August 23, 2013 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 4Comment

Marshall Turner, 55 and James “Bubba” Rains, 34 were part of an asphalt paving crew, working on I-55 in Crittenden County, Arkansas.  On the evening of April 16, 2013, a pick-up truck driven by an Illinois man swerved into the closed-off construction work zone and struck Turner and Rains.  Both men were fatally injured.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, on average, 110 workers are killed each year while working in roadway and highway work zones.  In 2011, the most recent year in which data is available, the number of fatalities was 119.  Thirteen of the deaths occurred in Texas, the State with the highest number of occupational work zone deaths.

Road SignMI
Traffic sign on Six Mile Road, Northville, Michigan.

As I drove through Michigan recently, I captured this photo of a road sign.  It was situated about a quarter mile before a work zone.  It read:

“Injure/Kill a Worker, Fine $7500 Jail 15 years.”

Currently, the State of Michigan has the steepest penalties of any U.S. State for causing an injury or fatality in a roadway work zone.

Other States also have enhanced penalties.  In Florida, Louisiana and Nebraska, patrol officers and police will assess double the regular fine if a driver is caught speeding in a work zone where workers are present.  You’ve probably seen the signs:

“Fines Doubled When Workers are Present”

Other States go further.  Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, New Jersey and a few others, will assess double the regular fine for any moving violation no matter if workers are present or not.

More than 12 years ago, CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health convened a group of experts to discuss ways to better protect workers in highway construction work zones.   Their report “Building Safer Highway Work Zones: Measures to Prevent Worker Injuries from Vehicles and Equipment” included dozens of recommendations for road builders, contracting agencies, and federal, state and local policy makers.   Some of the recommendations for road construction contractors are:

  • Assign a traffic control supervisor who is knowledgeable in traffic control principles overall responsibility for the safety of the work zone set-up;
  • Where provided for in contract documents, increase the size of the lateral bufferzone to reduce worker exposure to passing motorists;
  • Carefully review the Traffic Control Plan (TCP) and, during contract negotiation, negotiate with the contracting agency as to revisions to the TCP that are needed to ensure worker safety; and
  • Authorize the traffic control supervisor to temporarily halt work until unsafe conditions related to temporary traffic control have been eliminated.

Just a few of the recommendations for contracting agencies include requirements in the contracts:

  • Use of best practice guidelines such as the U.S. Dept of Transportation’s Millennium Edition of Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD);
  • Use of truck-mounted attenuators (TMAs) …placed on the upstream, lateral, or downstream sides of traffic flow to physically isolate the work space.  They may be particularly useful in moving work zones, where they can move forward as work progresses to protect workers from being struck from behind by traffic vehicles; and
  • Rerouting all traffic to one side of a multi-lance highway, or complete road closures.

Recommendations for OSHA include:

  • Revise its construction industry regulations to require adherence to the Millenium Edition of the MUTCD in place of the 1971 version.

I haven’t been able to identify a source listing the State or Federal agencies which have adopted any of the recommendations in their contract requirements.  Do you know of one?


4 thoughts on “Cones in roadway work zones not enough to protect workers

  1. I would add “more visible enforcement of the work zone by the police”.
    We have a local ongoing project where the signs say “40 MPH in work zone at all times” and the local highway patrol was heard on the radio before the start of the construction saying they would be ticketing a lot of people. I drive thru several times a week but have only seen police a few times over the last 6 months.

  2. These kinds of deaths and injuries in the 1980s led to regulations in Nova Scotia, mostly as a result of work by a health and safety representative from the Canadian Union of Public Employees. The union, whose members work for municipal and provincial governments, also prepared guidelines based on its members’ recommendations at a 1988 conference (e.g. Jersey barriers to separate workers from traffic are one fairly-effective measure). Not sure if other Canadian jurisdictions have followed suit.

  3. This problem is not confined to highways. Refuse collectors have a higher rate of work fatalities than police officers or firefighters, due in large part to impatient drivers swerving around the refuse trucks at regular road speed and running over the workers, rather than slowing down and watching out.

    At risk of sounding terribly old-fashioned, the root of the problem is the pandemic of selfish me-first attitude, and the solution is to shift the culture toward greater respect for others and for our mutual interdependence.

    The reason to slow down in work zones, or when approaching a refuse vehicle or delivery vehicle on its rounds, isn’t so you don’t get arrested. It’s to show respect for others, whose jobs are necessary to our modern world, and whose lives are equal in value to one’s own.

    So here’s a thought-experiment or exercise:

    Every time you find yourself impatient with someone, as their work slows you down, imagine that they, and everyone in their position, are gone, and then consider the consequences. Poof! No more road workers! Now what happens to the roads? They quickly become broken up and un-drivable. Poof! No more refuse trucks or UPS delivery trucks! Now what? Piles of garbage and disease outbreaks, and business slowing to a grind for lack of rapid delivery services. Poof! No more pesky taxi cabs dropping off passengers at the corner! And minus taxis, city traffic becomes unbearable.

    Even where safety risks are not an issue, such as when standing in a long line at the grocery store: look around at the enormous variety of food you can buy and give thanks & praise to all the people who make that possible.

    Impatience and selfishness kill, and they also make life miserable, for oneself as well as for others. Instead of ginning up a miserable mood and spreading it like the flu, encourage others around you to be thankful for the mutual benefits of each others’ lives and work. There’s this thing called civilization. It takes all of us to make it go.

    An exercise like that in elementary school would be a useful teaching tool, but it would seem that the majority of adults could benefit from it as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.