A Contractor’s Guide to Work Zone Safety

According to the National Safety Council, In 2021 alone, 954 people were killed, and over 42,000 people were injured in work zone-related crashes. Of these, construction sites were the top offenders. 

Sometimes it can be difficult to keep track of not only the safety of your workers on the road, but also the safety of nearby drivers. That’s why initiatives like National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW) are so crucial. 

So, with NWZAW starting on April 15th, let’s take the opportunity to explore the main issues surrounding work site driving incidents and provide a guide to preventing people from becoming another statistic. 

Identifying the Dangers of Work Zone Crashes

According to reports from 2000 to 2021, while work zone crashes hit a peak in 2002, they have been on a noticeable increase from 2010 onward.

Work Zone Deaths

Understanding the biggest culprits behind these incidents is essential to keeping everyone safe. 

Most Common Causes of Work Site Crashes 

Two parties can be involved in work zone accidents: drivers and workers. Let’s break down each perspective to identify the most significant causes.

The Driver’s Perspective:

  • Distracted drivers: Distracted drivers are the number one cause of work zone crashes. Drivers on the phone or doing anything that can impair or delay judgment are likely to miss “work zone ahead” signs and barriers.
  • Speeding: Incidents related to speeding are unfortunate since they are easily preventable by the drivers. A driver unable to reduce their speed in time is more likely to be involved in rear-end collisions with other drivers, commercial motor vehicles, and pedestrians.

According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers, at even 40 mph, vulnerable individuals have only a 20% chance of survival. This makes work zones on freeways and highways much more dangerous.

  • Tailgating: Traffic flow is particularly unpredictable in work zones, making tailgating a much more reckless habit. Incidents related to tailgating usually involve rear-end collisions.

The Worker’s Perspective:

  • Operating heavy machinery: There are many things to focus on on the job site. Workers may have to operate steamrollers, dump trucks, and mixers, depending on the task. Improper work practices related to these machines can result in traffic-related injuries around the work zone.

  • Low visibility: While weather can’t be controlled, wearing high-visibility gear and setting up obvious barriers and signage can. This is vital as poor weather conditions cause low visibility, leading to incidents on both sides.

  • Poor work practices: Ignoring safety protocols, like working too close to live traffic, can create dangerous situations for workers and drivers. Other issues, like leaving tools or equipment within the work zone, can create obstacles for drivers and increase the risk of tripping hazards for workers.

How Contractors Can Keep Work Zones Safe for Everyone

Now that we understand the major offenders let’s dive into how contractors can protect the public and workers.

1. Pre-planning Your Traffic Control

The number one step to preventing work zone crashes is planning. The planning process starts with researching the route you’re on. Before setting up, you must understand the area you’re in to implement traffic control. 

Then, develop a comprehensive traffic control plan for managing traffic flow effectively within a work zone. This plan should include details on lane closures, signage placement, and flagging procedures (we’ll cover these in later steps). Once the work starts, ensure a way to mediate traffic. 

2. Implementing Recommended Signage

Clear, consistent, and strategic signage is the best way to communicate with drivers well before they arrive at the work zone. 

Be sure to research OSHA’s specifications for the type, size, and placement of road signage. Maintaining compliance with these regulations ensures all necessary steps have been taken to prevent incidents. 

3. Using The Right Gear and Control Devices

Construction workers are particularly vulnerable in work zones. Providing them with high-visibility vests, jackets, and reflective gear is essential for ensuring they are seen by drivers, especially during low-light conditions.

For drivers, control devices like traffic cones, barrels, channelizing devices, and pavement markings all play crucial roles in guiding drivers safely through a site. Choose the appropriate devices and ensure their proper placement.

There are additional gear and PPE requirements to consider as well.

4. Implementing Proper Training and Procedures

Your team members need to be trained on all procedures related to work zone safety. Make sure the team is fully aware of what actions to take based on relevant laws and regulations. 

In addition to up-to-date training, a good practice to adopt is to start each day with mandatory safety meetings to review any tasks and precautions for the work day. 

Proper flagging procedures are also critical to directing traffic flow within work zones. Trained flaggers use standard hand signals to ensure the safe movement of both vehicles and workers.

5. Keep the Work Zone Monitored at All Times 

As a final step, once the work is underway, make sure you have a way to monitor the work zone. This means always having competent, experienced personnel on the clock. 

According to OSHA guidelines, a competent individual is someone who can identify existing and potential hazards and make real-time alterations based on them. 

Conclusion: A Safe Work Zone Protects Your Workers and the Public

While work sites are temporary, decisions made behind the wheel may not be. A contractor’s responsibility is to ensure compliance extends beyond the workforce and into the streets around them. 

With National Work Zone Awareness Week in mind, be sure to read up on the latest OSHA Work Zone Traffic Safety practices and start being the reason behind the future decrease in worksite accidents. 

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