By Greg Sitek
This editorial appeared in the May 2012 issues of the Associated Construction Publications (ACP)
Going to work is tough. Going to work in an environment that is inherently hazardous is even tougher. Working construction in a “Work Zone” can be even more challenging, both physically and for promoting safety.
“Roadway Work Zone Safety: We’re All in This Together,” was the theme of 2013 National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW), which took place April 15th through April 19th. The week was kicked off with a news conference at a road construction site near the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The annual, week-long event raises awareness of the need to drive cautiously in work zones and calls on drivers to help protect highway workers during the busy construction season.
Manuel Rodrigues, vice president of Metro Paving Corp., the contractor managing the road construction project, represented ARTBA at the event, during which victims and their families placed ceremonial black ribbons on orange safety cones and observed a moment of silence for those who lost their lives helping to build and repair U.S. roads.
Danger in roadway work zones is a serious, but often overlooked, safety issue, with an average of 600 people killed and nearly 40,000 injured annually in accidents at these sites. More than 100 of these fatalities are construction workers.
This year’s theme aimed to reduce these numbers by highlighting the complexities of work zones, especially in urban areas, and the need for greater awareness and better planning on the part of everyone affected by work zones, including state agencies, road workers, drivers, bicyclists, motorcycles, pedestrians, emergency response, law enforcement and utility workers.
The ARTBA Foundation-managed National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse was one of the key sponsors of the week’s activities, along with other key industry organizations including the Federal Highway Administration, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the American Traffic Safety Services Association .
Founded in 1998, the Clearinghouse provides a centralized information source on “all things” safety. The database (www.workzonesafety.org ) is now the world’s largest online work zone safety resource; handling more than 200,000 requests annually.
When you consider the number of work zone injuries and fatalities, it’s easy to understand why there is such concern and emphasis on work zone safety, and why there is a week set aside to bring awareness to this situation. Look at the data that the Federal Highway Administration has available:
Work Zone Injuries
- There were 37,476 injuries in work zones in 2010. This equates to 1 work zone injury every 14 minutes (96 a day), or about 4 people injured every hour.
- More than 20,000 workers are injured in road construction work zones each year. According to a presentation on Injury Hazards in Road and Bridge Construction between 2003-2008, these injuries were caused by:
- Contact with objects or equipment (35 percent)
- Slips, trips, or falls (20 percent)
- Overexertion (15 percent)
- Transportation incidents (12 percent)
- Exposure to harmful substances or environments (5 percent).
Overall Work Zone Fatalities
This data comes from National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse Work Zone Fatalities, FARS Data, and Traffic Safety Facts 2010.
Work Zone Fatalities: In 2010, there were 514 fatal motor vehicle crashes in work zones, resulting in 576 fatalities.
- These 576 fatalities equate to 1 work zone fatality every 15 hours (1.6 a day).
- The number of fatalities is a 13.6 percent decrease from 2009 (667 fatalities), a 20 percent decrease from 2008 (720 fatalities), a 31 percent decrease from 2007 (831 fatalities), a 43 percent decrease from 2006 (1,004 fatalities), and a 46 percent decrease from 2005 (1,058 fatalities).
- Work Zone Fatalities compared to Total Annual VMT: Between 2002 and 2010, work zone fatalities decreased by 51 percent while total annual VMT grew from 2.829 billion to 2.967 billion, an increase of 4.8 percent. Travel on our roads increased overall during this period, so VMT through work zones likely showed a similar pattern.
- Work Zone Fatalities compared to Overall Highway Fatalities: While highway fatalities are declining overall, the rate of decline in work zone fatalities has been much higher. Overall highway fatalities declined 23 percent from 2002 to 2010, while work zone fatalities declined 51 percent during the same 8 year period.
- 576 work zone fatalities equates to 2 percent of all roadway fatalities in 2010
This is the work zone season. It involves everyone, not only the people who work in these environments but also the people who drive, ride or walk by or through them.
The numbers have decresed since this program was started, but they are still too high. If the number was only one it would be too high, especially if it was one of your friends or family. When you see work zone signs or orange cones, slow down, become alert and aware. Tell everyone you know to do the same thing. When you walk on the jobsite remember, safety first. Our goal needs to be everyone home everyday.