Safety risks increased, or created, by distraction are a problem as relevant to occupational health and safety (OHS) as it is across society. There are analogue solutions – remove the distracting devices – and technological solutions that are often embedded in the distracting device. Sometimes there are other solutions and one is being trialled at a small intersection in Melbourne.
These illuminated tactile pavers have been embedded in the footpath applying the logic that as people are looking down at their phone screens, a bright contrasting floor level background should attract their attention. These footpath lights are synchronised with the pedestrian traffic lights, basically bringing the traffic signals within the peripheral vision of pedestrians.
Several variations on this concept have been trialled around the world for traffic and pedestrian control but they may be more usefully applied in some workplaces, especially where passive hazard signs have become normalised.
Whether the relocation of these signals are efficient depends on the measure applied. Will they cause distracted pedestrians to look up? Maybe. Will they cause them to stop at the kerb? Maybe. Where such devices may be more applicable through is not to change behaviour but to reinforce existing rules in a fresh way, and this is where the concept could help OHS.
Tactile paving is supposed to assist pedestrians with low vision to identify risks, such as kerbs and stairs. Depending of the shape of the tactile pavers, they are also intended to direct people to specific locations, such as bus stops. How people whose vision deteriorates toward blindness are expected to learn about these aids is a bit of a mystery.
The functional state of these tiles is also often poor, especially if these tiles are frequently driven over, like at traffic islands or pedestrian crossings. Not only does this remove the benefit of the tiles, it increases the tripping hazards for all pedestrians, and at high risk areas.
Many railway platform edges include a combination of yellow lines, tactile pavers, white paint and “Mind The Gap” writing. These are designed to establish a buffer zone between moving trains and waiting passengers. They also rely on establishing a contrast of colours to aid in detecting the platform edge so that people do not fall into the pit. They have been remarkably efficient in informing passengers about safety and risks and in preventing falls through this administrative control. It is low-tech but works.
Technological change has provided the opportunity for railway companies to pimp up these administrative controls to increase the visibility of the safety signage, especially, at night times. This could be of immense benefit to low-vision passengers, of which there are many. However, the introduction of illuminated signs in the rail corridor, especially any combination of red or green, would be problematic for train drivers.
Many employers seem comfortable with relying on administrative controls such as signage to control hazards. A risk assessment may result in signage being the most practicable option but that does not mean that once a sign is nailed to the wall or painted on the floor, there is nothing more to do. Illuminated tactile paving may be a useful way to refresh, or reinforce, existing signage in a way that pedestrians are unlikely to ignore.
For instance, the most recommended controls for pedestrian and forklift hazards seems to be to separate the two by railings, fences, barriers or some other engineering control (if you can’t keep pedestrians away all the time). Illuminated tiles may be useful to consider at the pedestrian/vehicle crossing points, especially in workplaces that may have low lighting or decreased line of sight due to racking. These tiles should be flat to the floor as the tactile element is designed for low-vision people. An example of a recessed illuminated strip from 2017 is below:
Such illuminated signs may be found to be impractical or too costly BUT there will be situations in many workplaces where such technology should be considered as a part of the risk assessment process. It should also be remembered that this is a fairly new application of this type of technology which often offers early users the chance to tailor the product for specific needs.
Below is the 2016 video from Melbourne design company Buro-North that originally caught my attention. The fact that the tiles are still being trialled rather than implemented is an issue that SafetyAtWorkBlog will be following up.