Situational Awareness and Forklift Camera Systems on the MEMIC Safety Podcast

Below is a transcribed version of the podcast for your reading pleasure.

According to the National Safety Council, forklifts were the source of 79 work-related fatalities and 8,140 non-fatal injuries involving days away from work in 2019 alone.

Looking back at the data the National Safety Council has, the number of non-fatal forklift-related workplace injuries continues to increase every year since 2015.

The top 3 causes of these injuries are Fire and explosion, Stuck by, caught between.

Most of these are driven by a lack of situational awareness on the part of the operator or other workers. On this episode of the MEMIC Safety Experts Podcast, I speak with Chris Burns, the co-founder of Midwest Fleet and Safety, a full-service GPS and Safety Solutions company to help us look at a unique solution to the situational awareness problem when operating a forklift. Peter Koch: [00:00:04] Hello, listeners, and welcome to the MEMIC Safety Experts podcast, I’m your host, Peter Koch. According to the National Safety Council, forklifts were the source of seventy-nine work-related injuries or fatalities, and eight thousand one hundred and forty non-fatal injuries involving days away from work in 2019. So looking back at the data that the National Safety Council has the number of non-fatal forklift-related injuries or workplace injuries continues to increase from twenty fifteen. So if you go back to twenty fifteen and you go back a little bit before that, they had been declining. But in twenty fifteen they started to spike and they were jumping up by a few hundred every year. And the top three causes of those injuries are fire and explosion. So most of your fork trucks or forklifts are going to be propane, a lot of propane accidents or injuries, especially if one is going to tip over, struck by injuries and then [00:01:00] caught in between injuries. Most of these are driven by a lack of situational awareness on the part of the operator or other workers that are going to be around the operator. So if I look back at my history and I had the opportunity to operate a forklift or at least a tractor with forks on it way back when in my early work history and I think about how situational awareness played a big part in my being successful or not. It really did. And I can tell you, I didn’t have a lot of huge fails, but I had a number of close calls. And one of those, and I’ll remember this to this day happened when I was I had just picked up a lift. We were picking up actually lifts of hoses and I was paying attention to the other people who are in the space. And I backed up and I backed up into a pallet that had a replacement water pump for our snowmaking system. Fortunately, I didn’t hit it hard enough to knock the pump over and I didn’t push the pump. I didn’t break the pump, but I did damage the pallet itself and the pallet of hoses [00:02:00] that were on the forks fell off as well, so didn’t really have a successful day. But I didn’t hurt anybody. I didn’t get hurt myself. We didn’t have a lot of damage, but certainly, there were some issues there and I wasn’t paying attention. Or at least I wasn’t paying attention to the right thing. I didn’t have good situational awareness before I started to move. And I bet you there’s a number of people out there who are listening who have either been witnessed to a situation like that or have been in a situation like that. Or maybe you’ve been in a situation where you’ve actually had an injury. You might have been struck by someone who was operating a fork truck or unfortunately, you might have been the person who did the striking. Well, to help us look at a unique solution to that situational awareness problem, especially when you’re operating forklifts or really any vehicles, is Chris Burns and among other specialties. Chris is the co-founder of Midwest fleet and Safety. There are full-service GPS and safety [00:03:00] solutions company. Chris and his partner Rob founded Midwest four years ago to help fill service and communication gaps they identified in industries that they worked with. So with a team of experts that have close to 30 years of experience in the telematics and safety industries, Midwest has grown to deliver products like innovative camera systems that can be used to enhance situational awareness in any industry that uses vehicles to move material. So, Chris? Welcome to the podcast today. I appreciate having you on. Chris Burns: [00:03:31] Thank you so much for having me. Really looking forward to the conversation today. Glad to be on. And that was a heck of an introduction. Probably better than I would have prepared for you. So I appreciate that very much. Peter Koch: [00:03:43] Yeah, no worries. I’m excited. You know, we had a conversation a few days ago, you had reached out to me and thinking about different solutions. You were telling me about this camera system that you have. And I really want to get talking about that and how it’s been able to help with safety, quality and productivity since, [00:04:00] you know, that’s really what this podcast is all about is to help people understand that there are more ideas out there than they might think about how to provide solutions. But before we jump into the camera systems, I want you to tell me a little bit about Midwest Fleet and Safety. You’re based out of Appleton, Wisconsin, and I want you to just tell me a little bit about your history, how you got there and where you’re at today. Chris Burns: [00:04:25] Yeah. Well, thanks. It’s kind of a long story. I don’t think it’s as interesting as other people might, but I’ve got a good friend of mine, Rob, who approached me about his business and his industry. And he had been working in this space for about 20 years, and he worked in the space primarily as an installer. So he owns an audio-video automotive type business, and he was approached by many of the larger GPS telematics companies to do installation work because most of them, believe it or not, do not have boots on the ground. They [00:05:00] are primarily a manufacturer a seller and then they hire third-party contracts to do the installation work, and so as time went on, going into twenty-eighteen twenty nineteen, some of these companies, well, we’ll leave names out just to be respectful. But what would happen is they would call him and say, Hey, we’ve got a client in Madison it’s two hours away. They are going to have GPS next week. We would like we need two installers technicians to go down to the installation work and have done a one-day 12 vehicles. No problem will be there. Eight a.m. So the team would show up. They drive two hours only to find out the client has not received the product from the manufacturer. And so as a business, you have to bill the very large carrier for four hours of your time multiplied by two employees. And so that would happen continuously and sometimes happen twice over the course [00:06:00] of one month. And that would then leave a customer waiting anywhere from four weeks to eight weeks. Because then you have that phone tag game of, well, the client’s available next week, Monday and Thursday between eight a.m. and 10 a.m. Well, we’re not available, OK, we’ll call them back and find out. Tag, you’re it. And then customers would then say to robber’s installers, Hey, you know, this is painful. You know, we’re not able to get the training that we want. If we have an issue, we’ll call. We’ll wait on hold for two hours or four hours. And you can imagine most people, whether it be a business owner or even a receptionist, do not have that kind of time or that luxury in a day. And then they were asking, Hey, can we just work with you directly? And the answer was no, because at the time we were not a GPS company, we were just an installer. And so the question became as well, could we do this? And then we did some research and found out, Well, yeah, we could. We could be a reseller [00:07:00] and we could be the company that sells the technology and the product, but also does the installation. And so moving forward, when companies would say, Yeah, we’d love to entertain the solution, but we’ve got a three-year revolving contract. And then I had to ask, Well, what’s the revolving contract? And they said, Well, you know, if we’ve got 10 vehicles and we add one, all 10 start over. And I thought, Wow, that’s pretty tough. So your contract is started over three or four times since you started working with them and they say, yeah, the only way to get out is to buy out of the contract. And that’s ten thousand dollars, we’ll say. And so we saw an opportunity to not lock customers into a contract. No revolving contracts offer free and unlimited customer service, competitive pricing. And when people call, they can talk to a real person who can solve their issue real-time or at least within one or two business days. And so that’s how Midwest fleet and safety was [00:08:00] founded. We were just Midwest fleet solutions, but then we got to find that a lot of our customers, particularly in the construction space, we’d sit down and we talk about things like safety. And the question was, Well, we’re more interested in the safety. And I said, Well, tell me more. And that is where we learned about a year and a half ago that the majority of the businesses that we work with, yes, they would love to track their assets. That’s important because you want to know where your assets are. You want to know that your people are protected and safe. But ultimately, the number one priority was that businesses large and small wanted to ensure that their people, their most important asset, is safe on the job. And so questions became as, “Well, what can you do to help us with safety? And one client had told us a story both of these clients are in the construction space had said that, you know, look, we had a couple of accidents [00:09:00] where we had some job boxes and some very expensive equipment that was either ran over or ran into that cause several thousand dollars or thousands of dollars in damage. And unfortunately, this stuff happens a lot. How do we prevent that? And so that’s where my partner, Rob said, Well, you know, we do a lot of backup cameras, we do a lot of camera systems. Why don’t we just put a couple of cameras on your telehandler and, you know, see how that goes? And he’s like, I can basically modify or manufacture a system exclusively for you and a two-camera system turn into a four-camera system. And then next thing you know, safety becomes about seventy-five percent of our business, and I’ll go on to talk more about it. But I don’t want to eat into your next question here. And so we’ve been doing the safety side of the business for over a year, about a year and a half, and we found ourselves really expanding into things like forklift safety [00:10:00] lights known as blue lights or red lights. Camera systems and a lot of other products in the safety space, and we’ve just found that as much as, yes, companies want to track their assets. Right now, the number one priority is the safety and safety of their employees. And from there, you know, once we have set their company up in a position where they feel like they can elevate the safety quality, then they say, Hey, we know you do telematics? Can you help us out with that too? So as a byproduct, we hope that we can earn their business in the telematics side. But it’s been a lot of fun because ultimately companies value that. And I’ll tell you what, we’ll talk about this later. The employees value it, too, and it’s been a lot more popular with staff than we imagined and even then our clients would have ever imagined. Peter Koch: [00:10:52] Yeah, it’s a pretty cool story. Like you said, we’ll get into that more because there is a really interesting connection between what the [00:11:00] supervisors and how the staff see things and how that information gets back up to management and how that helps to drive some of these decisions. But I really think this is an interesting solution to that problem of situational awareness. You talked about the equipment damage. You talked about the shrinkage and losses from things maybe being dropped off the forks or, you know, you go back to the National Safety Council. Information about injuries that have occurred with forklifts and those struck by injuries are almost guaranteed when someone struck by the forklift is a situational awareness issue with either the person that’s operating and or the person that’s operating or working around that particular piece of equipment. So I guess let’s just talk a little bit in your perspective and it has, as you see it, with the success of those camera systems. And then you had talked a little bit about the lighting systems that you have for [00:12:00] forklifts. Why is situational awareness essential? And then how did those systems really help increase situational awareness for the operator when they when they’re picking something up or they’re moving material? Chris Burns: [00:12:13] Yeah, that’s a great question, and I’m glad you asked that because when we talk about safety, a lot of times, whether it be in a presentation, sales calls, people look past situational awareness and they focus specifically on the safety and like, how can this increase productivity and efficiencies and stuff? But awareness is really important. People think of situational awareness is, Hey, I know what’s going on around me, I know what’s going on here. But that’s not always the case. And you know, when you ask me about situational awareness, I thought to myself, Well, what does that mean to me? What does it mean to other people? So I googled it. And there’s a really quick definition here. And it says situational awareness has been recognized as a critical yet elusive foundation [00:13:00] for successful decision making across a broad range of situations, many of which involve the protection of human life property, including law enforcement, aviation, et cetera, et cetera. And then the last sentence is lacking in adequate situational awareness has been identified as one of the primary factors in accidents attributed to human error. So I give you this example, which is I live near a construction site just so happens to be about two blocks down. There’s a new development with some apartment complexes going up, and it’s been going on for about six months or more. And once they complete one, they got another one already in progress. So there’s a lot of telehandlers and construction equipment over there. And I said to my wife the other day, I said, I don’t even hear that anymore. I don’t hear the backup beeping, I don’t hear the trucks, I don’t hear the nail guns. I just kind of tuned it out. Now, [00:14:00] put yourself in the situation of any one of those workers on the site and they hear that stuff more than I do. My wife would call it a selective hearing, but their situational awareness has probably decreased because they become, let’s say, numb to or callous to that sound. Now let’s just say, for example, that their situational awareness is heightened. They may see what’s happening or be fully aware of what’s going on around them. But does that mean the operator of that telehandler is fully aware? So situational awareness is a two-way street, in my opinion, the way of an operator or of someone moving or driving, whatever the case may be. So when it comes to situational awareness, you talk about these camera systems. Well, our camera systems in most cases are a four-camera, sometimes a two-camera system. So if you have, in this case, three hundred and sixty-degree visibility [00:15:00] around you. In something that’s considered to be one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment in the telehandler, and it’s considered that because it has very limited visibility, as you know, well, lots of blind spots similar to a forklift, and you might be doing your best job to look around, to take your time to try to listen, but that doesn’t mean people around you are doing the same. And as you know, there are a lot of trucks and equipment and people moving and your head always needs to be on a swivel. And so if you don’t have the camera system, an accident can happen because there are those blind spots and you can’t account for what someone else might be doing when they see that telehandler coming. And so when you have that camera system, you can have confidence sitting behind the wheel knowing that you know you’re not going to have to slam on the brakes. Or if you do, at least you’ll be prepared and you [00:16:00] may not have something slide off the front, you know. And so situational awareness is important. It’s not something people think of, but the thing that I go back to so often is it is a two-way street and you can’t always account for the other person, whether that be you, the operator or the people around you. And so I think for so many reasons, having that camera system can provide so much confidence. It can reduce the amount of stress that someone’s maybe putting on their neck to twist their body, to look around them. And if you have that, the byproduct is hopefully there’s going to be a higher level of efficiency throughout the day in your productivity. Peter Koch: [00:16:42] That’s a great description. When I think about situational awareness around that, I think about it from the perspective of your brain needs to look at What? What’s around me, and that’s what the camera system helps to provide. And then I’ve got to figure out, so what? Like, what does it mean to me? So here’s all this information. [00:17:00] And if I’m missing a piece of information, so what’s incomplete? And then it’s the now what is next, right? So I have to make a decision based on that information based on how important that information is to me and what’s happening around there. And it’s a really great point around how that camera system can really do a good job at providing a more clear picture or a more detailed picture around the what. And then the so what and the now what is all about operator training and what the company does to help that operator be a better, be a better operator, be a more qualitative and a more productive operator. But you can’t do that unless you have the information and like you said, tons of blind spots. And if you’re focused on the people around you or the other hazards that are around you, you might miss something that’s in that blind spot that you’re the only way that you’re going to see. That is if you get off the telehandler or look around you, you’ve got someone who can back you up or you have a system that allows you to see 360 degrees [00:18:00] around your machine, which is pretty sweet. Chris Burns: [00:18:02] It’s the same in golf. You know you’re a golfer. You admitted that and then you’re on the golf course and you’re a slicer and you see water on the right and you’re focusing on that while you’re over the ball. What do you think the byproduct of that shot? Peter Koch: [00:18:16] Oh, it’s going in the water. It’s going in the water. Whether I focus on it or not? I’ll tell you that, Chris, right now. Chris Burns: [00:18:21] Yup. Peter Koch: [00:18:22] That’s excellent. So let’s talk a little bit more. And you had said this too, around the situational awareness, like the traditional methods of getting someone’s attention or understanding that their hazards around you can just come right into the background they’re going to, they’re going to the person that’s hearing them is going to get desensitized to them. So it doesn’t become a warning sign anymore, just becomes noise and you don’t really pay a lot of attention to it. So talk to me about a little bit about how you set the camera system up. And then maybe can you talk a little bit about some of the training that you might give the operator how easy it is it to use a system like [00:19:00] that as an operator once it gets set up? Chris Burns: [00:19:03] Yeah. So it typically takes us about an hour to install a four camera system. It’s pretty easy given we’re not doing it in the dead of winter because as you could imagine, when it’s 10 degrees out, we’re snapping drill bits and metals a lot more difficult to drill into. Not only that, but you know, guys need to take breaks to keep their fingers warm. But ultimately, it’s pretty easy. It’s a couple of wires. It’s identifying the best installation point, and typically it’s a higher point on the vehicle or on the asset that is not likely to be bumped or obstructed with the operator’s visibility. So it’s not going to get in the way of the regular traditional use of the vehicle or the asset. Not only that, but we want to make sure we also have really good placement of the monitor on the dashboard or near the steering wheel. These are indoor outdoor use, so if you have direct sunlight, [00:20:00] you’re going to be able to see them. They’re typically anywhere from seven to nine inches, depending on the amount of space that we have. So when you’re using the piece of equipment, most people wouldn’t even know it has a camera system until they got into the seat, turned the ignition on was like, Oh, there’s a monitor here. What’s that for? So if you didn’t know and this is the beauty of it, you literally turn the vehicle on. The unit will power itself on automatically, and there’s very limited to no training required. I say limited, meaning it’s nice to know how it works. It’s nice to know that, yes, you can make some adjustments to the screen if need be. But ultimately, if you’re aware that you have it, it’s basically just understanding what does this do for me? What is the purpose of this? Because that is the first question is why do I have this? Why do I need it? But ultimately, once we show someone, Hey, this is the, and it’s not so much showing as it is explaining the purpose and why the company invested in it. And [00:21:00] then people say, Oh, OK. And then what’s really interesting is that if your company has 10, let’s say, telehandlers and two of them, your demoing the camera systems on and you get to try it for a week, you’re going to come back and request that. And I’ve got a funny story about that. When we started working with this first construction equipment and this is how we got into the camera system was, they said, you know, we’d like to try one, you know, we’ll just buy it, but we want to see what this is all about. So we installed one and they said, Hey, this is really cool. We had some great feedback on it. Can you come back and install a few more? Yeah, sure. Why not? So a month and a half later, we had four camera systems out on the telehandlers. And what happened was we got a phone call and the guy said, Hey, we need a few more. Yeah, no problem. Happy to do that. And I said, Can you tell me about how it’s going? We’d love to get some feedback. And he said, Well, at first the guys were saying, [00:22:00] well, why would we do that? You know, we haven’t had any accidents. And it’s like, OK, you might not have. The company has seen some accidents and, you know, had some, some misfortunes there, but we don’t need that. And so, OK, we’ll just give it a try. We’d want to know your feedback. And if you don’t like it, we can take it out. Not a big deal. So it got used and there were a couple of contractors who said, Hey, on our next job, can we get those telehandlers with the cameras? And they said, Yeah, sure, why? And he said, you wouldn’t believe the productivity we had on the job site and feedback from some of our employees was, I feel so much more confident operating when I have a large heavy load on this, especially when I’m approaching a building. You can imagine the amount of weight some of these carry, and because of that efficiency, we are working faster. We are on schedule and as you can imagine, [00:23:00] being on schedule is like being ahead of schedule in this industry, especially now. And, you know, we want all of them that have the camera systems. We know you only have four and they said, Oh, OK, that’s well, that’s interesting. Let’s get four more. So they got four more. And it repeats the same thing. And next thing, you know, they said, Well, you know, we want to get 50 of them, then fast forward a year later, they ordered one hundred and fifty camera systems. But that’s not even the best part of the story. The best part of the story was, and this happened recently. You know what? Our company has seen such a great improvement of efficiency and a reduction in accidents that we’re going to make it mandatory for all of our subcontractors to use your camera systems. So we don’t want them going out and doing it somewhere else. We want them to use your company and your technology. And that was a very proud moment for me because, you know, it wasn’t that, yeah, we’ve succeeded and we’re making more [00:24:00] money. It was. We are really making an impact with these companies. And I hate to say this, but we’re potentially saving lives and we are helping companies save money. And it feels really good going to sleep at night knowing your company is really making an impact with very large companies in your area. And so it’s something we’re very proud of and it’s been fun because the feedback has been nothing but great. And as you can imagine, when you work on construction sites, there are a lot of people who have been with the company for 20 years, 30 years, and they can be a little more resistant to technology. You’re laughing. I can see you laughing over there because, you know, it’s true. So we’ve seen some pushback. But if they say, if the company explains it and says, hey, this is why we’re doing it, it has nothing to do with you personally. But if we can elevate our safety and our efficiency, here’s what we’re going to do. And again, I don’t want to get ahead of the conversation, but when they’re transparent like that, usually [00:25:00] their employees will say, OK, we’ll give it a shot. Peter Koch: [00:25:03] So that I think that story really speaks to the quality of the service and the product that you guys are putting out there and that you’re delivering, that says a lot about the company that you’re able to not only make an impact with the product just because of the way it impacts the companies that you are providing it to or selling it to. But it says a lot to the service that you’re providing. I think those go hand in hand. You can have a phenomenal product, but you might not have the best service or the best install or the best people on the ground. I think that does say a lot about your company overall. Those two things have to go hand in hand. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be as successful as you are even just getting off the ground. So hopefully this will continue to go. One of the parts there I think it’s pretty essential for any product or any investment that a company does is what’s the return on investment. Even when we were talking about the internally at our company, we’re talking about the podcast [00:26:00] that I’m doing here, about safety, what’s the return on investment? If I’m going to be spending a few hours a week, spending time researching and writing and talking to different guests and then recording and then producing and then finally getting the product out there, what’s the return on investment? So we had a long conversation about what that would be just about the podcast. So can you talk a little bit more about the return on investment for a camera system if there’s a company considering, like, what can I do? What are the talking points around return on investment that you might give a potential customer? Or if you’re just having a conversation with somebody on the golf course or in the grocery store about, Hey, talk to me about this camera system, how is it going to benefit my company? What are the key points? Chris Burns: [00:26:44] Yeah, so, you know, whatever I’m talking to people, I try to stay away from the sales pitch because, you know, I never want to feel like I’m selling somebody, but I tend to go to the stories and I’ve got one here. I’ll share with you in a minute. But when people ask the question specifically [00:27:00] about ROI, I like to kind of give them some high-level talking points or even just bullet points of where and how could my company see this benefit or return on investment short term, long term? And there are a couple of things that some are measurable, some are not, and there are some companies that have different ways of measuring their return on investment. And this is something that, like the construction company didn’t see happening, but was employee satisfaction. Now, I can’t personally put a return on investment on employee satisfaction, but I know that if they have quality assets that they enjoy operating and they’re more effective and efficient when using as a byproduct of having the camera system, you know, that says a lot, and I think there is really tremendous value. If you have a large company that has 50 forklifts or one hundred and fifty telehandlers, I think this is very broad, but you have enhanced safety. [00:28:00] So you have assurance knowing that your people and both your assets are safer are protected. And a lot of times if you have, let’s say, a year or more worth of usage of this technology, you might be able to go back to your insurance company and negotiate your premium. So if you can point to the fact that we have fewer incidents, we have greater productivity. Some agencies and your business, you probably know a lot more about this than I do. Are willing to do that. And companies, businesses, I should say, are unaware that in some instances they can negotiate their premium. This is what I’ve been told. I am not an insurance expert, so don’t hold me to that. And there’s also, obviously, you know, we talked about shrinkage, loss, loss prevention, and that is where we have the story. A good friend of mine is in the warehousing and logistics industry. He owns several warehouses and a trucking company. And in his [00:29:00] warehouses, each one of them are at least a half dozen forklifts. And I was talking to him over golf one day and lunch. He said, You know, I’m just I’ve been really stressed out lately. You’ve had a couple of accidents in the warehouse. And I said, What could possibly go wrong? It’s not like you have a team of 50 people. You got literally about six to 10 people in each facility. And he said, well, the other day, somebody was just getting really comfortable and careless and they were coming around the corner way too fast with a large load and they went right through a wall. I said what? He said, Yeah, you know, the downside is it’s 20 grand to the upside, as it could have been a lot worse. I could have someone who could have been critically injured. But he said, ultimately, here’s the deal. It’s going to cost me 20 grand to fix it. I’ve got a forklift that’s out for about a week or sooner. And then I’ve also got a pallet worth of product that I’m going to have to reimburse my client for. So, OK, let’s talk, he said, so I [00:30:00] have basically I’ve lost productivity because I had two to three other employees who had to come over and help this employee out, clean up the mess. And so I had three people out of my six, which is half my staff not working for about two hours. Wow, that does not sound fun. I would imagine, you know, the stress that that would cause on the management team, just knowing that we had an accident. Thankfully, everybody is OK and everything can be fixed, he said. Yeah. The direct cost of the wall alone and the forklift is about twenty-five thousand. Ok? He said. For us, it’s not a big deal, but that money’s got to come from somewhere. And he said, you know, it’s at the time this was late September. He’s like, that could be coming out of holiday bonuses that could be coming out of the Christmas party, said it. Yeah, we’re very highly successful and profitable, but that’s I don’t have a money tree in the backyard and I said, Yeah, he said, But if you [00:31:00] add it up, we have the direct costs of the forklift and of the wall. He said we also have the indirect costs of the downtime, the loss of products. Unhappy client inefficiency. Forklifts out for a week. He said All in all, I could be, you know, if you count insurance in there too and my insurance goes up, he said, I could be looking at thirty, thirty-five thousand, forty thousand and there are other variables in here too. Like, was the individual injured? Was he hurt? We got worker’s comp problems. And so the story goes on and on, and you can imagine this is a small incident as compared to some that are much bigger, unfortunately. And so when I have these stories, it’s like, Wow, OK, I thought it was 20. But then you look at your balance sheet at the end of the year and you say, Wow, that really, that really put a ding in our bottom line. And so that’s where we talk about ROI. And I don’t care how effective, how high your safety standards are. Again, [00:32:00] this goes back to situational awareness with we may have some of the most experienced, highly trained forklift or telehandler operators, but that doesn’t mean that the people around them have situational awareness. And if they don’t, if they’ve become, let’s say, immune to those beeping noises, the beacons, then we have we could have an incident and nobody wants that. And it can cause a lot of pains in a company. So I think we talk about ROI. That is something that companies say, you know, we’re willing to invest in that because I keep going back to the efficiency you have higher and enhanced our employee confidence when they’re operating. And we truly feel that we can eliminate the majority of accidents that happen with a camera system. And if an operator sees it two seconds sooner, they can typically stop and they can prevent that. I think a lot of times the beacons, the safety warning lights, the backup beepers, [00:33:00] these things are great for the people around them. But you know, the operator needs to have complete situational awareness. And like I said, it’s a two way street. And if we can enhance that for both the people around you and the operator, we’re really going to be singing the efficiency song here. Peter Koch: [00:33:18] Let’s take a quick break. Did you know that MEMIC offers online instructor-led OSHA 10 hour outreach courses for both the general industry and construction standards free to our policyholders? Each online 10-hour outreach class is a two day video conference training that provides instruction on key sections of OSHA standards, instructing attendees about how to identify hazards and effectively implement appropriate safety procedures in the workplace. This program is a must for supervisors, lead persons and hourly employees. Our instructors have spent decades in the construction and general industry fields and are authorized by [00:34:00] the OSHA Training Institute to conduct these safety outreach training programs. Seats are limited, so check out the schedule and register today at Not a MEMIC policyholder yet will reach out to your independent insurance agent and ask about us or go to to learn more. Now, let’s get back to today’s episode. Peter Koch: [00:34:30] Yeah, that’s great, and you’re really speaking my language now when we’re talking about indirect and direct costs, and we speak about that often with our companies when we talk about safety specifically because, you know, you get somebody who’s injured and you see those direct costs, the medical costs of the injury, or if there’s lost time involved, it’s X amount. Well, when you start to track the indirect costs and a lot of the indirect costs are the same as what you described with a telehandler incident. You’re going to have a loss of property, [00:35:00] you’re going to have to repair something. You might have a loss of productivity. Then you get back into the worker’s comp side of things with an injury and you’re going to have to train somebody else to come in. You got to replace that particular individual and just think about all the time that it takes to train a good telehandler. Someone who’s really good and really productive with that tool takes time to produce that if they roll it over and they come out of the seat and they’re injured, it’s a substantial, indirect cost to train somebody anew. So that return on investment like you’re talking about, they’re increasing situational awareness. Given the individual more information to make good decisions about the environment that’s around them is a key part, and you might not be able to quantify those indirect costs so well. Sometimes you can. Sometimes it’s really specific. Sometimes it might be a little more difficult, but you think about all the things that come into managing an incident that [00:36:00] happens with the telehandler, whether it’s an injury or whether it’s a loss of property or product. Statistically, when they talk about indirect costs, there are anywhere between three and 10 times the amount of the direct costs when you add it all up together, and those are the hidden things that you don’t normally see. So right on talking about indirect and direct for return on investment, that was, that’s a good key point. I hope people take away from this today. Chris Burns: [00:36:26] Yeah. You know, you’re right, this happened to be a situation that thankfully was not as serious as some. And so it happens to be something that hits home with a lot of small businesses that are your two million, 10 million, 15 million dollar companies could be catastrophic for some. And if we can prevent that, you can save yourself a lot of stress, a lot of time and a lot of money. Peter Koch: [00:36:49] Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So we’ve talked a lot about the benefits of the camera system, and I’m going to throw this out there because sometimes there’s a downside to it. But [00:37:00] do you see any downside to having the camera system in the telehandler? Or have you have you seen any of that yet or have you had any reports of downsides to it? Chris Burns: [00:37:10] You know, I haven’t had any reports of there being downside, but as anything, I could sell it as being one of the greatest pieces of technology for any kind of construction company or warehousing company, whatever it might be. But a couple of things that come up in conversation is, you know, I’m fearful that our employees might be too dependent on it. So it’s just like a backup camera in your vehicle. I drive a large SUV and I’m in a neighborhood with a lot of young children like my own, and I have had the tendency of backing up out of my driveway looking only at the camera. But yes, we have that camera. We have an expensive vehicle that is not better than your situation awareness. So if you pair the camera with your ability to turn your head left, turn your head right back [00:38:00] up slowly. So if there are people passing in a blind spot, you can see them. Then you have full awareness, but you can’t be one hundred percent reliant on that, meaning you can’t watch it the whole time because having your head on a swivel is just as beneficial as having the camera. So there is that downside. Some people see the initial investment in camera systems as having a downside, whereas you know, how long is it going to take for this thing to pay for itself? But once you see the opportunity, like the construction equipment story, I think you’ll find that, yeah, we’ll see a return on investment, potentially within the first couple of weeks. But beyond that, not really. It requires very little training, very little communication. But like anything, if you want your employees and your company to embrace it, it does require some communication. Sending a note out an email to your staff saying, Look, we’ve decided to make an investment in safety technology. Here’s what we’re doing. Here’s the company we’re working with, and here’s [00:39:00] why. And here’s how it’s going to benefit us. And if they say, Oh, well, that’s

great. We’re all for this. We’ll give this an opportunity and you allow your employees to provide feedback on it, they’re going to see that it is a great thing for them. If anything, it’s only a benefit. So, you know, beyond that, I don’t see a whole lot of downside. A lot of times there are big companies who have concern is, you know, we have one hundred assets. How are we going to install this? And I explain, look it’s pretty simple. We’ll go out at night or on a weekend if we need to get it installed because we don’t want your fleet to be either off the road or off the job site. We want to keep you, your company, and your assets working as much as possible. We don’t want to interfere with that. So we do the installation after hours if need be. And so, you know, when I throw that into the mix, they say, you know, there’s really not a whole lot of downside because for us to install one hundred systems could take us a week and nobody wants assets [00:40:00] unavailable for that amount of time. Peter Koch: [00:40:02] Yeah, very cool. I connected really well with that. The first downside that you said about someone being reliant on the camera or becoming reliant on the camera system, we’re going through the second round of teaching daughters how to drive. Right. So our 18 year old just got a car. She learned to drive on our vehicles, obviously, and we had a backup camera in our vehicle, and she became fairly reliant on using that backup camera. When she got her car, you know, she’s 18 years old, not making a ton of money. She’s not getting a really expensive car, no backup camera. So the first time she got in the car, she’s looking at the dashboard backing up and I’m like, Hey, wait a second, there’s mirrors that you have to use. You got to turn your head around. You can’t. What are you looking at? You’re just looking at the dial on the radio. That’s not going to help you get good situational awareness. She’s like, Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. And to [00:41:00] this day, she’s had it for about a month now, and to this day, she’s really been, she laments not having that backup camera, but she’s learned really well to pay more attention, especially when she’s in that, in her vehicle backing up. So it begs the question, maybe, you know, as you think about that being a potential challenge for employers, what might be a solution like, I’m just some thinking about different training possibilities for the operators so that they are using the camera system not as their only piece of information about situational awareness, but an enhancement for situational awareness. So do you have any input about what companies are doing or could do to enhance or to help their operators use it as an enhancement, rather than the only part of situational awareness that they rely on? Chris Burns: [00:41:51] Yeah, so I think a couple of things there is one if a company is going to make an investment, I think explaining why they’re making the investment is [00:42:00] important and it doesn’t come down to. We’re doing it because of a specific employee. We’re doing it to increase safety because we care about our staff. We care about the health and safety of our people. More importantly, and then number two, we want to build efficiency. If we can be more efficient, we can get more done. We can be ultimately more profitable. And if we’re more profitable, we can then reinvest into improved technology, improved equipment, potentially bonuses. And if you have that communication and say, OK, we’re going to invest, but we’re also going to train you and this is something we’ll be working on in twenty twenty-two is some video production that goes through. Here’s what the equipment is. Here’s where your cameras are understanding where they are and how the system works, how easy it is. Basically, turn the key, turn the vehicle or the asset on it powers on itself. And then how could you utilize this [00:43:00] to better operate? So again, employees need to know that as much as we don’t think we need to explain things we do when you’re making a big investment. Yeah, I have this. This is great. I can just look at the camera or computer screen. Well, no, you can’t. It’s there to supplement what you do and provide a value because if you are a new operator to a forklift or relatively new to a telehandler, you know that there are a lot of blind spots, and these accidents typically happen less with experienced operators and more with the newer operators. And so if you can say, you know, when you’re in a warehouse, watch out for this. When you’re on a job site, watch out for X and give people an opportunity to say, OK, well, what if I’m on a construction site? What if I’ve got other telehandlers? What if this and its situations, but also teaching what is situational awareness and how can I improve my [00:44:00] situational awareness? So as I mentioned before, we think, Oh great, we’re the operator. We know where everything is. We’re clear. Well, not necessarily. And so it kind of goes back to your point earlier about you having some daughters going through driver’s training. A lot of times we can teach the operator to be as safe and aware as possible, but that doesn’t mean a dog won’t run out on the road or a kid won’t run out on the road. Or, God forbid, an accident happens in front of you. And if you don’t have complete awareness or you’re not paying complete attention, you could get caught and it may not be one hundred percent your fault. So just teach the operator how they can best utilize that and what to look out for in the future. Now, some of these things will come in their training when they go through driver training or forklift training, whatever it might be, but continued education as to how to best utilize the technology. And as I mentioned, we’re hopeful that we can get into that in 2022 And [00:45:00] beyond. Peter Koch: [00:45:00] Yeah, that’s really cool and a good recommendation that communication getting people to understand how this tool can enhance your own personal situational awareness and that as a new operator or a new driver, you know, your situational awareness is relatively small because you don’t have the experience to draw on for that, and this tool can be used to enhance that. But it’s not the only, it’s not the end all, be all of your situational awareness or the only tool that you should be using to make decisions. So really, really good points in there and good luck with putting that training together. I think that’s a great opportunity for employers and companies to take advantage of that, because any time that you get to have the expert come in and teach you a little bit more about how to use the tool more effectively is invaluable. So hopefully that’ll work well for you guys. Chris Burns: [00:45:51] Yeah, thank you. Peter Koch: [00:45:52] So a couple more questions here before we get to the end of the podcast and as you, you know, as you see [00:46:00] this like this is it’s not a brand new technology, but it’s certainly something that you are making work in a really good way. What are some other applications? What are some other vehicles that you might see this system be good for? So we’ve talked about telehandlers and maybe forklifts, but where else do you see this system being installed that could be a benefit to other employers? Chris Burns: [00:46:23] Yeah, that’s a good question. It can start with something as simple as a box truck. You know, we started with backup cameras as a supplement to our GPS, and the big application was box trucks. People say, Hey, you know, I’ve got a box truck it’s 10 years old. Obviously, there’s very limited visibility, and in some cases, your mirrors may not be as wide enough as you’d like them to be. And your rearview mirror you may as well not have one because you can’t see out the back, right? And having one or two cameras in the back of a box truck can give you great visibility when you’re backing up. [00:47:00] And there might be instances where you know you might just have the vehicle in reverse to see if anyone’s coming your way. You can turn the cameras on without having the vehicle in reverse, which is nice in this situation. But we’ve seen cranes. We’ve seen a wide variety of construction equipment because we talk about the telehandler a lot because it’s considered the most dangerous piece of equipment by many in the industry. You don’t see as many forklifts in the construction field, but you will see them in a lot of warehouses and a lot of other places. And so, you know, those are the big ones, but construction box trucks? We’ve done some semis and semi-trailers. We’ve even done some on the backs of pickup trucks. If you’re often hauling trailers or pulling trailers, especially large, boxy trailers, it’s nice to have that visibility. So you can see maybe how close you are if there are other people. Typically, when you’re driving a truck, you have an employee or a colleague with you. So making sure if that person [00:48:00] is not in the cab with you, you can see where people are and see your surroundings. We’ve installed cameras on cars just about everything. It’s becoming more and more popular as safety continues to grow and companies look at how can I save money? How can I build more efficiencies? How can I be profitable? But the number one talking point is how do I keep my people safe? Because as you can imagine, it’s hard to find good people right now. It’s hard to hire good people, and the onboarding could take days to weeks to months. And so if you have an employee out, you know that could be that could set you back. And so companies are starting to say, I want to invest in safety and they’re excited to invest in safety because they’re seeing that. Yeah, there could be a huge return on investment. Peter Koch: [00:48:54] Nice. When you were talking, this just clicked for me. So most of my experience in industry [00:49:00] has been within the ski industry. I’ve worked for a number of different ski areas, done all sorts of different work with them. And when you’re talking about the big box truck having to see behind, whether you’re in reverse or not, I’m thinking of groomers, right? So one of the biggest injuries that we find and you had referenced this before, and I really didn’t tag on to it until right now. But with the 360 backup camera, you really prevent a lot of neck and shoulder strain. And if I think about the groomer in my experience with a groomer or actually the groomers and some of the really nice new brand new technology groomers that are out there, you spend a lot of time looking back over your shoulder through that big window trying to see what the tiller is doing and to make sure that that’s leaving the path that you want. So any time that you have to be looking behind you, it seems that might be a good application for this particular camera system. Chris Burns: [00:49:54] You’re right, but the physical strain is something that’s also very true with forklifts telehandlers, construction equipment, [00:50:00] even box trucks because you’re often doing this. People do rely on mirrors, but they also rely on their physical awareness, their eyes as well. And so we’ve seen that I don’t use that as much as a selling point because it doesn’t sound as believable. But as someone who’s been in the industry like yourself, who’s operated this type of equipment, you’ll start to recognize that, yeah, that is a pretty fantastic benefit. And that’s where employee satisfaction comes in. Where I mentioned the construction company, they started requesting it well, it’s a lot easier for me to operate. Some of these guys are working, guys and gals, working 10 hour days doing this, you know, twisting their neck in their body that can get old after a couple of days or a couple of weeks. And so, yeah, I think there’s a great benefit. You mentioned other applications. We recently installed some camera systems on party buses because as you kind of mentioned, not a lot of visibility, a lot of obstructions there, in addition to [00:51:00] the people on the bus. Peter Koch: [00:51:01] Yeah. And interesting application. I would not have thought about that, but it makes total sense. So we’re getting right to the bus at the end of the podcast here. If some of our listeners want to find out more about camera systems in Midwest fleet and safety specifically, where would they go look Chris? Where would they look to find more information? Chris Burns: [00:51:22] Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that one of the best places to find us is online on our website, which is You can also connect with us. We’re on Facebook and LinkedIn at Midwest fleet and safety. Otherwise, you can feel free to email me personally. It’s Chris@midwestfleetandsafety.Com You can give me a phone call 920-205-9644 and whether you just want to chat about fleet and safety stuff, certainly open book, we’d love to have those conversations. If you have questions, you want to pick our brain and just kind of know, Hey, what’s going on? I want to talk [00:52:00] to you more about this or that. We’re certainly open to it. We’re a pretty relaxed casual company. We really just enjoy helping people and educating people. And if it results in business, great. If not, that’s OK, too. But we’re a young small company. We’re trying to grow and forge relationships. So if you’re interested in connecting with us, please do so. And I hope everyone enjoyed listening to the episode today. Peter Koch: [00:52:21] Well, I know I did. I really appreciate this conversation. I always take something away from the conversation that I have with one of the guests. So thanks today and kind of that connection between the camera systems, situational awareness, reduction of injury, reduction of not just the struck-by injuries, but one of the injuries that the National Safety Council didn’t put in there is that soft tissue injury, which I think more and more our, you know, our workforce, especially here in Maine. I don’t know how it is about by you, but our workforce isn’t getting any younger. So that little personal satisfaction, the employee satisfaction of having a tool that allows them to work more [00:53:00] productively, longer, and just longer in their lifetime is a good tool and a take away from me. Thanks for that. Chris Burns: [00:53:08] Yeah, you’re welcome. And you know, when it comes down to it, Peter and I don’t want this to be a sales pitch, but companies can invest in this technology. If you’re talking about telehandler, one forklift for less than a thousand dollars in most cases. So think about the return on investment you could possibly see by spending a thousand dollars. Peter Koch: [00:53:28] Yeah, it’s not. It’s almost a no-brainer when it comes down to it, but you got to be in the right mindset for it. You got to understand it, and sometimes you have to have a reason for it. So as you know, as our listeners out there are thinking about, so where have our incidents been? Do we have telehandlers? Have we had productivity issues? Have we had or do we see an opportunity where we want to increase productivity? Have we had incidents or accidents? This might be the time for you to think about what technology can you use to try to eliminate some of those or increase your productivity, your quality [00:54:00], and your safety? So again, thank you for that. Chris Burns: [00:54:04] Thank you for having me. There’s one last thing I want to say. Peter Koch: [00:54:07] Sure. Chris Burns: [00:54:07] A lot of times what I’m talking to people like yourself or potential clients and say, You know, what advice would you give a company who’s considering this? And I hate to say this, but people say, I should say it more. And so I’ll say it to you. But if you’re thinking about it, invest because you want to, not because you have to. And I say that is that the majority of our clients are doing it because they’ve previously had a serious accident or incident and they don’t want it to happen again. And they say this, I swear to god, every single time, is if we only would have done this sooner. And I don’t like hearing that because, you know, I don’t want anyone I do business with to have had gone through something terrible like that, whether it be a simple twenty thousand dollar wall that they need to fix or something far more catastrophic. And so [00:55:00] do it because you want to prevent injuries and accidents, not because you have to do it. Peter Koch: [00:55:06] Yeah, that’s really, really good advice. Invest because you want to, not because you have to. I think that’s great and maybe a key takeaway for a lot of folks out there thinking about how can I invest in some technology that’s going to make me better? And if you want to be better, here’s an opportunity that might take you to the next level. So perfect for that. Thanks again, Chris, for coming on the podcast. This time, I appreciate talking with you. Chris Burns: [00:55:29] Peter you rock. It’s been a lot of fun, as always, and hopefully, we get to do this again soon. Peter Koch: [00:55:32] Yeah, I think we will. We’ll have to connect again sometime. And I appreciate you being there and good luck with your company and we’ll catch up again in the future, I guess. Chris Burns: [00:55:41] Good. I look forward to podcast episodes right on. Peter Koch: [00:55:44] Thanks again, Chris, for joining us and to all of our listeners out there today on the MEMIC Safety Experts podcast, we’ve been speaking about how camera systems can enhance situational awareness with Chris Burns, co-founder of Midwest Fleet and Safety. The MEMIC Safety Experts podcast [00:56:00] is written, hosted, and produced by me, Peter Koch. If you have any questions about camera systems or situational awareness or would like to hear more about a particular topic on our podcast. Email me at Also, check out our show notes at, where you can find additional resources, as well as our entire podcast archive. And while you’re there, sign up for our safety net blog. So you never miss any of our articles or safety news updates, and if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate it. If you would subscribe to the podcast and that takes a minute or two to review us on Spotify, iTunes, or whichever podcast service that you found us on. And if you’ve already done that, well, thank you because it really helps us spread the word. Please consider sharing the show with a business associate friend or a family member that you think will get something out of it? And as always, thank you for the continued support, and until next time, this is Peter Koch reminding you that listening to the MEMIC Safety Experts podcast [00:57:00] is good, but using what you learned here is even better.


Thanks for listening and reading.


Chris Burns

Midwest Fleet and Safety