As the construction season continues in full swing, the importance of safety equipment and measures to protect workers on roadside construction jobs has never been more significant.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an estimated 40,000 people are injured each year along roadside construction sites. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, in 2012 alone – the most recent year data was compiled – 130 workers were killed due to roadside accidents.
Hazards posed by roadside construction are as real as the need is for workers who are capable of completing construction jobs in a safe and efficient manner. The recent approval of a bill to extend funding for the Highway Trust Fund means that more skilled construction workers will be needed in the weeks and months to come to complete vital works on public ways.
Celebrated annually in April, National Work Zone Awareness Week represents a collaborative effort between the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration along with state and local transportation officials to increase roadside safety for construction workers.
According the FHWA, collisions often occur in worksites due to driver negligence, or speeding through work sites. In 2012, researchers found that speeding was a major factor in more than 35 percent of fatal work zone crashes. Drivers may also be unable to spot or see construction equipment or be unaware of changing conditions on the road due to lack of visibility or warnings.
By promoting better work site safety planning measures, along with better training for workers, officials hope to reduce the rate of injuries on-site. Additionally, by advocating for greater law enforcement in and around construction areas, the FHWA and state and local officials hope to raise awareness among drivers of potential hazards.
"Many sections of our nation's roads will be busy with workers and drivers in the coming months as construction activity picks up," FHWA Deputy Administrator Gregory Nadeau said in April. "By following the rules of the road in work zones, we can keep people safe during National Work Zone Awareness Week and all year long."
Embracing better highway work zone safety
Workers at roadway construction worksites are exposed to a number of challenges during a given job. Operating with the most reliable power tools and using safety equipment can help individuals meet the demands of the workplace while also ensuring that their health and well-being is preserved.
However, roadway sites pose a unique set of challenges due to the fact that construction vehicles and equipment are set up along what – in many cases – are major public thoroughfares. Additionally, the threat of working alongside passenger vehicles in dense traffic conditions can make the prospect of any roadside construction job very hazardous.
Studies from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have revealed that highway and street construction workers may be at greater risk for collision occurrences or injuries than at job sites that are more contained. To minimize the dangers this can pose to workers and reduce blind spots, the CDC urges contractors to create greater visibility around the site by posting signs, traffic cones and barriers that are compliant with standards established by state agencies and the FHWA. The use of spotters, mirrors, rear lights and in some instances, visual or hearing aid devices may limit blind spots and alert others to the work site.
Properly controlling traffic by giving motorists advanced warning of the site, or requesting lane closures, may help to shift patterns during work hours and create a buffer of protection for workers.
Protective safety equipment – such as hard hats, hearing protection aids, steel-toed boots, highly visible, reflective clothing – is essential for any job.
Above all, creating a site-specific plan for safety in advance can allow contractors to offer workers greater security and protection from injury. Encouraging workers to monitor their surroundings and be alert to changes in traffic is vital; whenever possible, workers may want to face the direction of traffic or have a spotter on-hand when they are unable to in order to be better aware of conditions on the road.