Safety Tips for Roadway Work Zones
Illumination, training, communication, detection, and safer design of the work zones themselves are among the strategies to use.
- By Barbara Mulhern, T.J. Lentz
- Jan 01, 2010
June 3, 2008, turned into a nightmare for Chris and Janet Augeri. Instead of celebrating their son Rob's 31st birthday, they were making plans for his funeral.
Robert (Rob) Augeri of Londonderry, N.H., a husband and father of four children ranging in age from 1 to 12, was killed at 1:30 a.m. while working in a highway construction zone. Rob was painting lines in the roadway on Interstate 495 near Methuen, Mass., when a dump truck backed into him in the closed left travel lane. Neither the driver of the truck nor his passenger was injured.
"Rob was wearing a hard hat and a reflective safety vest," Chris Augeri said. "My wife had a birthday cake for him. He came here and we saw him before he left for work. He said he'd come back for lunch that day he got killed."
OSHA cited and fined both the company Rob worked for, Brox Industries of Dracut, Mass., and the company that owned the dump truck, Lewis Maynard Trucking of Methuen. Brox Industries, which paid a $10,000 fine, was cited for three serious violations of OSHA's construction standards: 29 CFR 1926.20(b)(1), failure to initiate and maintain an eff ective safety program, which in this case included directing trucks in areas where workers are on foot; 29 CFR 1926.21(b)(2), failure to instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions; and 29 CFR 1926.56(a), failure to adequately light the roadway to minimum lighting standards while work is in progress. Lewis Maynard Trucking, which was cited for the failure to initiate and maintain an eff ective safety program (29 CFR 1926.20(b)(1), paid a $900 fine. According to OSHA, the backup alarm on the truck was fully functional.
Each year, roadway work zone crew members sustain approximately 27,000 first aid injuries and 26,000 lost-time injuries at an annual cost of $2.46 billion, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse report. Overall, highway incidents were the third-highest cause of work-related deaths in construction from 1992 through 2005, according to The Center for Construction Research and Training. (See the accompanying charts.)
There are two main causes of fatalities and serious injuries in roadway construction work. One is workers' being struck by construction vehicles. The other is workers' being struck by motorists. An example of the latter is an incident in Dane County, Wis., a little more than a year after Rob Augeri was killed in Massachusetts. County highway department employee James Porter died after being struck by a pickup truck while working on a road maintenance crew. He had just exited his truck when the pickup rear-ended a parked highway department truck, then struck him. Co-workers who attended his funeral wore their safety vests and draped black cloth over part of the truck assigned to him during his 20-year department career. Following his death, Dane County sheriff 's deputies stepped up their eff orts to ticket motorists who fail to follow roadway construction zone rules.
Preventing Work Zone Casualties
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is working to raise public awareness about preventable roadway work zone injuries and deaths. NIOSH's Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program (www.cdc.gov/niosh/face) has investigated numerous roadway construction zone deaths, including these:
A 28-year-old crew member was working as a flagger in a residential roadway work zone when a heavy construction truck with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 50,000 pounds backed over him. The worker, who was wearing an orange safety vest, was standing with his back to the reversing truck. The driver of the truck thought he had passed over a manhole cover and continued backing up.
A 33-year-old worker who was flagging traffic was struck from behind by a 10-ton straight-side produce truck. The flagger was preparing to stop eastbound traffic on the highway when the westbound produce truck, which had almost come to a complete stop, was struck in the rear by a tractor-trailer traveling at about 55 miles per hour. The produce truck was propelled across the eastbound lane directly into the flagger, who had her back to the oncoming truck.
Roadway construction zones are typically very noisy, with multiple pieces of equipment operating at the same time. That, combined with the noise of approaching traffic, can make it extremely difficult for workers to hear verbal warnings. "It's like 'white noise.' You've got jackhammers, trucks, and other equipment all in operation, and you can't distinguish one noise from the other," said Janet Augeri.
NIOSH FACE investigators have many recommendations to reduce the risk of injuries and deaths in roadway work zones. They include the following:
Eliminate vehicle and mobile equipment backing as much as possible on all work sites. Work zones should be designed to reduce and eliminate the need for backing.
When backing operations must be performed and workers are present, ensure that backing procedures are in place for mobile construction vehicles, that a "spotter" is designated to direct backing, and that drivers are in communication with workers on foot. Implement a policy that backing will not begin without an understandable signal from the spotter. Also, train all operators that they must come to a complete stop if visual contact with a spotter is lost. Limit vehicle access points into work zones.
Design work zones appropriately for the type of equipment and work expected.
Provide signs within the work zone to give guidance to pedestrians, equipment, and trucks.
Reduce worker exposure to the extent possible. Design or create "Pedestrians Only" and "Vehicular Traffic Only — No Pedestrians" zones that separate workers on foot from moving traffic wherever possible.
Follow all OSHA regulations relating to the safety of workers in and around roadway construction zones.
Ensure adequate communication among all workers in roadway construction zones via two-way radios, hand signaling, and/or personal one-on-one communication.
Consider installing after market devices (i.e., rear view/blind spot video, radar, and sonar) on construction vehicles and equipment to help in monitoring the presence of workers on foot in blind spots.
Ensure proper illumination for all work zones.
Implement a "buddy" system for employees working around construction equipment. Establish an Internal Traffic Control Plan. This is a tool project managers can use to control the flow of construction vehicles, equipment, and workers operating in the work zone.
Here are some additional tips:
Ensure that all workers, including subcontractors, receive training to recognize and avoid the hazards of working on foot around equipment and hazards and adaptations for work at night and in other lowvisibility conditions.
Assign overall responsibility for the safety of the work zone setup to a traffic control supervisor who is knowledgeable about traffic control procedures. Authorize the traffic control supervisor to temporarily halt work until unsafe conditions related to temporary traffic control have been eliminated.
Reduce worker exposure to injury to the extent possible. For highway construction, possible strategies include rerouting all traffi c to one side of a multi-lane highway and also complete road closure. Where worker exposure to traffic cannot be eliminated, use protective barriers to shield workers from intrusions by moving vehicles.
Consider additional measures such as sensors, hand-held radios, and intrusion alarms, but do not rely on them as primary protection against injury.
Provide crews with safety cones and other safety devices. Require that cones or barrels, warning signs for vehicle equipment entrances, and similar equipment be used. Also, ensure that construction equipment used at night has both reflective tape and appropriate lighting, such as amber revolving lights.
Provide high-quality protective gear for workers. This includes American National Standards Institute- and American Society for Testing and Materials-approved protective gear. Protective gear should include hard hats, safety glasses, foot protection, hearing protection, and high-visibility reflective clothing. Ensure that hard hats have reflectors for work done at night.
Campaigning for Safety
Since Rob Augeri's death in 2008, his parents have spent much of their time campaigning for safety in and around roadway construction zones.
The Augeris have set up a Web site and are campaigning for legislation called "Rob's Law" in Massachusetts and New Hampshire that would require the installation of reverse safety technology, such as rear-mount day/night cameras and motion sensing equipment, on dump trucks.
"We are going around as a family talking to mayors, state senators, and state representatives. Then we are going to key places in their towns, putting petitions out," Janet said. "What I say to everybody is that I don't want Rob to have gone in vain. I don't want him to be a 'statistic.' There isn't one day we don't suff er through this. No father or mother should ever have to worry about their child not coming home and not being in one piece."
This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.