Our highway infrastructure is aging, and that means rebuilding and improving existing roadways. In many areas around the United States, we are seeing the orange cones pop up on the side of the highway, along with reduced speed zones and yellow tape. For drivers, that means lane closures, delayed travel time, and detours. But for the workers out there on and along the road, construction season means increased safety measures.

Highway infrastructure workers, which include road, street, bridge, tunnel, and utility workers, are exposed to multiple hazards from outside and inside the work area. Add passing motorists, construction vehicles, and equipment to the mix and risk significantly increases for fatal and serious nonfatal injury. The common hazards found in this type of work include falls, electrical, struck-by, and caught between. According to NIOSH, more than 100 workers are killed and more than 20,000 are injured each year in the highway and street construction industry. Vehicles and equipment operating in and around the work zone are involved in more than half of the worker fatalities in this industry.

Historically, efforts to reduce vehicle-related worker injuries in this industry have focused on improving traffic control devices and work zone configurations to minimize confusion for motorists passing through the work zone and to limit collisions involving motorists.

Here are eight ways to keep your highway construction site safer for your workers:

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Work zone layout                                                     

Understanding traffic control principles is key in the configuration of work zones. According to the National Motorist Association, close to 85 percent of highway construction zone fatalities are those of motorists and/or their passengers. To reduce injury exposure from traffic vehicles, the Federal Highway Administration has developed and maintained the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which provides for uniform design and setup of highway work zones. Possible strategies include rerouting all traffic to one side of a multi-lane highway, providing alternative routes, or when feasible, complete road closure.

Where worker exposure to traffic cannot be completely eliminated, use positive protective barriers to shield workers from intrusions by traffic vehicles. Examples are truck-mounted attenuators (TMAs) and temporary traffic barriers. Also, consider additional measures such as sensors, handheld radios, and intrusion alarms, but do not rely on them as a primary protection against injury.

Temporary traffic control devices

Work zones must use temporary traffic control devices for public motorists in a consistent manner. According to OSHA, construction safety standards require that traffic control signs, signals, barricades, or devices must be used to protect construction employees from traffic hazards, such as motorists inadvertently entering the work space or exiting the highway in the wrong place. Set up temporary traffic control within a reasonable time prior to construction so that motorists do not become complacent and ignore warning signs and devices when work begins.

Motorist education /speed enforcement

Make sure to provide plenty of advance warning of upcoming work zones, such as real-time information in signage and in travelers’ advisory radio broadcasts. In highly vulnerable situations that threaten worker safety, consider reducing speed incrementally. To maintain traffic flow through regulatory speed zoning, use police, funneling, lane reduction, flashing lights, or flaggers. Alternative speed control measures, such as video-taping speeding motorists, radar-gun technology, fines, and pace vehicles, can also be implemented and tested.

High-visibility apparel

All workers working on foot in a highway construction zone must be outfitted in high-visibility safety apparel, such as fluorescent garments with retro-reflective material. Also, consider landscape and foliage variations when choosing apparel colors so workers do not blend into the background.

Internal traffic control plans

In addition to the temporary traffic control plan for the public, it is important to create an internal traffic control plan for work zone managers to coordinate the flow of construction vehicles, equipment, and workers operating in close proximity within the area of activity to ensure the safety of workers. The internal traffic control plan should address the chain of command, scope of project, safety elements, and a hazard assessment of the project.

Accountability and coordination

Be sure to maintain lines of communication between individuals responsible for different aspects of work zone safety and hold supervisors accountable for daily documentation of hazards and how they are mitigated. This helps to ensure workers are aware of hazards resulting from work being done on the site. Also, hold meetings before projects start to discuss potential hazards and how such hazards can be eliminated or mitigated.

Safe equipment operation

Heavy machinery and other equipment on the work site must be operated by persons who have been trained and authorized to work on that equipment. Inspections must be performed daily by supervisors, which include making sure the necessary maintenance and repairs are performed and records are maintained.

Training and certification

Since all workers, including equipment operators and supervisors, are likely to be on foot around operating vehicles, equipment, and passing motorists, develop a training program that provides workers with an understanding of safety hazards and methods of hazard reduction in highway and street construction. OSHA mandates training for all construction workers whose actions affect work zone safety.

The two most important factors to traffic safety, more so than speed, are attentive drivers and smooth traffic flow. Their importance is heightened even more in construction zones. Work zone safety and awareness is critical, for drivers as well as for the men and women who work on our highways. Never forget: ultimately it’s everyone’s responsibility to drive safely around work zones and following the posted signage.


References:

“Dispelling Highway Construction Zone Myths.” National Motorists Association. National Motorists Association, May 2010. Web.

“Highway Work Zones and Signs, Signals, and Barricades.” Occupational Safety & Health Administration.United States Department of Labor, n.d. Web. 2 June 2014.

Pratt, Stephanie G., David E. Fosbroke, and Suzanne M. Marsh.”Building Safer Highway Work Zones.” (2001): n. pag. National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health. Department of Human Health Services.Web. 2 June 2014.

“Worker Safety.” Federal Highway Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation, 4 Dec. 2013. Web. 3 June 2014.