Warmer weather means that roadwork season is in full effect which means more and more work zones are popping up on our interstates, highways and streets. It’s also the time of year when more people are on the road traveling greater distances to the beach, mountains and other vacation spots. According to the Federal Highway Administration there were 87,606 crashes in work zones in 2010 which resulted in 576 fatalities. There were also 37,476 injuries to workers in work zones and 106 fatalities.
With the July 4th holiday, repeatedly one of the worst holidays for traffic accidents, just around the corner we thought we’d take this opportunity to provide a top ten list of tips for road construction workers to stay safe through this busy season. While most state DOTs and local governments suspend most or all construction activity starting the day prior to the holiday and ending sometime the day after, there could be some areas where construction activity will be taking place.
1. Have a Plan. Every road construction project should have a transportation management plan. The plan should consist of a temporary traffic control plan to protect workers by safely conducting traffic around or through the work zone. You should also have a traffic control plan for inside the work zone that manages the flow of heavy equipment, construction vehicles and on-foot workers.
2. Properly Control Traffic. The work zone should consist of an advanced warning area with warning signs alerting motorists of upcoming changes in driving conditions, a transition area using traffic control devices for lane closures and traffic pattern shifts, a buffer area, the work area and a termination area to allow traffic to resume back to normal and a sign indicating that the work zone has ended. All traffic control devices whether it’s cones, barrels, barriers or signs should comply with the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) along with any state agency requirements.
3. Create Separate Work Areas. Road construction work zones are busy areas usually with several work activities taking place at the same time. To avoid accidents use cones, barrels and barriers to clearly delineate specific areas of the work zone such as material storage, areas where heavy equipment is being used, vehicle parking and safe areas for workers on foot to move about in.
4. Wear Proper Safety Equipment. Proper safety equipment should be worn by all personnel inside the work zone. Personal protective equipment (PPE) including hard hats, steel-toed boots, highly visible clothing and, depending on the noise levels, hearing protection. All PPE should meet or exceed the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) developed standards. All highly visible clothing whether it’s a vest, jacket or shirt should be bright fluorescent orange or lime/yellow and also have visible reflective material especially if working at night and should meet ANSI Class 2 or 3 standards.
5. Be Aware of Your Surroundings. Regardless of what your job duties entail in the work zone you should always be mindful of what’s going on around you. Avoid walking behind any vehicles that may be backing up or into the swing radius of heavy equipment. Whenever possible, face traffic while inside the work zone or have a spotter available when you have to have your back turned. Spotters should also be used to monitor the movement of vehicles and heavy equipment inside the work zone in addition to monitoring traffic in order to alert workers to any potential dangers.
6. Avoid Blind Spots. There are any number of vehicles and heavy equipment moving about inside the work zone including dump trucks, compactors, pavement planers, excavators, pavers and rollers. Operators should ensure that all mirrors and visual aid devices are attached and operating properly including back up alarms and lights. If you are on foot and working near these machines while in operation remember that the driver has a limited line of sight. Always stay in visual contact with the driver. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if you can’t see them then they probably don’t see you.
7. Have a Competent Person on Hand. A competent person should be onsite whenever work is being performed. According to OSHA, a competent person is someone who is “capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings, or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.” A competent person is needed to conduct hazard assessments and regular inspections of the worksite. A competent person is also needed to select the appropriate class of PPE to be used by workers and to approve the appropriate types of traffic control devices. Workers should report any unsafe hazards or equipment to the competent person assigned to the work zone so they can be corrected immediately.
8. Start Each Workday with a Safety Meeting. In addition to ensuring that all personnel at the jobsite have the proper training required it is also a good idea to have a quick safety meeting before work begins. Since conditions can change greatly from day to day in the work zone workers should be briefed on the work activity scheduled each day and notified of all potential hazards. This is also a good time to ensure that all workers have and are wearing the proper PPE required for the work being done that day.
9. Have a Site Specific Safety Program. Every road construction project is different and each work zone has its own unique hazards and challenges so creating a safety program geared specifically for the site can go a long way in preventing accidents. The site specific safety program include identifying all hazards and plans to control and mitigate them, schedules to routinely inspect all equipment and material, a plan for first aid and emergency medical care in the event of an accident and safety training schedules for all employees.
10. Stay Hydrated. Workers performing road construction are susceptible to overexertion and heat-related illnesses. Asphalt absorbs 95% of the sun’s rays and asphalt temperatures can easily be 30° F or more higher than the surrounding air temperature. Workers should drink plenty of water or liquids high in electrolytes like sports drinks or coconut water. Workers should also get out of the heat and sun as much as possible especially on extremely hot days to avoid heatstroke, dehydration and heat exhaustion.
What other safety tips should workers performing road construction be aware of? Share your thoughts and insights in the Comments Section below.