Road Crews Face Danger During Construction Season

17 Apr, 2024 Liz Carey

                               

Columbus, OH (WorkersCompensation.com) – As departments of transportation across the country celebrate National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW), the Ohio Department of Transportation noted that injuries to transportation crew members in that state are on the rise.

So far this year, 43 ODOT crew members have been hit while working, compared to 56 crew members last year. Of those 14 ODOT workers and nine contractors were injured, and one contractor was killed, in work zone crashes.

NWZAW is an annual event held at the start of construction season to encourage drivers to be safe when driving through highway work zones. Held this year between April 15 and 19, the event brings together state departments of transportation (DOT), national road safety organizations, government agencies, private companies and individuals to educate roadway workers and contractors about the possible effects of motorists’ behavior in response to traffic delays, and as well as educate drivers on the dangers road workers face.

According to the ODOT, there were 4,098 work zone-related crashes in Ohio in 2023. Thirty-six percent of those crashes occurred when workers were present. Those crashes resulted in 1,433 injuries from work zone-related crashes, 110 of which were classified as serious injuries.

“Driving requires all your attention, but that is especially true in work zones where things can change quickly. Drop the distractions, obey the speed limit, and allow extra room between your vehicle and the one in front of you,” ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks, Ph.D. said.

In March, a West Virginia Division of Highways road worker was injured after being struck by a car in a work zone.

Officials said the worker was part of a three-man crew setting up traffic control devices about 9:45 p.m. on US 50 in Clarksburg when a vehicle crashed into the work zone. All three of the workers were wearing hardhats with bright lights, and the work zone was brightly lit by flashing lights on the workers’ truck, transportation officials said, and with a flashing arrow sign.

One of the three workers was taken to Ruby Memorial Hospital with injuries to the head and shoulder and was in critical condition.

Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston, P.E., said the most important safety element in a roadway work zone is the driver.

“There would be far fewer accidents if drivers would pay attention and obey the law in work zones,” Wriston said. “That’s what keeps you safe and it’s what keeps our workers safe.

In January, Washington State Department of Transportation officials lashed out at drivers when a crash sent six workers to the hospital.

The WSDOT workers were working on potholes on I-5 North. Officials said two pickups, carrying three workers each, were parked near 10 p.m. on the I-5 shoulder waiting for lane closures to repair potholes. Within two minutes of parking, a suspected drunk driver in a Chevrolet Impala drifted in the shoulder and crashed into the rear of one of the trucks, pushing it into the rear of the other. The Impala also crashed.

“We’ve taken the utmost precautions to try to provide them a safe work environment,” WSDOT Maintenance Supervisor Brad Clark said. “But these are factors that we cannot control.”

The six WSDOT workers were taken to area hospitals, four of the by ambulance and two were driven by supervisors, and were later discharged from the hospital.

At the time, Clark said the accident was one of the more serious ones he has seen.

“That makes it that much more difficult to get a phone call and to hear about six of your crew are now being transported to the hospital,” Clark said. “And you don’t get a lot of details when you get the first phone call. It’s like, ‘This went down. They’re going to the hospital.’ It’s like, OK, wait for further information, and then hope for the best, basically.”

Clark also said work zone crashes happen regularly.

“We have an incident, maybe once a month, where our crews are struck either taking a lane or on the shoulder or just doing their daily work,” he said.

According to the WSDOT, 16 agency vehicles were struck in Southwest Washington in 2023. That number is up from 14 in 2022, and eight in 2021. Nationwide, there were 857 fatal crashes in worker zones in 2020, which resulted in 774 deaths.

The week after the incident, the WSDOT had a message on its Facebook post for drivers.

“If it sounds like we’re angry … we’re angry,” the Facebook post said. “This happens all too often. The people working out on the roads are just that, people. They aren’t just vests and hard hats.”


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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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