Work Zone Safety Awareness: The Risks of Work Zones
Springtime brings more than warmer temperatures and blooming flowers. The lovely weather also means the beginning of road construction season, with work zones going up across the country's highways, interstates and local streets. While improved road conditions is something all motorists look forward to, road workers face a variety of risks as they go about their daily duties. In fact, according to data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), between 2011 and 2019, highway worker fatalities had been on an upward trend. In 2019, there were 762 fatal crashes and 842 total fatalities at work zones.
The 2022 National Work Zone Awareness Week theme is Work Zones are a Sign to Slow Down. This year's event will take place April 11-15.
How Do You Create a Safe Work Zone?
The National Work Zone Awareness Week agreement between ATSSA, FHWA and AASHTO specified the following regarding work zone safety:
The need for more cautious driving through work zones to reduce injuries and fatalities
Create and promote standard work zone safety tips
Instill the value of proper training for work zone safety in the private sector, industry and roadway workers
Providing communication to roadway workers about the possible negative response motorists may have to traffic delays due to work zones
Further outreach efforts among work zone safety groups and partners
Almost 75% of road construction or work zone fatalities involved transportation-related incidents. These types of incidents include workers on foot getting struck by vehicles. These incidents also can involve workers in the vehicle, whether behind the wheel or as an occupant, getting in a fatal accident.
Work zones often are comprised of narrow or shifting lanes, speed and traffic pattern changes, uneven road surfaces and other risks. It's imperative that workers understand the challenges facing them in work zones. Likewise, drivers are responsible for practicing caution and safety when driving through road construction.
Work Zone Safety for Road Workers
Provide proper PPE. Road workers should be required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) like bright orange or yellow vests, steel-toed boots, hard hats and possibly even hearing protection based on the noise levels. Reflective materials on clothing are also a must in dark or inclement weather conditions.
Stay separated from traffic. Workers should stay as far away from moving vehicles as possible. Flaggers should manage oncoming traffic, and cones, barrels or even temporary concrete barriers should be utilized to separate workers from vehicles and keep them safe.
Be aware of blind spots and the surroundings. Workers should stay mindful of what is going on around them at all times. Face traffic while working inside the work zone and avoid walking behind vehicles or getting in heavy equipment blind spots. Stay in visual contact with the equipment drivers, and keep in mind they will have a limited line of sight.
Conduct regular safety meetings. Proper training is key to helping workers avoid accidents and injuries at the job site. Along with training, it's also encouraged to start each day with a brief safety meeting to discuss the potential hazards facing workers that particular day.
Keep traffic under control as much as possible. Work zones are notoriously known to disrupt traffic and sometimes cause major delays. Keep motorists alert of shifting traffic patterns or lane closures by creating an advanced warning area that a work zone is ahead, followed by a transition area, the actual work zone, and a termination area that indicates traffic may resume back to normal.
Work Zone Safety for Drivers
Minimize distractions. Distracted driving is responsible for thousands of deaths every year, and the risks only increase when navigating through a work zone. Drivers should focus solely on getting through the work zone as safely as possible, avoiding sending text messages, fiddling with the radio or climate controls, eating a snack, etc.
Follow work zone signs. Warning signs are posted to help drivers travel through the work zone safely. Drivers should pay close attention to all work zone signage until they have made it safely back into normal traffic patterns.
Obey reduced speed limits. Speeding is a major cause of most work zone crashes. Plus, slowing down helps protect the workers and allows drivers to watch out for them more effectively.
Plan routes around work zones. Whenever possible, motorists should try to avoid driving through work zones. If alternate routes are available, drivers are encouraged to seek them out.
Maintain extra space between vehicles. Tailgating should be avoided at all costs, as rear-end collisions are common in work zones. Drivers should keep extra space between their vehicle and the one in front of them at all times.
Disclaimer: WorkersCompensation.com publishes independently generated writings from a variety of workers' compensation industry stakeholders. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of WorkersCompensation.com.