Work Zone Safety Initiative Should Get Top PriorityAbstract:
The construction industry, government regulators and contracting agencies finally are all singing off the same song sheet as they join the popular chorus against the hazards of highway work zones. More used to working against each other, the parties have started a powerful movement. There is nothing more powerful than concerted action on an important issue.
What started out as individual actions by various groups and agencies to curb the large number of fatalities among motorists and construction workers is slowly taking shape as a national initiative. It should be that way. The many hundreds of people killed each year are not just statistics (see p. 36). The knowledge needed to do a better job is in hand and what really is needed is a facilitating boost to unlock that potential.
There clearly is a need for a multifaceted approach because highway and bridge contractors do not control enough of the aspects of work zones to solve the problem themselves, as can some other types of contractors. We agree with industry safety experts that the best place to start is the contracting process. Most highway work is public, awarded to the lowest responsible bidder. It is difficult, if not impossible, to use more expensive equipment, means and methods to save lives or reduce injuries if you can lose a contract opportunity when you are a dollar high in bidding.
Government regulations are the safety net in work zones, prescribing minimum action to be taken. Some individual firms have a clearer view of what action they need to take. For example, Cianbro Construction Co. says it will have a physical barrier between its workers and traffic in all work zones. It thinks that it can reach a balance between efficacy and cost with a flexible solution for each jobsite. That solution can range from heavy concrete barriers to a truck-mounted crash attenuator that can move along with crews.
That works for us and the firm. But even the heaviest barriers may not be effective in all situations. Reality sometimes works up a scenario that is hard to imagine. Consider the contractor that set up concrete barriers to protect a bridge abutment crew only to see an 18-wheeler fully loaded with crushed stone careen into the barriers and fold them up end- on-end like a carpenter’s ruler. Fortunately, the big rig came to a halt just short of where the crew of 20 was working.
The best answer may be a smorgasbord comprised of stringent prequalification of contractors based on their safety records, flexible compensation for safety devices, increased police presence in work zones and fully trained personnel to spot areas of difficulties before tragedies occur. This all costs some money. But the savings in dollars and heartbreak in the end will make the investment seem like a bargain.
Publisher: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Publication Date: June 12, 2000
Topics: Work Zone Safety