In Oregon, from 2015 to 2019 there was an average of 584 crashes in work zones. The recent federal infrastructure bill includes additional spending on roads and bridges, which will increase the number of work zones nationally. National Work Zone Awareness Week is held each spring to encourage safe driving through these areas. Its primary message is for drivers to use extra caution when driving through work zones.
Workers may encounter various hazards in work zones, including falls, electrical hazards, struck by, and caught between hazards. The national awareness week reminds employers and workers about the dangers of work zones and how to prevent accidents and injuries.
There are many resources available for employers to help raise awareness of the danger of work zones. Here are a few that may be helpful.
The CPWR toolbox talk about Work Zone Safety: Vehicle Operators tells Jean and Bob’s story, where a worker was struck by a truck backing up. It reminds workers to avoid backing up, when possible, check blind spots for workers or pedestrians, and use a backup alarm or beep twice before reversing. This talk is also available in Spanish.
The CPWR toolbox talk about Work Zone Safety: Working Around Vehicles tells Ryan’s story, where a worker on foot was almost hit by a construction vehicle while moving materials. It reminds workers to make eye contact with vehicle drivers when crossing the vehicle’s path, stay out of the driver’s blind spots, and wear high visibility clothing. This talk is also available in Spanish.
The CPWR toolbox talk about Night Shift: Road Work addresses work zone work at night. It reminds employees to set up enough light so workers can be seen by each other and oncoming traffic. It also reminds them to use reflective materials and lettering to improve visibility. This talk is also available in Spanish.
The NIOSH Workplace Solution called Preventing Worker Injuries and Deaths from Backing Construction Vehicles and Equipment provides information to help workers identify and control risks from moving construction vehicles and equipment. It uses a case study as an illustration of what to do to help prevent struck by incidents.
For social media graphics and media toolkits, check out the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s work zone page.
Tips for better work zone safety
Here are some tips you can share with your workers to help them improve their safety when working in road construction zones.
1. Develop a plan
Before beginning work, develop a traffic management plan. The plan should protect workers by safely conducting traffic around them or through the work zone. Also develop a traffic plan for inside the work zone to manage the flow of equipment, construction vehicles, and workers.
Include advanced warning for drivers, a transition area for lane closures and traffic pattern shifts, a buffer area, the work area, and a termination area that allows traffic to resume normal flow. All traffic control devices should comply with the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
The work zone should be broken down into separate work areas, such as material storage, heavy equipment usage, vehicle parking, and worker safe areas.
2. Wear proper equipment
All workers should wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for the job. This could include hardhats, steel toed boots, high viz clothing, and hearing protection. High viz clothing should have reflective material and meet ANSI Class 2 or 3 standards.
3. Be aware
Always be mindful of what’s going on around you in the work zone. Avoid walking behind vehicles or in the swing radius of heavy equipment. Spotters should be used to monitor the movement of vehicles and equipment inside the work zone, as well as monitoring traffic for potential dangers.
4. Provide proper supervision
Whenever work is being performed in the work zone a competent person should be on site. A competent person is defined as “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.” Workers should report any hazards or unsafe equipment immediately to the competent person so it can be corrected.
5. Have a daily safety meeting
Because conditions can change on-site day-to-day, you should have a quick safety meeting before work begins. The meeting should detail the work to be completed for the day and any potential hazards. Check out workers PPE to ensure that everyone is wearing the required gear.
6. Create a site-specific safety plan
A site-specific safety plan should identify all hazards and plans to control and mitigate them, provide a schedule to routinely inspect equipment and material, a first aid and medical attention plan, and safety training schedules for employees.
Work zone safety becomes especially important in spring and summer when the number of road projects increases. Further federal investment in infrastructure will also increase the number of projects in the coming years. Workers should regularly review safety information about work zones to keep the information fresh in their minds. Complacency leads to ignoring hazards, thus increasing the chance of injury.
The tools provided in this article can help employers make work zone safety a priority on all their affected projects.