Contractors can’t eliminate speed demons and drunk drivers, but they can do their part to help keep workers safer.
Highway construction workers often toil within feet of vehicular traffic, so it isn't a leap to conclude that their jobs can be among the most dangerous jobs in the industry. In fact, according to a recent Associated General Contractors of America survey, 44 percent of responding highway contractors said vehicles had smashed into their work zones during the preceding 12 months. And 32 percent said they had experienced five or more of those incidents.
"If you're a highway contractor, you know the reality of work zone safety," said Brian Turmail, senior executive director of public affairs for AGC, "and you spend a lot time thinking about it."
As part of the AGC's lobbying efforts, Turmail said the agency has pushed for greater highway worker protections, such as yet-to-be-granted federal funds for Jersey barriers — modular concrete or water-filled plastic barricades that absorb impact or redirect a vehicle from work zones. Currently, Turmail said, the only protection some road workers enjoy is a line of traffic cones.
Highway construction can become even more dangerous at night, he noted, when more drivers are tired or intoxicated and speed demons take advantage of less-crowded roads.
The AGC has launched a summer public awareness campaign to educate drivers on the dangers they could pose to highway workers. But workers can also be kept safer with the help of programs that provide tools and training.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) offers free course materials that employers or organizations can use in their own training programs. Topics include work zone traffic control, transportation management plan development and guidelines aimed at preventing work zone injuries and deaths.
The National Highway Institute (NHI), which is the education and training arm of the FHWA, also offers training and certification through a hosted model. NHI experts, for a fee, will provide onsite training as part of courses such as Design and Operation of Work Zone Traffic Control, Construction Zone Safety Inspection and Work Zone Traffic Control for Maintenance Operations. The NHI also offers online courses and web-based seminars.
The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) also provides safety programs and services to highway contractors. It partners with major groups like the AGC to provide National Safety Council flagger certification. It also offers 10-hour and 30-hour classes, tailored for road workers, that are part of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Outreach Training Program.
More than 100 workers die on road construction sites each year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While contractors can’t do much to keep bad or irresponsible drivers off the road, they can use the resources at their disposal to help keep the workers who help build and maintain our highways safe.