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Tragedy Continues to Strike: How to Increase Work Zone Safety

The latest data from the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse reveals a grim reality: nearly 1,000 people lost their lives in road work accidents, marking the highest yearly total since Clearinghouse’s inception in 2011. This concerning trend signals a national issue that demands immediate attention. It’s time to take action. Addressing this issue involves various approaches, from emphasizing work zone safety through training to updating legislation and using innovative tools like North America Traffic’s Automated Flagger Assistance Device. In this blog, we’ll delve into recent data and statistics, highlighting the seriousness of the problem and exploring potential solutions to enhance safety in work zones.

What Recent Trends Show

Recent data confirms that work zones contribute significantly to fatalities and serious incidents. The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) reported these 2022 statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

  • At least 71 percent of the fatal injuries in a construction work zone are vehicle related, with 44 percent involving pedestrians struck by vehicles. 
  • Non-fatal struck-by injuries road work accidents are predominantly caused by being struck by an object or construction equipment.

In British Columbia, similar trends are evident. WorkSafeBC found that from 2014 to 2023, there were 9 worker deaths and 251 workers injured and off work, highlighting the vulnerability of roadside workers who face daily risks of being struck. Looking closer at the types of construction zone accidents, the National Work zone Safety Information Clearinghouse found that between 2020-2022, 51.7 percent of incidents involved workers on foot struck by vehicles, 26.3 percent involved workers driving or riding in motor vehicles and 21.9 percent involved other events like falls, slips, trips, electrocutions, caught in/between objects or equipment. They also noted that the percentage of highway worker fatalities involving workers on foot being struck by a vehicle increased from 45.7 percent in 2013 to 53.2 percent in 2022. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2011-2022 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries further underscores the risks, revealing that struck-by injuries are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries and the second most common cause of fatalities among construction workers. From 2011 to 2022, there were 1,462 fatal occupational injuries at road construction sites, with 68 percent occurring among construction industry workers. Almost half (44 percent) of these fatalities involved workers struck by vehicles in work zones.

The Severity of Construction Zone Accidents - Echoed by Stories in the News

These statistics are reiterated by new stories across North America. In North Vancouver, over the Easter long weekend, a construction flagger controlling traffic in the busy Deep Cove neighbourhood was hit by a vehicle during a potential road rage incident. Witnesses reported that the driver of a Nissan SUV refused to follow the flagger’s directions, “inching forward in an intimidating way” before eventually striking the flagger’s leg. The flagger was later treated in the hospital. This isn’t an isolated incident. In Bridport, Vermont, a construction flagger was hospitalized after being hit by a pickup truck on Vermont Route 125. Police say a 75-year-old man was driving east around 2:20 p.m. when he struck the flagger, 30-year-old Connor Joy, who was working at the time. In Paducah, Kentucky, a Transportation Cabinet employee was injured in a road work accident. A construction flagger had stopped traffic on KY 994/Old Mayfield Road in McCracken County when a driver disobeyed the flagger’s stop sign and hit the flagger while attempting to drive through the closed work zone. Although no charges were filed, the driver could have been cited for running a stop sign and endangering the workers. While the construction flaggers in the above cases for the most part sustained minor injuries, not all are as fortunate. In Jefferson County, Colorado, a woman working flag operations on Route 340 South was killed in April when another driver allegedly drove around a vehicle that had stopped in the work zone and ran over her. A few months ago in San Antonio, another construction flagger, too, was killed by a vehicle. The 63-year-old flagger was struck while attempting to block the roadway. The incident is still under investigation, but it’s alleged that the vehicle was travelling southbound on Schertz Parkway when the driver failed to observe the flagger until the collision occurred.

Solutions to Work Zone Safety

The upward trend of construction zone accidents and their severity is concerning. To enhance safety in work zones, action is needed. Solutions can range from better training to using innovative tools. Here are some best practices to reduce hazards in work zones and increase flagger safety.

Make Changes in Legislation

Lawmakers play a crucial role in increasing work zone safety by creating stricter penalties and regulations. In Maryland, the state has introduced the Maryland Road Worker Protection Act of 2024 (H.B. 513 and S.B. 479), which would raise the fine for speeding in a work zone from $40 to $290. A portion of these fines would fund highway and work zone safety projects. The act also clarifies that work zone speed control systems can be manned or unmanned, and a system operator doesn’t need to be present when it’s in use. Additionally, a state work group gathered over two dozen stakeholders to develop 28 recommendations for improving work zone safety. These recommendations include increasing the presence of state police in work zones, implementing buffer lanes, developing awareness campaigns with “high profile” leaders, billboards and informational fliers and enhancing driver education.

Implement an Internal Temporary Traffic Control Plan

Temporary traffic control plans define how work zones should be designed to ensure the safety of the public travelling through them. However, they often fail to consider construction equipment and vehicles within the same zone. This is where an Internal Traffic Control Plan (ITCP) comes into play. An ITCP coordinates and controls the flow of construction vehicles, equipment, workers and others entering and operating within the work zone. The goal of an ITCP is to separate vehicles and equipment from on-foot workers as much as possible to prevent struck-by incidents. With a clearly defined ITCP, property damage and project delays can be reduced, while overall on-site safety is increased.

Ensure Up-to-Date Work Zone Training

Training is essential in preventing construction zone accidents. Up-to-date training isn’t just for the safety of employees but also for the safety of pedestrians and motorists. Workers need hands-on training aligned with the Federal Highway Administration Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. This ensures they understand the dangers of work zones, their impact on motorists, and how to prevent road work accidents.

Utilize Innovative Devices for Flagger Safety

Why risk innocent lives when there’s a safer alternative? Our Automated Flagger Assistance Device (AFAD), developed over 30 years ago, is the first of its kind. This remotely operated traffic control device features high-visibility signage and a single-head with a gate-arm design. The RCF2.4 AFAD removes flaggers from harm’s way, allowing them to control traffic from a safe location, reducing exposure to potential hazards. Controlled by a Traffic Control Person, AFADs provide a secure and efficient alternative to traditional flagging methods for short-term, temporary work zones.

Increase Work Zone Safety With NAT: Contact us today!

Join us in making a difference in flagger safety. Our Automated Flagger Assistance Devices and other temporary traffic control devices can help reverse these concerning trends and improve work zone safety. Reach out to us for personalized consultations to see how North America Traffic can benefit your construction crew. Interested in a quote for one of our traffic control solutions? Visit our Request a Quote page.