Are You Sweeping in Reverse?

My first editorial explained how I was fascinated with street sweepers as a child. The lights, sounds, moving parts and brushes scrubbing the ground were a magnet to follow as a child. It’s still that way. On any given day you can see a kid riding their bike, skateboard and/or running along on a sidewalk watching a street sweeper go down that municipal street or watching a parking lot sweeper make circles at the neighborhood grocery store. The danger comes when the operator chooses to back the sweeper up and doesn’t know that a child is following close behind.
Most construction, refuse, utility and trucking companies, fire/rescue departments and many other industries have all implemented OSHA recommended procedures that require spotters when backing up vehicles to prevent backovers. Using this spotter system is almost impossible on a sweeper because they’re typically operating the equipment alone in remote locations.
I know…I know….I bet you’re saying “there’s back-up cameras, rear radar avoidance sensors, etc. available that can be mounted on sweepers” and you’re correct. But even in other industries that have this safety equipment installed, OSHA still recommends a spotter system because it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a backover. The dangers of backing up a street sweeper are magnified when sweeping while it’s dark. It may be dusty, blinding blinking lights, loud sounds, the area may be congested with traffic, pedestrians and/or other equipment on a worksite. All of these variables drastically raise the chance of a backover.
In my 25 years in the sweeping industry, I’ve witnessed many reasons why operators make the choice to back-up their machines. One of the major reasons has to do with using the wrong TYPE of machine for the sweeping application. I’m not implying brand of sweeper, I’m stressing the TYPE of sweeper. As we all know, there’s a reason that different types of sweepers are made (compact, parking lot, regenerative, vacuum & mechanical). Each design type excels in different sweeping applications to maximum productivity, mobility, reliability and safety.
Over the last few years I’ve seen several YouTube videos going viral of sweepers unsafely backing up while sweeping that prompted me to write this editorial on this topic. In these sweeping demonstration videos, it’s my opinion that the wrong type of machine is being used, forcing the operator to back up to prevent overwhelming and possibly clogging the machine. The sweeping application would be better suited for a different type of sweeper and/or equipment.
The best practice to drastically reduce the chance of a backover is by training your operator to reduce or prevent putting the sweeper in a situation where backing is needed. If backing is their only choice, the operator should wait at least 30 seconds after placing the machine in reverse and the audible alarm is heard. This delay in backing will give anyone standing behind the machine ample time to move after hearing the audible alarm. Once backing has started, back very slowly using the mirrors and any other safety features built into the machine.
Sweeping in reverse is not common and is VERY dangerous. Most major sweeper manufacturers include the auto pick-up in reverse feature as a standard function. If your current machine can sweep in reverse, insist that your operators never do. It is impossible for the operator to keep his/her eyes on the mirrors and/or back-up camera while brooms are rotating on the ground. Sweeping in reverse creates a very unsafe situation and can severely damage the machine.
The last advice I have on this topic is to do a very thorough job while evaluating sweepers that you may be adding to your fleet. Don’t accept a machine that excels in only 20% of the jobs it may encounter. Its deficiencies will only fuel unsafe habits to manipulate operation, including backing. Buy a machine that excels in 80% of the sweeping jobs it may encounter.

Be safe and thanks for reading!
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