Alternate description

LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

“Laborers are, by far, the largest number of the worker fatalities,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan. “More LIUNA members die in roadway work zones than on any other kind of construction site. Unfortunately, despite many strong efforts by LIUNA members and signatory contractors, this problem is worsening. A more persistent, focused and concerted effort needs to be made.”

Over the last decade, work zone fatalities increased dramatically, but new techniques and technology hold the promise of real progress in the years ahead. In support of Work Zone Safety Awareness Week, 2004, the LHSFNA reviewed the broad range of work zone safety interventions that have been tried to date as well as the new approaches that are beginning to gain traction.

Causes of Work Zone Worker Fatalities

Intruding trucks or autos18.0%
Construction vehicle impacts35.8%
Non-vehicular incidents21.1%
Trucks or autos outside work zone24.0%

Recommended Remedies

  • Better separation between work zones and outside traffic flow
  • Better internal traffic control plans
  • Improved safety technology for trucks
  • New technology for remote-controlled flagger operations
  • Improved training of roadway workers

Table 1

Relevant Facts

Between 1997 and 2002, the number of work zone fatalities in the United States increased 75 percent. By comparison, the total number of roadway fatalities (including work zone fatalities) rose by only 2.1 percent.

Clearly, work zone fatalities represent a growing segment of total roadway fatalities. Moreover, of workers killed in work zone incidents, 42 percent are construction laborers; the next largest category is truck drivers at nine percent.

From 1992 to 1998, about 120 workers per year (841 total) were killed in work zone incidents. A close analysis of the data reveals a great deal about how these workers died and, thus, how their deaths might have been prevented.

Almost all of these victims were repairing the road (41%), flagging (27%) or moving traffic control devices (24%).

Significantly, 59 percent of the deaths occurred inside the work zone; the rest, though work zone-related, occurred outside the actual work zone.

Among the workers killed inside the work zone, 32 percent were vehicle or equipment occupants, and 68 percent were killed on foot. Among those killed on foot, half were struck by a construction vehicle, and half were struck by a traffic vehicle that entered the work zone. Further, among those killed by a construction vehicle, 51 percent were struck by backing vehicles.

Outside the work zone, 57% were struck by a vehicle, and 43% were killed by other means (overhead power lines, falls from machinery or structures, gas line explosions or struck by falling objects or materials). The data do not indicate whether the vehicles that killed workers outside work zones were construction or traffic vehicles. Most likely, the vast majority were traffic vehicles.


Laborers and signatory contractors who wish to reduce fatalities and lost work time injuries in and around roadway work zones should focus on three areas:

  • Maintaining separation between traffic flow and work zone activity
  • Controlling the movement of construction vehicles and equipment within work zones
  • Improving safety unrelated to vehicle or equipment impacts

These areas of concern account for 75 percent of all worker fatalities and indicate a range of recommended remedies which are discussed on these pages (see Table 1).

Also addressed (Often Targeted, Seldom Responsive, Driving Public Saps Safety Resources) is the issue of campaigns aimed at changing the behavior of the driving public. While any of these efforts can have some positive effect, none has the same potential to save workers’ lives that direct workforce and worksite interventions offer. Thus, we urge caution in the allocation of resources to public awareness and enforcement campaigns.

[Steve Clark]