Following roadside construction safety best practices could save a life.
With traffic speeding past just a few feet away, work zones can be hazardous for people performing road construction or maintenance. Each year, an average of 123 workers are killed in roadside construction sites in the U.S. Many of them are struck by vehicles or construction machinery. To minimize the risk of injuries and fatalities, roadside construction safety should be a top priority.
The following work zone safety tips for workers can help ensure that roadwork continues safely and without interruption.
1. Create a traffic control plan
If the project affects the flow of traffic, a planner or supervisor should create a traffic control plan that adheres to DOT rules and state laws. These plans aim to keep traffic moving efficiently and provide a safe work area. They should take into consideration not only the overall traffic pattern but also how it changes throughout the day, and any hills, vegetation or other obstructions that could impact how visible the worksite is to motorists.
These plans use written directives and drawings to show the traffic diversions, signage (including any intelligent transportation systems), use of flaggers and other control measures needed. Once the plan is designed, it should be reviewed and modified as necessary after work begins.
2. Lay a perimeter that includes a buffer space
Use barriers to separate the work area from surrounding traffic, and include a buffer space if possible. (Note that state law may require one in most instances.) Buffer spaces separate traffic from workers and provide a recovery area for any vehicles that breach the perimeter. Buffer spaces should be kept free of equipment, vehicles and material.
3. Have an internal traffic control plan, too
Planners or supervisors should control the flow of equipment, machinery and workers on foot within the perimeter to reduce the risk of equipment striking workers. The plan might designate pedestrian-only areas and paths for equipment movement, keeping on-foot workers and equipment separate whenever possible. If necessary, use cones, barrels and barriers within the perimeter to show where it’s safe for workers to walk and stand and which areas they should avoid.
4. Have a competent person on site
Oftentimes, this will be a supervisor. According to OSHA, a competent person can identify existing and predictable hazards and has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them. Most worksites need more than one competent person so someone can keep watch if the other competent person needs to leave.
Use trained flaggers as needed
Use flaggers as needed to control the flow of traffic around the worksite, such as if the traffic control plan reduces traffic flow to one lane. Flaggers should undergo traffic control flagger training to learn the best practices and procedures for protecting a road crew.
Work facing traffic when possible
Just as pedestrians should walk facing traffic, laborers should work facing traffic whenever possible so they can see and avoid oncoming hazards. If that’s not possible, a spotter should be used to alert workers to imminent threats.
Roadside worksites can be noisy. Supervisors and workers should agree on communication protocols, including the use of hand signals and/or two-way radios. Before moving machinery, equipment operators should make eye contact with any nearby on-foot workers or rely on a spotter.
5. Evaluate the site daily
Survey the site for any new hazards or signs of narrowly avoided accidents. Damaged barricades, skid marks and cones that are knocked over can indicate areas where the traffic control plan is not working well. Workers should point these out to a supervisor or competent person.
Avoid walking in equipment blind spots
To minimize the risk of runovers, backovers and strikes, on-foot workers should take care not to walk behind machinery or within the swing radius of heavy equipment. They should pay attention to backup signals.
Increase visibility with high-vis clothing and lighting
The sooner a worker is seen, the more time a driver or equipment operator has to avoid striking them. OSHA requires all workers exposed to traffic or construction equipment to wear high-visibility apparel. Add lighting if work is being performed in the evening or at night.
Follow best practices when operating machinery
If you’re an equipment operator, protect yourself by wearing a seatbelt to keep you on the machine in the event of a rollover. When you’re not operating the machine, set the parking brake and chock your wheels to protect yourself and others.
Protect yourself from the elements
Overexertion accounts for a smaller but still significant number construction zone injuries. To avoid heat-related illness, stay well hydrated, take frequent breaks and wear lightweight, breathable clothing that offers protection from the sun. In colder months, keep warm with layers, insulated boot socks, a hat and gloves.
Working in roadways can quickly feel routine, and workers may become lax about highway construction zone safety. Proper planning, adherence to best practices and constant situational awareness can help to maintain a productive work day .