How to Create Work Zone Awareness When Doing Road Work
Making motorists aware of the work zone and how to safely navigate past it is crucial to keeping workers safe.
Road work zones are among the most dangerous of all construction job sites, largely because they're literally within arm’s length of the general public.
Although work zones exist anywhere where there is construction or industrial work going on, most sites are physically separated by fences and yards. The workers who have access to those sites have been trained in work zone awareness. Their jobs depend on adhering to the rules, procedures, and following the guidance of signal persons.
Road crews, however, work directly in public spaces. They resurface roads, fix signs and barriers, install traffic lights, fix power lines, and build ramps, intersections, and bridges – all while the traffic is kept flowing. Often, they have to block off lanes and maneuver large machinery in very tight spaces.
The Source of Danger in Road Work Zones
Danger is everywhere on a worksite. But no excavator, bulldozer, or jackhammer poses quite the degree of unpredictable danger as the public on the other side of the traffic cones. Whether they're driving trucks, cars, or riding motorcycles, these motorists are the most likely potential cause of injury and death for road workers. They are also responsible for their own high fatality rate. According to the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA), there were 669 deaths in roadway work zones in 2014 alone, and most of those were the motorists themselves.
(For another roadwork hazard, see Summertime Roadwork and Heat Stroke.)
Safety and Traffic Calming Procedures
Road construction companies are reminded regularly about the commonsense procedures designed to increase safety and drive down accident numbers. They include:
- Deploying a traffic control plan that gives drivers sufficient time and adequate signage so that they can prepare for the oncoming closure, including merging and slowing down
- Employing flaggers and bright directional lights
- Using solid physical barriers in place of cones, or using a lot of cones to create a “virtual wall"
Work Zone Safety Challenges
Despite these measures, the accidents still happen in great numbers. Work zone awareness struggles to keep pace with the distracted and impatient driver. Why?
It has been proven many times over by many different organizations that texting, or even using a hands-free phone, while driving leads to a level of distraction that meets the standards of impairment.
People who text spend many seconds looking at the screen of their phone as they read or type messages. But a car moving through a work zone at 40 mph is still traveling at 59 feet per second. That’s almost the length of a transport truck. Even three seconds spent not looking at the road means driving a car blind through very narrow, rough lanes for the length of three tractor-trailers.
Even drivers talking on a hands-free phone do not have the undivided concentration required for defensive driving. It is all divided up by the conversation. These drivers will negotiate the work zone on "autopilot," increasing the odds that they will lose control of the vehicle by hitting uneven pavement or even one of the cones.
(For related reading, see Distraction, Fatigue, and Impairment: What Any Safety Professional Can Do.)
Many drivers feel personally affronted when construction holds them up. They will try to drive quickly through the work zone to make up for the delay caused by merging traffic and road work machines. They will ignore flaggers, since they have no legal power, and will try anything to get further ahead, including sneaking back through the cones.
Some drivers are impaired by drugs or alcohol, which slows their reaction time and makes it difficult for them to accurately judge their distance from workers and obstructions.
Other drivers are simply unaware of the nature and the dangers of work zones. They have no awareness of the impact that chopped-up roads, slow-moving machinery, and fast-merging dump trucks can have. They have not learned how to drive defensively and may not know how to handle driving through the narrowed space.
Technological Assistance for Work Zone Safety
It may be time for new measures in the battle for safety and work zone awareness, and these may come in the form of an app. The American Traffic Safety Services Association offers a Work Zone Safety app that helps site engineers:
- “Quickly determine both minimum device spacing and minimum number of devices needed for merging, shifting, shoulder, or flagger operations
- Calculate the number of devices needed
- Customize your results to incorporate local standards
- Learn about and apply best practices for stationary lane closures and short duration operations.
- Set up a temporary traffic control area.”
With increased use and refinement, paired with greater access to real-time traffic data, apps like these might help us take a great leap forward in communicating directly with drivers through their cars, or adapting roadside construction sites and detours on a more timely and dynamic basis without jeopardizing safety or efficiency.
It's important to remember that, unlike the people in the work zone, the general public has not received safety training. Since they confront work zones unprepared, they essentially need to be walked through it. So, make sure you have all the signs, cones, and flaggers you'll need to guide motorists safely past the work zone so everyone can go on with their day unharmed.
More from AD Safety Network
- When should you consider using custom molded earplugs?
- At what height do falls become deadly?
- Who should be responsible for rescuing fallen workers?
- What kind of training do loading dock workers need?
- How often should I inspect a loading dock?
- How is wind chill calculated?
- What is the difference between occupational safety and process safety?
- Why should rubber insulating gloves be tested?
- What happens if I tie off at the foot level with a personal SRL?
- Why is testing with a NAIL4PET accredited lab important?
- What kind of face protection do I need when using a chainsaw?
- What is the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for silica?
- What is silica and why is it hazardous?
- What is 'Table 1' and why is it so important?
- Video Q&A - What is a safety policy?
- What kind of fire extinguisher is best for your work site?
- How do I choose the right respirator and mask for working with silica?
- Can I wear fall protection equipment over my rainwear or winter gear?
- When do I need a cage ladder?
- What types of gloves protect your hands from hazardous chemicals?
- How come I still got hurt while wearing flame-resistant clothing?
- What dangers do workers face when working outside in the winter?
- How do I win over my most reluctant employees?
- What kinds of jobs should use disposable safety gloves?
- Is it true that safety shouldn't be a top priority?
- When are employers allowed to conduct drug and alcohol tests on their employees?
- How can I get employees more involved in the risk assessment plan?
- What are some of the indirect costs of accidents?
- How often do fire extinguishers need to be inspected?
- What is the best way to store rubber safety gloves?
- How much voltage protection is needed for safety gloves used in electrical work?
- What is the difference between a safety valve and a release valve?
- When do workers have the right to refuse to work?
- What is the most overlooked item when designing Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) procedures?
- What are some of the misconceptions about heat stress and what should we do to address them?
- What tools should I tether when working at heights?
- What types of gas should I watch out for when working in a confined space?
- How do you create a culture of safety in your workplace?
- What is the difference between industrial safety and industrial hygiene?
- Is it important to get PPE assessments by trained professionals?
- What is a fault tree analysis?
- What kind of respirator cartridge should I use?
- What are the safety benefits of a whistleblower program?
- What type of safety record-keeping and recording should we be doing?
- What makes a hi-vis safety vest ANSI compliant?
- Why is it important to have air sampling done to determine my PELs?
- What is the life expectancy of fall protection equipment?
- What are hot work and cold work permits?
- What are some basic fall protection rules that each of my workers need to understand?
- How much clearance do I need to safely use a Leading Edge SRL?
- What is the difference between an acute hazard and a chronic hazard?
- What’s the difference between a bump test, a calibration check, and a full calibration?
- Is there any legislation regulating lone worker safety I should know about before hiring?
- What kind of fire extinguisher and accessories should be kept on hand on a factory floor?
- What can companies do to reduce their lost time injury frequency rates?
- Video Q&A - What's your safety network like?
- Video Q&A - What are the 3 levels of safety?
- Video Q&A - How do you treat a near miss?
- Does body weight affect falls differently?
- What ages are most affected by falls?
- Why do workers take risks?
- What Is the Difference Between OHSAS 18001 and 18002?
- What is the difference between lost time injury and medical treatment case?
- What is the difference between occupational health and safety and workplace health and safety?
- What is the difference between occupational health and occupational safety?
- What is the difference between a lost time injury and a disabling injury?