Q1: How is the city proceeding with policies and procurement practices so that construction companies bidding and working on city infrastructure projects be required to use vehicles outfitted with the broadband back-up warning sounds?
Broadband Back-up Alarms
The broadband back-up alarm sound is different from the traditional tonal beeping alarms. The broadband alarms make a ‘whoosh-whoosh’ sound much like a dial-up modem or fax machine and are less audible to anyone not in close proximity to the vehicle backing up.
Studies and research on broadband alarms indicate that, in addition to reducing nuisance noise, they have potential to provide enhanced safety benefits in some situations. These include the ability to more accurately identify the specific location of the hazard, to produce a sound that self-adjusts to be louder than background noise, to focus the noise in the hazard area directly behind the reversing vehicles, better penetration of hearing protection or personal headphones and they may be more effective for people with hearing loss.
Early industry adoption of broadband alarms has been primarily on haul vehicles and snow clearing equipment. These vehicles work in quiet environments or are relative to construction sites. The nature of this work results in a situation where all equipment can utilize the broadband alarms without the need for mixing broadband alarms with conventional alarms. The contracting industry has raised Occupational Health and Safety concerns regarding the application to all or portions of their equipment as may be required on typical road, water and sewer projects.
Following the direction of Council, Fleet Services piloted broadband back-up alarms on a limited number of snow-clearing vehicles in the downtown core during the 2017-18 winter season.
An evaluation of the pilot was completed in early 2019. Based on the outcome, Fleet Services installed broadband alarms on the entire Roads Services snow-clearing fleet in 2020 and continues to install them on key pieces of equipment. There are now almost 300 City-owned units with these alarms, with the alarms remaining installed year-round. Leased snow clearing equipment is also required to have these alarms. All private snow removal contractors operating on behalf of the City of Ottawa will be required to install broadband back-up alarms on all vehicles engaged in snow clearing operations, as contracts are awarded or renewed.
Park, Forestry and Stormwater Services’ fleet has had the new alarms installed on key equipment used for overnight work in City yards adjacent to residential neighbourhoods.
Post- Pilot Project
With the success of the pilot project on the City’s snow removal fleet, Infrastructure Services is considering moving in this direction as well to better address the public and Councillor concerns with noise on night construction operations. The City initiated discussions with the National Capital Heavy Construction Association (NCHCA) in November 2019 and presented the association with the City’s experience at the time. Feedback received from the industry was related to cost, supply availability, installation procedure, inspection requirements and education campaign requirements for both the public and the industry.
In the fall of 2020, a committee was formed to develop a specification for the implementation of broadband backup alarms on vehicles used on City of Ottawa infrastructure projects. This committee included City staff, representatives of the NCHCA, local construction companies, and a construction equipment manufacturer. Several significant concerns, primarily related to safety on construction sites, were raised during the discussions with the industry, which will need to be addressed before proceeding with full implementation.
Infrastructure Services continued to engage the NCHCA, but unfortunately, during the pandemic, the industry and the City have had to shift their focus to adapt to COVID-19, putting this initiative on hold. Furthermore, pandemic-related supply chain challenges have hindered the procurement of these alarms. Fleet Services (Automotive Stores) was able to keep them in stock and found other options that will be tested to ensure safety, however, contractors are experiencing difficulty sourcing these alarms in the short term.
Infrastructure Services intends to resume conversations with the NCHCA about implementing the broadband backup alarms on all construction vehicles.
Applicability to City-Licensed Vehicles
The Public Policy Development Services branch of Emergency and Protective Services will be reviewing snow plow licensing early in the next Term of Council, including specific consideration of broadband back-up alarms for snowplows. This review was to occur in 2021 but had to be postponed due to pandemic response and resource requirements within the department.
Staff in Public Policy Development Services will also be undertaking a multi-year review of the Licensing By-law (No. 2002-189) beginning in 2022. This will provide the opportunity to consider the issue and use of broadband back-up alarms in relation to other classes of vehicles regulated by the City. Staff do not recommend regulating this issue through the Noise By-law. Such an approach would be problematic for tour buses, heavy transportation (trucking) and other vehicles from out of our jurisdiction that routinely operate in Ottawa.
Q2 – What is the status and next steps on this matter?
Infrastructure Services will be further investigating the potential implementation of broadband back-up alarms as part of the 2022 Specification Review for Unit Price Contracts. The Specification Committee will review City liability implications, industry concerns and product availability. A report to Transportation Committee is planned for Q2 2022.