Design on a Dime

WHAT SHOULD A CITY DO WHEN it wants million-dollar safety but has a pennywise budget? As Gainesville, Ga., learned, it is possible to make workers — and residents — safer by creating your own low-budget solution. By self-installing new lights and signs on trucks, the city has increased truck visibility and decreased the potential for accidents.

Gainesville is a somewhat rural town that still has backdoor collection, so workers cannot easily access all homes using the city's nine rear loaders. To pickup bagged trash, the solid waste division also uses what it calls “scooter” trucks to drive down long driveways in residential areas. The white scooters are basically Ford F-150 pickup trucks with the bed removed and with an aluminum hydraulic dump bed installed in its place to collect the bags. After collection, the scooter trucks back up to the rear loader, and the hydraulic beds dump the waste into the larger trucks.

However, the city was having problems with visibility — the white scooters blended into driveways too well. Accidents and near misses started happening. For example, residents sometimes backed out of garages directly into the trucks. Consequently, the risk managers for the city decided that the trucks needed to stand out more so residents could be aware of their presence.

Andrew Bielecki, operations supervisor for the city's solid waste division, was charged with finding a safety solution for the trucks. Truck drivers previously had used four-way flashers during their routes, but they soon found that the halogen bulbs were getting hot from overuse and were blowing out.

Bielecki's first thought was to use light-emitting diode (LED) lights because they do not overly drain the trucks' power supply. This was key because the trucks do not have beefed-up alternators to compensate for power drain. One idea was to use LED light bars on the top of the vehicles, but that idea was quickly scrapped because of cost; the bars each cost between $500 and $800.

“We knew it was going to come out of our budget,” Bielecki says. “It was beneficial to find a better route.”

Yet Bielecki still was convinced LED lights were the way to go, so he visited a local store that carried LED hardware. There, he ultimately found his solution: a tail-turn unit that could be modified for the trucks.

The division purchased one flasher box and four LED lights for each truck. Bielecki decided to have separate lights for the front and back, and not just one row for the top. That way, if trash was built up in the dump bed, lights would still be visible from both sides.

To test the equipment before installation, Bielecki connected the lights to the flasher box and then rigged it to a 12-volt jumper box. The lights flashed brightly and retained their intensity after running for several hours. Satisfied with the results, the division installed the setup on each truck. The two rear lights were placed on the frame above the existing brake lights, and the other two lights were placed on the front bumper.

The risk managers loved the new setup, and they especially loved the $150 per truck price. Still, everyone felt there was something missing. To add another element of visibility, Bielecki had the city's sign shop use scrap metal leftover from making road signs to fabricate 36-inch by 18-inch reflective rear signs for the trucks. The black lettering of the signs warns residents that the vehicles make frequent stops. The waste division then found some extra orange and white reflective tape laying around, so that was added to the sides of the vehicles as well. Because the division recycled existing materials, there were no additional costs.

Now, drivers must have the LED lights constantly flashing while operating their routes. Bielecki thinks this has greatly enhanced visibility — and he may be right. The waste division has not yet had an accident since the lights, signs and tape were installed. For a mere $1,200, Gainesville's solid waste division has potentially saved thousands more in avoided accident costs.
Wendy Angel
Associate Editor