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Apr 2016

Highway of Trouble: The dangers faced by road construction workers


The dangers faced by road construction workers

Road construction is a thorn in the side of many motorists across the United States. In our haste to reach work, soccer practice, and other engagements we often ignore construction zone regulations. Even without the recklessness of impatient motorists, road construction workers are at risk of injury and death. With the height of the road construction season looming, road construction companies need to assess their worksite procedures, and strive to ensure the safety of their personnel.

How prevalent are roadside construction injuries and fatalities?

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) attributes over 1500 worker fatalities to a combination of hazards: passing motorists, construction vehicles, and equipment accidents. There are also numerous injuries that occur on road construction worksites, costing the road construction industry approximately 603 million dollars annually. According to the NIOSH, 63% of the fatalities that occurred fell into these occupations: construction laborers, highway maintenance workers, heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers, first-line supervisors of construction and extraction workers, and construction equipment operators.

How can we keep workers safe?

Hazards abound in the road construction industry. Heavy equipment, a raucous work zone, and dangerous construction materials, all combined with the danger of moving traffic creates many opportunities for injury and fatalities. Construction companies need to encourage safe work habits and install regulations that ensure equipment is in working order. The NIOSH compiled a document that outlines various controls construction companies should take to protect personnel on the jobsite. These controls address communication between workers, vehicle maintenance, and encourage workers to be aware of their surroundings, equipment conditions, and job specifics.

Communication is crucial at the jobsite as it keeps workers in contact with one another. Communication can include hand signals, arm motions, color signals, and verbal cues. Keeping workers in sync with one another will increase awareness of the conditions of, and activity on, the worksite. Additionally, companies should have strict regulations on employee use of personal mobiles, headphones and other distracting devices. These devices can hinder communication and cause awareness issues in the workplace.

Vehicle maintenance needs to be heavily regulated. It is imperative that all vehicles and equipment operate without problem. Safety devices need to be installed correctly and in working order. The condition of cameras, alerts, and other safety features must be a priority.  Vehicle operators should take the initiative and inspect their vehicles before and after each use. This will help identify and mechanical or cosmetic issues that could hinder the performance of the machine. Jobsite vehicles should also have limited blind spots to help operators fully gauge their surroundings.

Finally, road construction employees need to be involved with the process of ensuring job safety. Workers who have concerns for their safety are encouraged address their issues with their employer, and complete a hazard assessment. This assessment will help reveal any hitches in jobsite procedures that have hazardous potential.  

Every time road construction workers step onto the jobsite they are risking their lives. It is the responsibility of construction companies to do everything possible in order to maximize the safety of their employees. It is also the responsibility of motorists to respect and obey all work-zone regulations. Speed limit, lane directions, and warning signs are there to protect motorists as well as workers. Do not let impatience and selfishness cause a reckless mistake. Prioritize the safety of our road construction workers.


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