Road workers brave many of the most unsafe working conditions around, including inclement weather, dangerous heavy equipment, work performed from heights, and potential electrical hazards. On top of these already risky conditions, motor vehicle traffic speeds by the work site constantly, threatening the unwary worker with serious injury or death.

Motor vehicle collisions with road workers are an all-too-common occurrence.  According to a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor study, 962 workers were killed at road construction sites from 2003 through 2010. Of these deaths, nearly half (442) occurred when a worker was struck by a vehicle or moving equipment. The study found that workers are equally as likely to be struck by highway traffic as they are mobile construction equipment.

To reduce the risk of injury and death, road workers and construction managers can implement a few simple procedures:

Increase Visibility

When it comes to keeping workers safe from highway traffic, visibility is key.  The Bureau of Labor study found that of the 92 people killed while flagging or performing traffic control duties, only 20 were wearing reflective or high-visibility clothing at the time.

Every precaution should be taken to ensure that workers are visible to oncoming traffic. High-visibility clothing should be worn by every person, but especially those conducting traffic. Yellow or green reflective clothing is preferable to orange, as different colors keep workers from blending in with orange construction signs.

Slow Traffic Down

According to several studies around the country, one of the most effective ways to slow down traffic before entering a construction zone is to plant a stationary police vehicle ahead of where road work begins. One Virginia study showed that the presence of a police vehicle slowed traffic by an average of 12 to 14 miles per hour.

In addition to a police presence, traffic can be slowed by using funneling or lane reduction techniques. Single lanes of traffic tend to move much slower than two or three lanes of traffic. In addition, cars are less likely to try and pass slower vehicles when there is only a single lane. This can prevent an aggressive motorist from swerving into a construction zone while trying to pass.

Use Traffic Barriers

Cones, barrels, and other lane separation techniques keep motorists at a safe distance from workers. Barriers also provide a cushion of safety from inattentive or distracted drivers. A driver who does hit a barrier will hopefully be jolted into awareness before driving into and injuring road workers.

Train Workers on Safety Awareness

Every worker should be trained on the best way to minimize their vulnerability while working next to traffic. A worker’s situational awareness is vital for avoiding both highway traffic and heavy construction equipment moving around the site. Thirteen per cent of all deaths in the Bureau of Labor study were caused by workers simply passing through the construction site. Teaching workers the proper techniques for entering, exiting, and passing through a site can significantly decrease the number of injuries and deaths reported every year

Analyze the Activity Area

Trained safety professionals should review a changing worksite on a regular basis to look for potential hazards. These professionals should try and minimize the zones where heavy equipment will need to back up, and should look for ways to implement any engineering, administrative, or personal protection measures that are needed to improve safety.

No matter what precautions workers take, injuries can still happen, especially with inattentive, distracted, or impaired drivers on the road. By taking the proper precautions, however, road workers can minimize their risk of injury and increase their odds of returning home safely. 

These road worker safety tips are provided by the South Florida personal injury firm of Gordon & Doner. Our firm is dedicated to holding negligent and irresponsible drivers accountable for the injuries caused to road workers in construction zones.

Our thanks to Jason Swilley for these great tips.  Again, April 7-11 was National Work Zone Awareness Week, and we can’t remind drivers too many times to slow down and watch for those who build our roads and keep them safe! pb