “customer touch” when there’s a new customer who hasn’t visited a specific facility before and needs directions to the correct unloading location, Heitman says. The scale operator hands the customer off to an inspector, who gets in a golf cart and leads the customer to the correct unloading area. “Both vehicles are maintaining a safe speed in the facility because the customer is following the yard’s golf cart,” he says.

Training and technology

Worker safety is as big a priority as visitor safety, and scrapyard employees are at risk of yard traffic hazards, too. Whether it’s a large facility with multiple pieces of mobile equipment or a small yard with one wheel loader, it’s helpful to do a walk-through of your yard with your employees and review basic traffic safety elements, Knudsen suggests. “Mirrors, horns, and backup alarms should always be in place,” he says. Also, “keep [other workers] clear of areas where people are authorized to work in mobile equipment, and if possible, paint lanes for material handling equipment” to indicate where equipment can travel and employees can walk. Maintaining these painted lanes is also important, Wilk adds. United Scrap Metal’s safety team keeps a schedule of when to repaint the pedestrian walkways to make sure the high-visibility paint is easy to see all year, he says. 

During regular safety training, point out areas of the yard where mobile equipment and pedestrians are likely to cross paths. Wilk instructs team members to follow the 50-foot rule, meaning anyone on foot should stay 50 feet away from mobile equipment unless their job specifically calls for them to move closer. Employees at United Scrap Metal receive training on how to communicate via radio with mobile equipment operators. The company’s yard traffic managers, who sometimes need to stand near high-traffic areas to direct trucks through the yard, get additional training on how to use hand signals to communicate and the best places to stand so they are visible in large trucks’ mirrors, Wilk says. “In the early morning or as it’s getting dark, they carry glow sticks so they are always visible,” he adds.

Employees also can help brainstorm ways to improve traffic safety from both a worker and visitor perspective, Knudsen suggests. Tony Smith, ISRI’s safety outreach director, recommends that everyone in the facility—even workers who don’t operate such machinery—participate in blind spot training so they know the blind spots for forklifts, loaders, material handlers, and other mobile equipment.

Bruno Mannella, a health and safety manager for Gerdau Metals Recycling (Guelph, Ontario), says blind spot hazard awareness training has been a very effective and popular training tool. First, employees watch a training video the company made with help from Multimedia Training Systems (Pittsburgh). Every employee then takes turns “getting in one or more of our scrap material handlers, loaders, mobile shears, skid-steers, or forklifts to get the vantage point of what an operator sees when operating this machinery,” he says. Many are surprised at how easy it is for a worker to disappear into a blind spot, he says. “The training exercise really puts pedestrian safety into perspective for them because they get to experience firsthand how many times a pedestrian comes out of their field of view when the person is moving in the yard.”

Traffic-related near-miss incidents are scary, but safety managers should use them as a valuable training tool instead of sweeping them under the rug, Heitman says. During one long Wisconsin winter, a worker at a Sadoff facility went outside to talk to a loader operator who was cleaning up some material in the yard. The worker on foot slipped on some ice and fell, disappearing from the operator’s view just as he backed the loader up. Workers are supposed to be in radio contact with the operator before approaching mobile equipment, but in this case, neither the operator nor the worker had talked before the incident occurred, meaning the operator had no idea anyone was behind him. Luckily, no one was hurt, but a security camera captured the incident and it became a teachable moment. “You always want to make sure there’s communication using radios. Don’t assume the operator knows what’s happening,” Heitman says.

Some scrapyards are beginning to invest in mobile equipment with more advanced backup cameras or other safety devices meant to warn operators and pedestrians of an oncoming collision long before it happens, Knudsen says. “The technology can be expensive, but it can work well,” he says. Commodor Hall, ISRI’s transportation safety director, says recyclers can learn from the mining industry, which has been using devices such as the Hit-Not proximity detection system to prevent traffic accidents. Employees wear a small device on their PPE that uses low-frequency magnetic fields to detect when the person is too close to oncoming mobile equipment and sound an alarm. The mobile equipment operator hears and feels the same alarm, says Frederick Energy Products (Huntsville, Ala.), the maker of Hit-Not.

Mannella says Gerdau’s metal recycling operations are beginning to outfit some loaders with either Hit-Not or a pedestrian detection system called Blaxtair, which uses steroscopic sensors and cameras and does not require individuals to wear a device to be “seen.” Gerdau already equips its mobile closed-cab equipment with rearview cameras that help operators see what otherwise would be blind spots, but for them to work, “the operator has to be looking at their display monitor to see what’s in their blind spots,” he says. The Blaxtair system detects where the pedestrian is and sounds an alarm, he says.

Knudsen, Mannella, and others agree that technology can help save lives, but it’s just one component of a strategy to eliminate traffic hazards in the yard. Continually noting areas needing improvement, engineering traffic to flow more safely, getting all employees involved in sharing ideas and reporting near misses, and following traffic safety protocols can all help keep employees and visitors safe, “even when the yard is at its most hectic,” Heitman says.

Megan Quinn is senior reporter/writer for Scrap.

Serious accidents can happen when trucks, mobile equipment, and pedestrians cross paths in scrapyards. Innovative solutions can help reduce injury risks.

  • 2019
  • Jul_Aug

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