Roadside safety

The next time your crew heads out for a job along a highway or other major thoroughfare, keep this in mind: In 1996, 133 workers were killed in highway work zones.

So while workers are concentrating on digging, trimming, mowing or whatever job they've been hired to do, they also need to take steps to protect themselves from the dangers inherent in working on the edge of highways or other high-volume roads.

"A lot of it is common sense," says Brad Sant, director of safety and regulatory affairs for the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

A 1998 report from the Federal Highway Administration, Meeting the Customer's Needs for Mobility and Safety During Construction and Maintenance Operations, described a state-of-the-art work zone as one where "workers are physically separated and are protected from the traffic. Work areas are sufficiently illuminated at night without blinding the motorist, and 'gawk screens' are used to prevent the motorists from being distracted during daytime operations."

Federal Highway Administration regulations state that a commercial vehicle stopped in a lane or shoulder of the highway "shall immediately activate the vehicular hazard warning signal flashers." The flashers should remain on until the driver places warning devices around the vehicle. The warning devices can be reflective triangles or flares.

Other regulations can vary from state to state. But regardless of the rules where you're working, you can take steps to make a work-zone accident at your site less likely.

Construction zone ahead The most important step to ensure safety is alerting drivers that a work zone is ahead along the roadway, says Stephanie Faul, communications director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

"You should have workers wear reflective vests or other conspicuous clothing," Faul said. "Conspicuity is the key.

"Post a lot of signs and warnings. You want to get the driver to slow down."

The warnings will draw more attention if they put a human face on the potential dangers. For example, some work zones have used signs that say, "Slow Down-My Dad Works Here."

The Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America says a traffic plan at a work zone should:

* Get the driver's attention in sufficient time so that he or she can act on instructions. * Warn the driver of approaching hazards. * Slow the speed of traffic. * Guide traffic around the work zone. * Return traffic to normal flow after leaving the work zone.

Orange is the best color for reflective clothing because drivers already associate it with construction zones, Faul said.

You also should place some kind of barriers between the highway traffic and your workers.

"The barricades should be easy for the driver to understand," Sant said.

For large jobs with a lot of equipment coming in and out of the work site, you should have a flagger directing traffic. But a worker should not not assume flagperson duties without special training, according to the Laborers' Health and Safety Fund.

The fund also cautions workers: * Do not remove your reflective warning vests. * Do not operate equipment in the work area unless you are qualified. * Do not leave a running vehicle unattended. * Do not position yourself near a stationary object where you can be crushed by a moving vehicle or a piece of equipment.

Following these and other common-sense safety tips won't guarantee a problem-free work zone, but will increase the likelihood that all your workers will be around to take part in the next roadside project.

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