Work Zones Are Big-Time Killers but There Are Some New DefensesAuthor/Presenter: Krizan, William G.
Highway work zones are a perpetual killer on both sides of the barrels and the construction industry, government and suppliers are trying to do something about it. One important tool now in their hands is a long-awaited document from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that assesses some of the risks and makes recommendations to improve the safety of construction workers in work zones. The document was unveiled at an international work zone safety conference sponsored by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, held May 9-12 in St. Louis. NIOSH focused on the worker side of the equation because it says more attention has been paid to the traffic management side, especially through the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a new version of which went into effect Jan. 17. The “balance has definitely tipped toward non-[highway vehicle] intrusion” types of fatalities among workers, said Stephanie G. Pratt, NIOSH’s senior author of the report. For example, “you hear of backing-over incidents over and and over” involving dump trucks and other types of construction equipment inside the work area, she said. Between 1992 and 1998, 841 workers were killed in highway and street construction and 492 (58.5%) were in work zones. Of these, 465 were vehicle or equipment related, according to the Labor Dept.’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. When motorists are included, the total work-zone death toll was 868 in 1999 alone.