Skip navigation

Roadway Work Zone Tragedies Can Be Prevented

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) is encouraging employers, workers and motorists to be aware of roadway work zone safety rules in an effort to prevent tragedy this Memorial Day weekend and throughout the summer.

Working in and traveling through a roadway work zone can be deadly, ASSE officials note. The organization points to a recent crash on Interstate 81 north of Binghamton, N.Y., in which a tour bus struck a motorcyclist, a tractor-trailer and a cement mixer and then hit three roadway construction workers from a paving company, killing all three.

In the United States in 2003, 1,028 people died in roadway work zones and thousands more were injured. With 37.2 million Americans planning to hit the road this weekend, combined with summer roadway construction, the chance for accidents to occur increases. According to the American Automobile Association, the number of Americans saying they will travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend is 2.2 percent higher than last year.

"These work zone tragedies can be prevented. We encourage employers and the public to watch for work zone employees even more during this peak traffic time," ASSE member John P. Spath, CSP, said. "ASSE members. occupational safety, health and environmental practitioners, know that it is no accident when tragedies don't occur. Employers, employees and motorists in roadway work zones can be safe by knowing the risks, providing and following proper training, using personal protection equipment and more."

According to ASSE member George Wolff, CSP, in the ASSE Construction Safety Management and Engineering Book, preventing roadway work zone workers from being injured on the job requires employers and employees:

  • To be aware of the many types of worker hazards and exposures to risk;
  • To be aware of the need for a temporary traffic control work zone;
  • To be aware of the need to set up an advance work zone warning area and transition area;
  • To be aware of the hazards of installing, modifying and removing work zones;
  • To know how to best equip a flag person; and
  • To encourage driver awareness.

In addition to the risk from impaired drivers, Wolff states that roadway construction workers face a multitude of hazards that include being struck or caught between equipment, injury from overuse and poor body conditions and environmental exposures to heat, cold and sun.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation, recent incidents involving roadway work zone fatalities reflect the different risks involved.

  • In Oklahoma, a roller operator and a work crew foreman died after they were struck by a motorist in a highway work zone.
  • In South Carolina, a construction worker died after a water truck and a scraper collided.
  • In Virginia, an asphalt-milling superintendent was crushed under an asphalt-milling machine.
  • In Pennsylvania, a construction worker died after being struck by a front-end loader.
  • In Virginia, a construction worker died after being run over by an asphalt roller at a highway construction site.
  • In South Carolina, a construction worker died after a compactor tipped over at a highway construction site.
  • In Wisconsin, a flagger was struck from behind and killed by a truck intruding into a highway construction work zone.
  • In North Carolina, a state Department of Transportation highway maintenance worker died after being struck by a car while installing reflectors on a guardrail.
  • In Indiana, a 17-year-old part-time road construction worker died after being run over by a water truck.
  • In Virginia, a roadway construction worker died after being backed over by a dump truck.
  • In California, a highway worker died after being hit by a speeding vehicle while picking up cones on an interstate.
  • In Iowa, a city street worker was struck and killed by a speeding car.
  • In Massachusetts, a police officer was killed when struck by a motorist while directing traffic at a roadway work zone.

In a roadway work zone, motorists should pay attention to the orange diamond-shaped warning signs or electronic message boards posted in advance of a road construction project; minimize distractions such as changing a radio station; watch for stopped or slowing traffic, avoid tailgating; keep an eye out for construction workers, their equipment and vehicles, as well as the vehicles around them; and watch for detours and lane diversions.

For additional roadway safety tips visit to download the free ASSE brochure titled "Roadway crashes are the No. 1 cause of on-the-job deaths."

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.