Industry associations recently gathered in Washington D.C. to mark the seventh annual National Work Zone Awareness Week, and the safety for your crews and the traveling public cannot be overemphasized. Over 1,000 workers and motorists are killed annually and another 50,000 injured in construction site accidents — sobering statistics that should serve as a wake-up call to all road contractors and motorists.
The industry continues to face added challenges in safely completing projects, with more fast-track projects and increasing night work presenting additional dangers for workers and motorists. Normal hazards are heightened during night hours due to reduced visibility, motorist fatigue and greater exposure to drunk and drugged driving. Improved illumination, visible police presence and stepped up speed enforcement are necessary to enhance safe working conditions, but contractors and their crews need to take the lead in making sure all workers and motorists are safe.
The demand and need to improve an aging Interstate System to serve the needs of a growing population, that will continue to increase the number of automobiles and trucks using the highway system, will continue to challenge the safety of both workers and motorists.
At the beginning of each work shift, crew supervisors need to make safety the number one priority of their toolbox discussions. Many contractors identify their new hires with different colored hard hats or vests, alerting other members of the crew to keep an eye on fellow workers who are not as familiar with the chaotic nature of a road work zone — large and loud equipment moving about, trucks moving in and out of the zone to supply asphalt, and motorists driving by in an adjacent travel lane. If a worker forgets where he is and takes one step back, he can easily find himself outside the designated work zone and in the path of oncoming traffic. Motorists, likewise, often have a tendency to "rubberneck" the activity going on, which adds to the unknown prevailing danger that can occur if they drift from their designated travel lane into the work zone.
The American Road and Transportation Builders Association's Transportation Development Foundation developed and manages the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, which offers the world's largest on-line library on the subject. You can obtain safety training information by logging on the site at http://wzsafety.tamu.edu.
So make safety in the work zone your top priority this summer, because your crews depend on it.
Greg Udelhofen, Editor