Work Zone Safety: A Shared Responsibility

This week. April 11 – 15, 2016, is the 17th Annual National Work Zone Awareness Week which was started to increase public awareness about work zone safety and is held each April at the start of the highway construction season. This year’s theme is “Don’t Be That Driver!” with a kickoff event being held on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, near the I-75 widening project outside Toledo, OH.

This national event began as an internal awareness program initiated by the Bristol District of the Virginia DOT held April 7 – 11, 1997. The following year, the VDOT launched a statewide public awareness campaign to spread the word to promote safe driving habits and how to avoid hazards when traveling through work zones. In 1999, the American Traffic Safety Service Association (ATSSA), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) got together and signed an agreement to create the National Work Zone Awareness Week with the inaugural event taking place in 2000.

Work zone safety is a shared responsibility between motorists and workers. In honor of National Work Zone Awareness Week, here some tips for both motorists and workers to follow to make sure everyone gets home safely.

Work Zone Safety Tips for Motorists

Don’t Speed. Speeding through a work zone could result in a hefty fine, jail time or the loss of life for you, another motorist or a construction worker. Speed limits in work zones are reduced for a reason and there’s nowhere you have to be that’s worth endangering the lives of others by speeding through a work zone.

Avoid Distractions. You need to stay alert and pay close attention to everything going on when driving through a work zone. This is not the time to be changing radio stations, talking on your phone, texting, eating nachos, practicing on your ukulele or finishing your taxes which are due next week. Heed the advice of The Doors and “keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel”.

Obey All Signs & Flaggers. When you enter a work zone you’ll encounter a number of those orange traffic signs or flaggers letting you know you need to reduce your speed, traffic patterns have shifted or that lanes are closed and you need to merge one way or the other.  Read them and heed them as soon as possible; it will help traffic flow more smoothly.

Find an Alternate Route. In most cases there is more than one way to get from Point A to Point B for your daily commute. I can think of few alternate routes off the top of my head that would get me to and from work that would avoid any of the active work zones in my area. If you aren’t sure of a way around the construction try using your GPS device or Google Maps to find an alternate route.

Remain Calm. Don’t drive angry. Dealing with work zone congestion can be frustrating. Stop-and-go traffic and long delays in your commute can get anyone’s blood boiling, but getting angry won’t get you to your destination any faster. Try leaving earlier to avoid the morning or afternoon rush.

Work Zone Safety Tips for Workers

Create Separate Work Areas. Road construction work zones are busy areas usually with several work activities taking place at the same time. To avoid accidents use cones, barrels and barriers to clearly delineate specific areas of the work zone such as material storage, areas where heavy equipment is being used, vehicle parking and safe areas for workers on foot to move about in.

Wear Proper Safety Equipment. Proper safety equipment should be worn by all personnel inside the work zone. Personal protective equipment (PPE) including hard hats, steel-toed boots, highly visible clothing and, depending on the noise levels, hearing protection. All PPE should meet or exceed the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) developed standards. All highly visible clothing whether it’s a vest, jacket or shirt should be bright fluorescent orange or lime/yellow and also have visible reflective material especially if working at night and should meet ANSI Class 2 or 3 standards.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings. Regardless of what your job duties entail in the work zone you should always be mindful of what’s going on around you. Avoid walking behind any vehicles that may be backing up or into the swing radius of heavy equipment. Whenever possible, face traffic while inside the work zone or have a spotter available when you have to have your back turned. Spotters should also be used to monitor the movement of vehicles and heavy equipment inside the work zone in addition to monitoring traffic in order to alert workers to any potential dangers.

Avoid Blind Spots. There are always vehicles and heavy equipment moving about inside the work zone including dump trucks, compactors, pavement planers, excavators, pavers and rollers. Operators should ensure that all mirrors and visual aid devices are attached and operating properly including backup alarms and lights. If you are on foot and working near these machines while in operation remember that the driver has a limited line of sight. Always stay in visual contact with the driver. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if you can’t see them then they probably don’t see you.

Have a Competent Person on Hand. A competent person should be onsite whenever work is being performed. According to OSHA, a competent person is someone who is “capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings, or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.” A competent person is needed to conduct hazard assessments and regular inspections of the worksite. A competent person is also needed to select the appropriate class of PPE to be used by workers and to approve the appropriate types of traffic control devices. Workers should report any unsafe hazards or equipment to the competent person assigned to the work zone so they can be corrected immediately.

Start Each Workday with a Safety Meeting. In addition to ensuring that all personnel at the jobsite have the proper training required it is also a good idea to have a quick safety meeting before work begins. Since conditions can change greatly from day to day in the work zone workers should be briefed on the work activity scheduled each day and notified of all potential hazards. This is also a good time to ensure that all workers have and are wearing the proper PPE required for the work being done that day.

Have a Site Specific Safety Program. Every road construction project is different and each work zone has its own unique hazards and challenges so creating a safety program geared specifically for the site can go a long way in preventing accidents. The site specific safety program include identifying all hazards and plans to control and mitigate them, schedules to routinely inspect all equipment and material, a plan for first aid and emergency medical care in the event of an accident and safety training schedules for all employees.

Stay Hydrated. Workers performing road construction are susceptible to overexertion and heat-related illnesses. Asphalt absorbs 95% of the sun’s rays and asphalt temperatures can easily be 30° F or higher than the surrounding air temperature. Workers should drink plenty of water or liquids high in electrolytes like sports drinks or coconut water. Workers should also get out of the heat and sun as much as possible especially on extremely hot days to avoid heatstroke, dehydration and heat exhaustion.

9 replies
  1. Zequek Estrada
    Zequek Estrada says:

    I completely agree that work zone safety is a shared responsibility between motorist and workers. A lot of the time, I feel like the blame is always placed on one or the other. However, for there to be a problem or accident, it takes more than one person for it to occur.

  2. Deedee Lewis
    Deedee Lewis says:

    I really like the tip about being aware of your surroundings in the work zone. It can be easy for something to go amiss when working with heavy trucks and equipment. Being aware of your surrounders as a worker allows for those on the road to be kept safe, as well.

  3. TaraSafe
    TaraSafe says:

    PPE is extremely important .
    There are many workers who work in volatile environments where protection is required against accidents caused by low visibility conditions such as rain, fog, smoke, dust, dim light, etc. In such work areas, high visibility garments are essential. EN 20471 is the norm which specifies requirements for the high visibility clothing.

  4. Alexandria Martinez
    Alexandria Martinez says:

    My uncle works in construction and constantly talks about the importance of safety precautions. I have heard him say that only competent people should handle work zone equipment, much like what you said. He would really enjoy this article.

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