The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that approximately 100 workers are killed and another 20,000 workers are injured in highway and street construction accidents every year. Data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) reveals that 55% of these fatalities occur within the work zone area itself.
Flaggers and workers on foot face the greatest risk of being struck by vehicles or construction equipment since they are often invisible to motorists or equipment operators. Those workers who operate construction equipment are most likely injured by collision, overturning equipment or being caught in running equipment.
Most highway work zone workers frequently operate in conditions involving low light, reduced visibility, poor weather, or vehicle congested areas.
How Workers Can Protect Themselves from Injury
The following are some of the best safety tips that a worker can adopt to protect themselves from a highway work zone injury or fatality:
- Wear high visibility garments, such as fluorescent or reflective clothing, arm bands, hats or vests.
- Be aware of all potential hazards, especially blind spots relative to moving construction equipment.
- Always look before you move from your position.
- Fully understand the channel lanes where walking is prohibited or is proscribed, where vehicles and equipment enter or exit, and the direction of all traffic in and out the work zone.
- Use spotters while loading and unloading equipment.
- If acting as a spotter, know where you are expected to stand and confirm what hand signals are to be relayed to the driver.
- Before each work shift begins, familiarize yourself with the communication signals to be used between equipment operators and workers on foot.
- Be aware of the swing area for equipment that uses buckets.
- Never stand under any suspended equipment like buckets, booms, or arms.
- Ensure that all parking brakes are applied to any equipment, especially if you have to exit the vehicle temporarily. Additionally, all vehicles parked on inclines should have adequate-sized chocks placed under their tires.
- Do not operate any vehicle, especially rollers, on an incline without wearing a seat belt.
- Never approach any machinery without signaling the operator to shut down the equipment and receiving an acknowledgement in return.
- Avoid riding on any moving equipment like rollers or similar equipment.
- Equipment operators should never move equipment without making positive visual eye contact with all workers on foot in their vicinity.
- Flaggers should understand the traffic flow, work zone set up and the proper placement of traffic channeling devices.
- Flaggers should maintain ample distance from other highway workers so their role can be distinguished by passing motorists.
- Flaggers should ensure they have good sight communication or two-way radios to communicate with their counterpart at the other end the vehicular stream.
Always think safety and be aware of your surroundings. Above all else — never assume that equipment operators or motorists outside the work zone have spotted you and will slow down or stop.