Tired, distracted machine operators are a leading cause of accidents in the earth-moving world. The problem, rooted in human physiology, is insidious, cumulative and complex. But the new fatigue and distraction risk management solution from Caterpillar is showing customers ways to mitigate the hazard – and proving that the company’s commitment to innovation goes ‘beyond the iron.’
It began with mining customers raising a concern that seemed a little outside a Caterpillar core competency.
The scheduling demands of the miners’ 24/7 operations were playing havoc with the sleep patterns of a small, but significant percentage of their employees – including some of their most talented heavy equipment operators.
Many of those affected were having difficulty synchronizing their internal clocks with job schedules that required them to work during the nighttime and to sleep during the day. So they weren’t getting enough rest and were starting shifts already fatigued. The effects were insidious and cumulative, so as the work week dragged on, operators were increasingly inattentive and impaired. Some even dozed off in the driver’s seat.
“These customers had tremendous risk that they didn’t know how to address,” says David Edwards, safety solutions manager with Caterpillar Global Mining. “They told us bluntly, ‘We have operators falling asleep at the wheel in our big haul trucks.’”
The mining customers conceded it was the most human of human resource issues, and an especially difficult one at that, not something that was likely to be solved with equipment and technology alone.
Traditional OEMs probably would have redirected the conversation towards selling more iron. Not Caterpillar.
What began in 2007 with an industry white paper authored by Caterpillar examining the issue of operator fatigue and distraction has turned into a promising new technology-enabled business within the Caterpillar Safety Services division. Dozens of customers are engaging the team’s consultants.
Because the underlying issue – the circadian rhythm – is hardwired into humans, the problem of fatigue, particularly with nighttime work, cannot be eliminated entirely. Caterpillar’s fatigue solution, however, helps minimize its effects throughout jobsites.
Bringing together the best anti-fatigue technologies on the market with Caterpillar’s deep expertise in safety improvement and change management, the Fatigue Risk Management System™ gives customers a comprehensive way to measure risk, mitigate it and manage the hazard.
A Closer Look
The Vigo Coal Company, which operates a mine in Indiana, has a half dozen pieces of earth-moving equipment on the sprawling site. But the giant load shovel and the five haul trucks working here are all painted orange, not Caterpillar yellow. To the old-fashioned type, the sort who clings to the notion that Caterpillar is all about the iron and nothing but the iron, the jobsite looks an awful lot like a missed opportunity.
But that isn’t the way Todd Dawson sees it. Dawson, a project manager with Caterpillar Safety Services who joined the company after a long career with a fatigue risk management company, says appearances are deceiving. Caterpillar is in fact winning here.
Vigo has just wrapped up a trial of the Driver Safety System™ (DSS). The technology-enabled monitoring service helps mining and construction clients -- and other users of big equipment – understand the scope of the problem and to quantify its cost by merging operator data compiled by wearable and in-cab anti-fatigue technologies with machine data.
But that’s just the beginning. Caterpillar then helps customers cut the risk with a consulting service that helps change the attitudes, actions, behaviors and beliefs of the workers in the customer’s organization through both rapid- improvement workshops as well as longer-term change management assistance.
It’s a comprehensive approach, one that draws on Caterpillar’s own experience reducing mishaps and increasing quality, and one that a number of key Cat customers are beginning to roll out at worksites around the world.
But its implementation by Vigo on a site where Cat equipment isn’t at work shows the solution’s potential for building the brand and growing the business in unexpected places, too.
‘Beyond The Iron’
Like a lot of companies that run 24/7 operations, Vigo knew that driver fatigue was an issue, but it didn’t know just how big the problem was.
The company’s top priority was avoiding worksite incidents and injuries, but like any miner it was also focused on cost per ton. Leaders knew that fatigued drivers do things that have expensive outcomes even if accidents are avoided -- like stepping on and off the gas (bad for fuel economy) and drifting into the berm (tough on tires).
So Vigo engaged Caterpillar Safety Services in a trial of the DSS to help quantify the risk. The discovery was shocking. In just one week of monitoring six haul trucks, 42 fatigue events were recorded. One operator fell asleep for periods of five-to-six seconds at a time.
“We suspected fatigue events were occurring, but we had no idea just how many,” says Nathan Brownell, Vigo’s general manager. “We were also surprised to see a lot of them happening on ramps, not necessarily long stretches.”
Vigo was so impressed with the trial results that it decided to roll out the in-cab monitoring technology site-wide – and to engage Caterpillar consultants as it adopts new procedures – including a software-empowered fatigue avoidance shift scheduling tool – that will improve worker safety and increase the productivity and profitability of its operations.
“It became a no-brainer to equip all of our trucks,” says Brownell. “If we can prevent one injury, it’s worth it.”
So on this site Caterpillar is delivering something other than iron, something that will make the operations more productive while increasing operator safety and lowering the cost of coal extracted here.
“We’re challenging a lot of preconceived notions about what Caterpillar is with this service, reinventing ourselves as problem-solvers whose solutions don’t always involve iron,” says Tim Crane, manager of Caterpillar Safety Services. “And in the process, we’re getting in front of all kinds of potential customers and finding new ways to show them the power of Caterpillar.”
Technology + People + Process = FRMS
Three best-in-class technologies – brought together in a unique suite by Caterpillar – form the front end of the Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS).
The Cat Smartband, powered by Fatigue Science, is a wrist-worn device that measures sleep quantity and quality, providing visibility to the connection between sleep, fatigue and accident risk on and off the jobsite.
The Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool (FAST), developed by the U.S. military, helps supervisors model different shift schedules to determine fatigue vulnerabilities and avoid them.
In-cab cameras with patented eye and head tracking algorithms, developed by Seeing Machines, are installed and used to detect operator fatigue and distraction in real-time. If the camera detects the onset of a micro-sleep event – that fraction of a second nod off we’ve all experienced at least once – the driver’s seat shakes. If it detects what it suspects is a distraction event, an in-cab alarm sounds.
Each time the alert system activates, safety advisers working in Caterpillar’s 24/7 Fleet Monitoring Center in Peoria, Illinois, review the event. If fatigue or distraction is confirmed, the safety adviser will telephone a supervisor at the jobsite. What happens next depends on the customer’s own protocol for incident response. The operator may be swapped out or called in for a break.
“To ensure a valid analysis and support the integrity of the process, each event is double-classified, meaning it is reviewed by two safety advisers before a call is made to the site,” says Danielle Mackie, safety monitoring supervisor.
The point is not to implicate operators, but to increase everyone’s visibility of a naturally occurring risk. “It’s not a punitive tool,” Dawson says. “It’s a resource that gives customers and their employees the facts and data to make improvements to their processes.”
The in-cab camera, Smartbands and scheduling tool comprise just one prong of the new service, allowing companies to understand their exposure. Armed with the details and facts the technologies provide, Caterpillar consultants like Dawson work with customers to implement organizational changes needed to improve operators’ fitness for duty every time they climb into a cab.
“We engage with everyone from the executive team to the drivers,” Dawson says, “and we make sure that safety becomes part of everything they do, that it’s built into all their processes, so that whenever they talk about their operations, they’re talking about safety as well productivity.”