Highway and street construction workers are at risk of fatal and serious nonfatal injury when working in the vicinity of passing motorists, construction vehicles and equipment.
Each year, more than 100 workers are killed and more than 20,000 are injured in the highway and street construction industry, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
A new NIOSH document, "Building Safer Highway Work Zones: Measures to Prevent Worker Injuries from Vehicles and Equipment," highlights the hazards work zone workers face.
To better understand these injury risks, NIOSH reviewed the current literature on highway safety, analyzed data on worker fatalities in the highway and street construction industry, and held a workshop with individuals from government, labor, industry, academia and state departments of transportation.
During the workshop, participants were asked to discuss measures that could be taken by employers, manufacturers and government and research agencies that would reduce or eliminate these hazards.
The material in the document draws on the collective knowledge, experience and expertise of numerous individuals who are involved with highway construction.
The document notes that highway workers are constantly exposed or put at risk. For instance, highway workers work in proximity to construction vehicles and motor vehicle traffic; flaggers on foot are exposed to the risk of being struck by traffic vehicles; workers operating construction vehicles or equipment risk injury due to overturn, collision or being caught in equipment.
All highway workers, regardless of their assigned task, work in conditions of low lighting, low visibility and inclement weather, and may work in congested areas with exposure to high traffic volume and speeds, according to NIOSH.
There are several recommendations the federal government has made to protect highway workers'' safety. These are highlighted in the NIOSH document.
The Federal Highway Administration has developed and maintained the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which provides for uniform design and setup on highway work zones. The primary focus of Part 6 of the MUTCD is the interaction between the road user and the work zone.
It also prescribes temporary traffic control measures for numerous scenarios involving lane closures, lane shifts, detours, shoulder work, median crossovers, mobile operations and blasting.
OSHA construction industry regulations (29 CFR 1926, Subpart O) address operation of vehicles and equipment within an off-highway job site not open to public traffic.
However, Subpart O is not exhaustive in its coverage of machinery types or safety equipment, nor does it address work practices, traffic control plans or shift work.
Flagging and signaling practices are discussed in general terms in Subpart G, which covers signs, signals and barricades.
NIOSH suggests the references, additional readings and on-line resources cited at the end of the document for more information on highway worker safety.
The NIOSH document can be found at www.cdc.gov/niosh/2001128.html.
by Virginia Sutcliffe