Proximity Detection Basics: What you need to know.

You may have heard of proximity detection. Maybe you’re thinking of implementing it at your worksite. Proximity detection systems work by detecting when a person enters a potentially dangerous area near machinery and automatically sends an alert to the person and the machinery operator. It sees what your personnel don’t see, and also what they can’t see, like around blind spots and corners. They enhance situational awareness and can compensate for momentary lapses in judgement. It is a proactive approach to avoiding collisions and damage that helps you move towards zero harm.

However, it’s not to be confused with collision avoidance. Proximity detection warns people, but unlike collision avoidance, it does not control machines. This is an important distinction to be aware of when choosing what best suits your needs.

The form this alert takes depends on the operating and safety needs of the job–site.  The default method is an alarm, or an alarm accompanied by flashing lights. In the hierarchy of hazard controls, it’s an administrative safety control.

In severe risk of collision, some companies add in collision avoidance. They set up their machines to slow or shut down – creating an engineering safety control.  In this case the control unit connects to the machine’s CANbus network to tell it what to do.

Proximity detection zones can easily be set to take safe deceleration times into account. A solution we created for Lyttelton Port involved 24 metre zones made around smaller STS cranes. This is a last-resort to prevent operators of taller straddle carriers from trying to pass under. Lapses of focus do happen, and it’s important to be prepared.

Safety officers can’t be everywhere. The log and video data provided by many proximity detection systems allows for a 24/7 360 degree view of activity.  Many systems, including’s, come equipped with internet connectivity (Ethernet, WiFi) for system maintenance and data mining. For general staff, the use of proximity detection technology signals a commitment to safety from upper management down, improving employee morale and trust.

While systems can be relatively quick and easy to install, not just any will do. Range, speed, weather conditions, and the size, weight, and hardiness of the hardware casing influence which sensor technology is most effective.

The business case for proximity detection

In 2017, Safe Work Australia found 54 workers in the transport, postal, and warehousing industries died on the job, and another 30 in construction. 63% of all fatalities were related to vehicles, and 32% involved vehicle collision. These numbers don’t include non-fatal injuries.

The consequences to damage to equipment and personnel are vast. It causes stoppages, bringing an entire worksite to a halt, meaning downtime, investigations, negative media attention, repair costs, increased insurance costs, damage to reputation, penalties, decrease to employee morale, and potentially legal costs and legal judgements.

Take for example ports and warehouses. The roll-on effect is potentially tens of millions worth of goods not sent to their destination for weeks, let alone the loss of trust and potentially future business by clients who cannot fulfill promises made to their clients. The ‘just-in-time’ supply chain management model increasingly predominant makes the impact even more stark.

Applications in heavy industry


Many vehicles and machines of different heights constantly interact with each other, and pedestrians on the ground.

A combination of Passive RFID and EMF is suitable for the port environment. Smart Pinning Platform uses this award-winning tech combination to create safe working zones for port personnel and manned straddle carriers to work together.

Why EMF? It provides 100% perimeter coverage. No line of sight is required. It is effective in most weather conditions, and can read through containers, rock, coal, gravel, mud, metal, and water. Unlike cameras and mirrors, no operator interaction is required. It is unaffected by the amount of daylight, and therefore can be used effectively at all hours. Additionally, direction of travel is irrelevant.


Underground and surface mining have different technical requirements for proximity detection sensor technology.

In underground mining, GPS won’t work. WiFi and active RFID which sends out beacons are often used instead. Vehicle and heavy machinery related incidents due to poor visibility,  confined spaces, and restricted access account for a large percentage of accident in underground mine sites. Projects are using ever bigger, faster vehicles, and mud and dust is ever present.

In surface mining, the biggest risk is vehicle collision. Ammo’s vehicle-to-vehicle system uses EMF to create warning and danger zones around each vehicle. A warning is send to both vehicles when it is breached, to prevent collision.

Other surface mining solutions use GPS and cameras, but this is more expensive, and cameras have line-of-sight issues. Each vehicle has a radio transceiver that is connected to a GPS based tracking system. When two vehicles are too close to each other, warnings are sent to both vehicles. This works well in high speeds and for a high number of vehicles.

Automated vehicles.

LiDAR is a major sensor technology in vehicle automation. Pioneered in a DARPA competition in 2004, it works by creating huge 3D maps every couple milliseconds so vehicle can predict it’s surroundings and navigate itself. LiDAR sees the bounds of a lane, stop signs, and traffic lights. Higher resolution LiDAR tracks other cars, pedestrians, their speed, and their direction. I is crucial to make higher levels of automation possible.

According to SAE, many cars today are Level 1 automated. This means that some functions, like cruising and reverse, are assisted. While some car brands have concept Level 4 cars – humans not required for safety – and Volvo is planning to put one on the market in 2021, it is unlikely this will become as common as Level 1 cars over the coming years. The reason for this is unease over ‘machines making the decisions’ in the case of accidents, as well as the problem of navigating more unpredictable road environments.


Warehouses are heavy traffic areas. Forklift operators and pedestrians move around heavy platforms filled with product up to several stories tall. In one worst case scenario, trying to avoid a collision with pedestrians with too-short notice can lead to platforms collapsing, causing injuries, property damage and downtime. In a particularly horrific case, one worker was crushed between his forklift and a platform trying to see around a corner.

Other hazards include loading and unloading zones, intersections, and areas with high forklift traffic. Proximity detection systems also help prevent ‘struck-by’ injuries from lapses in focus. It is recommended to give both employees and visitors PAD tags to warn them if they come too close. Why? Visitors are more at risk because they do not have as much safety training as employees.

Construction sites.

Many people work around each other at any one time with heavy, loud, machinery of different sizes, performing repetitive tasks in harsh outdoor weather. This can cause decreased awareness and loss of focus. It can even create a state of flow where the rest of the world is blocked out. Alerts increase situational awareness and bring personnel ‘back’ to the site.

Accompanied by site-specific safety programs, safety training and education, it can greatly reduce the possibility of injury and loss of life onsite.

Thinking of taking the next step?

If you or your safety officer would like to learn more, give us a call on +61 1300 585 821 or email us at


Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *