Preventing Work Zone Injuries

Many road worker fatalities are due to runovers and backovers by construction vehicles — and are preventable.

Road workers put themselves in harm’s way every day. In 2016, 143 workers died at road construction sites in the United States. Texas had more than its share of these incidents, with 19 deaths, as did Florida, where 12 workers lost their lives. Each year brings more than 100 such fatalities according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the numbers have risen steadily since 2013.  

Most worker deaths are caused runovers and backovers by vehicles or equipment, according to statistics on work zone safety from the DOT’s Federal Highway Administration. And more than half of those incidents involve workers being struck not by passenger vehicles but by construction vehicles, especially dump trucks. These accidents are entirely preventable.

As far as runovers caused by passenger vehicles go, distracted driving certainly plays a role. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Report System, distracted driving has led to nearly 500 fatal crashes in work zones. (Drivers and passengers are most often the victims of these crashes.) Speeding is also a factor.

Another issue could be the changing demographics of drivers. According to a recent report from TRIP, a nonprofit that researches data on surface transportation issues, the number and proportion of licensed drivers 65 or older has surged in the last decade. California, Florida, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania lead the nation in the number of licensed drivers 65 and older. In addition, there are simply more drivers on the road. The number of licensed drivers in the U.S. increased by 9 percent from 2006 to 2016, according to TRIP.

After runovers/backovers, the second most common cause of worker fatalities is collisions between vehicles or equipment. The third is struck-by accidents, in which workers are caught between or struck by construction equipment and objects.

The Georgia Struck-By Alliance has gathered a list of safety tips workers can use to protect themselves. In addition to wearing hi-vis clothing and staying alert at all times, here are some important do’s and don’ts to remember.

Don’t

  • Turn your back on traffic.
  • Stand under any suspended equipment such as buckets, booms or arms.
  • Approach machinery without signaling the operator to shut down the equipment and receiving an acknowledgement.
  • Move equipment without making eye contact with all workers on foot in the vicinity.
  • Assume that equipment operators or motorists outside the work zone have spotted you and will slow down or stop.

Do

  • Look before you move from your position.
  • Be aware of the blind spots of moving construction equipment.
  • Know the channel lanes where walking is prohibited, where vehicles and equipment enter or exit, and the direction of traffic in and out the work zone.
  • Use spotters while loading and unloading equipment.
  • Know where you to stand if you’re a spotter and confirm what hand signals to use.
  • Maintain ample distance from other workers if you’re a flagger so you can be distinguished by motorists.
  • Communicate with your counterpart at the other end the vehicular stream if you’re a flagger by using good sight communication or two-way radios.
  • Apply parking brakes to all equipment and use adequate-size chocks for vehicles parked on an incline.
  • Have a bail-out plan in case of an errant vehicle.

A good motto for all road workers: Expect the unexpected.

The Federal Highway Administration offers guidance for setting up and maintaining work zone signs, barricades, flagging, etc., in its Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

 

Marianne Wait is an editor and writer who creates content for Fortune 500 brands.