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Equipment: Visibility comes into focus

Malcolm Kent

Discussions in Europe could result in changes to visibility standards that would have far reaching effects on manufacturers.

The safety of machinery has always been a key attribute for manufacturers to work on, as if performance, cost, economy, reliability and durability were not enough to keep them occupied. 

Since the introduction of single market legislation in Europe, the major piece of legislation on this is what now gets called the Machinery Directive. 

The requirement for visibility in the directive is all-encompassing, thus: “Visibility from the driving position must be such that the driver can, in complete safety for himself and the exposed persons, operate the machinery and its tools in their foreseeable conditions of use. Where necessary, appropriate devices must be provided to remedy hazards due to inadequate direct vision.

Remember those words “in complete safety”. That is a big ask. Of course, as the scope of the directive covers all machines from gigantic automotive presses to juicers, there is no detail as to what that actually means for machines as different from each other as a mini excavator and a 300 tonne dump truck. Therefore the technical details for earthmoving machinery have been thrashed out through the workings of the International Standards Organisation (ISO). 

There are ISO standards for many safety aspects of earthmoving machinery, such as braking, steering, strength of roll over protection structure (ROPS) and so on, but none have the same high profile at the moment as the visibility standard ISO 5006. The latest edition of this was published in 2006 (yes, that does seem a long time ago) and that was in response to a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) campaign on visibility in 1998. Nobody said that ISO procedures were slick.

Various technological aids for the detection of obstructions and people were considered during the development of the 2006 edition, but it was decided that at that time they were not sufficiently developed for the performance standard to be completely based on their use. So it has stayed based mainly on what was possible just by the use of direct vision and mirrors. Hence the ‘fish-eye’ mirrors seen on the backs of many machines today. 

Of course, there is nothing stopping anyone going further than the minimum requirement, leading to the number of machines with camera systems installed on them.

A project to update ISO 5006 somewhat was kicked off in 2010, but things have rather been brought to a head by a single person.  Rudy Clemens, of Germany, sent a petition to the European Parliament complaining of deficiencies in the standard. His complaint claims that the standard is not good enough to prevent the risk of accidents because of the allowable blind spots. 

The European Commission initially responded that there is a European Directive requiring the separation of traffic and pedestrians on construction sites so that the above scenario should not occur, but when pushed further they have now concluded that the standard is indeed not up to scratch. 

They have stated further that they will request the European Parliament to raise a formal objection against the standard. Is this starting to sound like a game of Pass The Parcel? If the formal objection is raised and upheld then all bets are off in terms of what manufacturers need to do. 

Strictly speaking, they need to comply with the wording in the Directive, (remember “in complete safety”?) but they will also each need to decide for themselves how far the state of the art allows this to be achieved. 

There is a real risk here that customers and enforcers (such as the HSE) will expect to see cameras on machines regardless of how effective they are. The market could be in for a period of confusion where there are many competing claims about which systems are legal and which are not.

Meanwhile, the ISO project on the standard trundles on, but don’t hold your breath for the result.

  • Malcolm Kent is senior technical consultant at the Construction Equipment Association


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