Safety Work Zone “Struck-by” Protection
We see them every day as we travel the roads and highways of our cities, counties, and interstate highways – “Slow Down Men At Work” signs. Politically incorrect, as there are many women also working on highway projects, but the message is clear, construction work is ahead. You, the driver, need to pay attention and approach with caution.
According to her online article recently published by the Asphalt Contractor Magazine dated, June 3, 2020, Jessica Lombardo states “Work zone crashes are on the rise in 2020, causing worker injuries and deaths.” It should not be a surprise to anyone that these incidents are increasingly more frequent. With the advent of the smartphones capability to transmit text messaging and emails, there are many more distractions to drivers than before when we only had the flip phone capable of only calling and receiving calls or before that with only car radios, conversations with passengers, and remarkable sightings along the road.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 2013 Traffic Safety Culture Index, noted that “83 percent of motorists rated texting while driving and 58 percent rated cell phone use very serious threats to their safety, yet many admitted performing these distracting behaviors while driving within the previous month. Further, 88 percent of respondents said that distracted drivers were somewhat or a much bigger problem today than they were just three years ago.” Additionally, the Foundation’s analysis of data from a 2006 study conducted by Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute revealed that “taking your eyes off the road for more than two seconds doubles your risk of a crash.”
Construction safety is not limited to the job site alone. There are various external sources that can alter the construction site’s working environment leading to dangerous conditions. Such external sources include air pollution, utility malfunctions, and distracted drivers.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2003-20017 1,844 workers lost their lives at road construction sites. Over that 15 year period, the State of Texas ranked #1 with 218 killed, #2 Florida with 132 deaths, #3 Pennsylvania with 91 casualties, #4 Illinois with 83, #5 California with 76, and #6 Tennessee with 70 killed.
So from a safety engineering perspective what are the solutions to safeguard roadway workers? The exact data is not available but many workers prefer to have peace officers on-site during construction operations. The blue and red light bars on top of police or highway patrol cars certainly cause drivers to pay attention and perhaps even slow down. In some states such as in California, you may see Highway Patrol cruisers follow the cleaning crews as they clean the roadways and emergency lanes. However, having such peace officer presence is not practical or economical at all roadway construction sites, especially those that extend for weeks, months, and even years.
A myriad of safety devices have been developed and are deployed, often in combination, to safeguard roadway construction sites and personnel including K rails, traffic cones, traffic delineators, electronic signboards, barricades, trucks with collision absorption tailgates, collision absorption barrels, and others such devices. Roadway construction workers rely upon those devices to protect and alert others to the worksite but they are not always enough.
Dangerous behavior including the distracted driver, the driver under the influence, the driver whose visibility is reduced due to environmental conditions, the new driver who lacks driving experience, the driver who has lost control over his/her vehicle is, and likely will always be, the main cause of
“struck-by” hazards and injuries to roadway construction workers. Can more robust safety mechanisms be put in place? The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published document No. 2001-128 titled “Building Safer Highway Work Zones: Measures to Prevent Worker Injuries From Vehicles and Equipment.” In this article DHHS (NIOSH) lays out 15 categories to consider for injury prevention measures including work zone layout, use of temporary traffic control devices, motorist education and speed enforcement, flaggers, high-visibility apparel, illumination of the work zone, developing internal traffic control plans, implementing internal traffic control plans, accountability and coordination at the worksite, equipment operation and maintenance, safe equipment operation around workers on foot, training and certification, changes in the contracting process, laboratory and field research needs, and data and record keeping.
Most importantly, as with any construction-related safety procedure, safety engineering preparation for all road construction worksites must include consideration of the particular and peculiar features of each site and each construction project. Safety procedures are not uniform except for the twin needs to follow them once the procedures are known and to continue to look for better ways to reduce the high risks of roadway construction.