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Published: April, 2009; Vol 5, Num 11

 

Special K: Fortified Work Zone Safety from FHWA

By Scott Schneider

Just in time for the upcoming highway maintenance season, new Federal Highway Administration work zone safety rules went into effect in December, 2008.

“The requirements could have a dramatic impact on roadway construction,” says the LHSFNA’s Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “Though they don’t establish rigid rules, they highlight specific situations where contractors need to think carefully about how to address the hazards. Also, they summarize the available options.”

Positive protection policy is part of the FHWA's new, Subpart K, work zone regulation.

These new rules (Subpart K, 23 CFR 630) require that agencies (e.g., state departments of transportation) develop policies on the use of  (a) “positive protective devices,” such as concrete barriers, to prevent traffic from entering the work space; (b) “exposure control measures” to minimize worker exposure to traffic and motorist exposure to work activities; (c) “other traffic control measures” like law enforcement personnel; and (d) plans for the safe entry and exit of work vehicles from the work zone.

Subpart K identifies five particularly hazardous work zone situations: bridges, tunnels and other situations with no means of escape from traffic; work continuing for two weeks or more; speed limits exceeding 45 mph with high traffic volume; work close to open traffic lanes; and roadside hazards, such as drop-offs, in place overnight.

Subpart K suggests a number of measures to reduce worker exposure including full road closures, ramp closures, median crossovers, full or partial detours or diversions, rolling road blocks, work at night or off-peak hours or accelerated construction.

Police officers can be used effectively in work zones to help reduce traffic speeds, and Subpart K lists a number of conditions where they might be useful. It also notes that costs associated with the provision of uniformed law enforcement are eligible for Federal-aid participation and can be included in the construction contract. 

“Most importantly, the new rules require that specific items in the contract pay for traffic control, such as traffic control devices and positive barriers,” adds Borck. “By requiring a line item for safety in the budget, Subpart K helps level the playing field for all contractors because none of them can underbid by skimping on safety.”

Working under a grant from the Federal Highway Administration, the LHSFNA, Laborers-AGC and its partners in the Roadway Safety Consortium will be developing guidance and training materials to assist in compliance with Subpart K. The Fund also publishes two brochures, Internal Traffic Control Plans and Positive Protection. For more information, contact the Occupational Safety and Health Division at (202) 628-5465.

[Scott Schneider is the LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division Director.]