5 Road Construction Safety Tips

by Melanie Baravik
April 10, 2018

It’s National Work Zone Awareness Week 2018 (NWZAW)! Spring is here, and that means road construction is starting to ramp up. Highways and busy roads present different dangers than the average construction site, so a few extra safety precautions are in order.

NWZAW is an annual event created by the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, and this year’s theme is “Work Zone Safety: Everyone’s Responsibility.” The Clearinghouse wants to emphasize that safety goes beyond jobsite safety — the responsibility extends to everyone from drivers to local law enforcement to emergency responders.

And while you can’t guarantee everyone on the road will drive safely through work zones, you can take some steps on your end for a safe road construction project.

1. Make plans for safety and traffic control

As with nearly every safety measure you put in place, the first step is making a plan for how it will work. One of the first steps in road construction — besides planning the project itself — is determining how the flow of traffic will change while work is being done. Transportation management plans (TMPs) are required for significant projects funded by the Federal-aid Highway Program, but creating a TMP isn’t a bad idea for any project. Those plans evaluate the project’s impact on traffic and lay out a plan for mitigating that impact. TMPs consist of three parts:

• Temporary traffic control (TTC) plan — Addressing work zone traffic safety and control in accordance with Chapter 6 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and Chapter 9 of the AASHTO Roadside Design Guide
• Transportation operations (TO) component — Addressing operations and management of the work zone
• Public information (PI) component — Addressing communication with the public and project partners

Smaller Federal-aid project may only need a TTC plan rather than a full TMP.

And traffic surrounding the work zone isn’t the only thing to think about: the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) recommends developing an Internal Traffic Control Plan (ITCP). That’s because according to the FHWA’s ITCP guide, just as many work zone fatalities are caused by work vehicles and equipment as by drivers in the work zone. An ITCP can help put an end to those preventable accidents.

2. Train employees

This is another often-repeated safety step — and with good reason. Safety procedures are no use if your employees aren’t trained on how to put them in action. The Clearinghouse offers extensive training resources that include toolbox talk topics, webinars and workshops. Several organizations and universities receive grant funds from the FWHA Work Zone Safety Grant Program to develop better safety measures and more effective training methods. There’s no shortage of support when it comes to work zone safety training.

Work zones also often have flaggers directing traffic around construction work, a job you won’t usually see on other jobsites. That job is dangerous because of its proximity to drivers — flaggers are essentially standing out in traffic. Many states require flaggers to get a certification, so get familiar with your state’s laws and ensure your flaggers are properly trained and certified.

3. Wear reflective safety apparel

Though wearing proper safety apparel seems like a given, it’s an extremely important facet of road construction safety. Worker visibility is important at all times and to everyone near the work zone — it needs to be worn during the day as well as at night, and it’s for the benefit of other workers just as much as drivers.

The MUTCD requires workers near roadways or the TTC area to wear Class 2 or 3 safety apparel. Class 2 apparel usually consists of a vest that covers all or most of the torso and is reflective. Class 3 apparel is also reflective and has sleeves or pant legs. Class 2 apparel can be worn in combination with Class E apparel — reflective shorts or pants — and is considered a Class 3 Ensemble. In a construction work zone, workers will nearly always need to wear Class 3 apparel.

4. Post signs, set up barriers and use lights

Signs are probably the first thing that comes to mind when you’re thinking about work zone safety. They’re often the first sign (pun intended) that road construction is underway and let drivers know what to expect. Signs communicate vital information to drivers — speed limit, distance and duration of construction work and lane closures, just to name a few. LED signs are being more commonly used to display information about road work miles before it begins, as well as flashing arrows indicating upcoming lane closures and other messages.

Temporary traffic barriers separate the work zone from the roadway, keeping vehicles from entering the work zone. When barriers are used to guide traffic, they can be supplemented with advance warning lights and signs, pavement markings and other devices to communicate upcoming road changes to drivers. As with safety apparel, see the Roadside Design Guide and the MUTCD for more on using barriers effectively.

Using good lighting goes hand-in-hand with proper signage and reflective clothing when it comes to worker visibility. And not only should the work area be well-lit, but so should other equipment and structures that pose a hazard to drivers. When using lighting, do your best to minimize the effects of glare on both workers and drivers.

5. Monitor effectiveness  

There’s no way to know if your TMP or safety plan worked if you’re not measuring its results. If you work on a Federal-aid project that requires a TMP, a post-project evaluation is likely also needed. This TMP evaluation example discusses, among several other topics, public perception of the TMP, maximum and average delay times and crash information. And since they end with observations about how the TMP could be improved, evaluations are extremely useful to future projects. Safety evaluations after any project contribute immensely to future safety, so you might consider conducting them even if it’s not required.

Are you planning to observe NWZAW at your place of business? How will you educate your employees on work zone safety? And even if your construction firm doesn’t perform road work, this year’s NWZAW theme says it all — Work Zone Safety: Everyone’s Responsibility.

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