Editors’ Blog

Safety technologies help manage operator fatigue

By |  April 13, 2017
The Cat Smartband monitors users’ alertness throughout the workday. Photo courtesy of Cat

The Cat Smartband monitors users’ alertness throughout
the workday. Photo courtesy of Cat

A haul truck driver comes to work one morning after spending a long night in the emergency room with his wife.

He opts to do his job as usual, despite feeling fatigued. But not long after his shift starts, he dozes off at the wheel and almost runs into another vehicle.

Incidents related to fatigue such as this one are not uncommon in the aggregate industry, as equipment operators work long shifts performing monotonous tasks.

“The overwhelming majority of incidents that occur in the aggregate and mining industries are related to fatigue,” says Silvano Angelone, project manager in human fatigue at Caterpillar. “It’s a critical issue to target in order to reduce risk at operations.”

Cat showcased some of its latest fatigue risk management technologies, such as its Smartband and Driver Safety System, at the Tech Experience plaza during ConExpo-Con/Agg 2017. Those technologies analyze users’ fatigue levels to let them know if it is safe for them to work. Show attendees tested their own alertness levels with these two technologies.

The Cat Smartband is a wearable device, which is similar in appearance to a Fitbit, that measures quantity and quality of sleep, as well as activity levels throughout the day. The technology is about 93 percent as accurate as polysomnography studies performed in laboratories, Angelone says.

Individuals can use Cat Smartband for personal use, and supervisors can use it to monitor employees’ alertness levels. The device connects with a smartphone app that lets users know their tiredness levels throughout the day.

The Cat Driver Safety System monitors equipment operator alertness from within the cab. Photo courtesy of Cat

The Cat Driver Safety System monitors equipment operator
alertness from within the cab. Photo courtesy of Cat

For example, if the device rates users at about 90.3 percent alertness, then users will know they should be able to perform work well. Yet if those numbers dip to 70 percent or below, then users will know they are too fatigued to perform the job safely.

“We can’t always gauge how tired we are,” Angelone says. “We’re bad at that on our own. This puts an actual number on your tiredness levels.”

Cat also offers its Driver Safety System to limit fatigue among equipment operators. The Driver Safety System includes a small camera that can be placed in mobile equipment that monitors an operator’s alertness. If it senses an operator is falling asleep, an alarm sounds and the seat vibrates to wake the operator.

“Often when we become fatigued, we may start daydreaming,” Angelone says. “Maybe the operator starts staring out the side window of the vehicle for a few seconds and doesn’t realize it. Yet this is an unsafe act, so the system alerts the driver of this.”

The system reports any incidents to a monitoring center in Peoria, Illinois, where a Cat safety adviser reviews and classifies all reported events. When a fatigue event is confirmed, the safety adviser calls the job site’s management. In addition, supervisors should talk face-to-face with operators to see how they are doing if two or more fatigue events occur during their shift.

Although an operation might not want to invest in fatigue safety technologies, this investment is much more cost efficient than the cost of an incident or a life, Angelone says.

“These technologies can have a huge impact on the safety of a site,” he says. “Just last year alone, we were able to lower fatigue events at one site by around 86 percent using this technology. We can’t ever be sure how often fatigue events occur at a site until we monitor it.”

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