Employers replacing back-up alarms on vehicles with white noise
In this file photo, farmers use a forklift and tractor to transport pumpkins. (AP / Bloomsburg Press Enterprise / Jimmy May)
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, December 16, 2016 4:22AM EST
RICHMOND, B.C. - British Columbia's worker-safety agency says more employers are replacing the beep-beep-beep back-up alarm on vehicles with white noise for safety's sake.
WorkSafeBC says the white-noise broadband alarm uses the same cadence but broadcasts a range of frequencies and emits a sound that is more focused in an area where people may be at risk.
The agency says reversing vehicles pose a safety risk on job sites and that 11 workers were killed between 2006 and 2015 as they were pinned or struck by vehicles that were backing up.
Sasha Brown, WorkSafeBC's occupational audiologist, says people gradually learn to ignore conventional back-up alarms when they're used to hearing them so much, and people who hear the broadband sound are less likely to tune it out.
In 2015, the safety agency says the University of Victoria installed 20 broadband alarms on its fleet of maintenance vehicles after getting noise complaints from nearby residents.
It says most of the university's maintenance vehicles have now been retrofitted and all new vehicles are evaluated to use the broadband alarm that emits a pulsing "psssht-psssht" sound.
Darryl Huculak, environmental health and safety co-ordinator of the school's facilities management department, says in a WorkSafeBC news release that the white noise is a better alternative to the typical beep-beep-beep alarm and doesn't bother people who aren't in the vicinity.
"The university wants to be a good neighbour to the surrounding community," he says.
"It has a very unique sound, it makes it more noticeable to those who need to hear it for safety reasons, and it's eliminated our noise complaints from nearby residents."
The resort community of Whistler and the Corporation of Delta have also installed white-noise back-up alarms on their fleet of vehicles, WorkSafeBC says.
The agency says broadband alarms are popular in Australia and that research at the University of Ottawa and in Montreal has found that the broadband alarm generates a more uniform sound field behind a vehicle compared to a conventional tonal alarm.
It says broadband alarms have not been evaluated in workplaces and it's looking to understand what effects the signals may have on worker safety and the perceptions people have about them.
"What we don't know is the real-world reaction," Brown says. "When people hear the broadband sound, do they know to get out of the way?"