Working after Dark: Night Work and Roadway Safety
By Walter Jones
“Night work has become a fact of life in highway construction,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan, noting a trend that is accelerating this season. “This work presents unique hazards which raise the risk of work zone injuries. Because of these special challenges, preplanning is essential to protect our members and their fellow workers.”
One of the reasons roadway construction is conducted at night is to avoid traffic congestion and related problems that are encountered on high volume roads during daylight hours. Work performed at night can be completed faster than during daytime operations. Night work is benefitted by:
- Reduced traffic volume
- Better access to the worksite
- Longer work shifts
- Cooler temperatures
- Reduced business impact
However, it also carries the risk that drivers are less attentive and drive at higher speeds at night, and facts show that more alcohol or drug-impaired drivers are involved in night work zone accidents. Along with decreased visibility, these factors suggest that lane closures are not as safe at night as during the day, and nighttime work zone crashes are generally more severe.
Managing the risk factors of reduced visibility, impaired drivers and high speeds is key to improving safety in nighttime work zones. Below are suggested practices to help reduce risks.
- Use police officers and speed monitoring. Portable, changeable message signs are most effective to achieve speed compliance. When a vehicle’s speed, measured by a radar unit, exceeds a specified value, the signs flash, “YOU ARE SPEEDING, SLOW DOWN!” or some other eye-catching message. In some situations, it is beneficial to station a police vehicle as a warning device or to have the officer patrol the work zone, ticketing speeders and violators.
- Employ positive protection. Positive protection is a jersey barrier or other device that prevents vehicle intrusion into the work zone. When possible, a buffer lane between the open lane and the lane where the work is occurring should also be established.
- Require retro-reflective material on all workers. All workers should wear hard hats that have retro-reflective material that is visible from all sides and from a minimum distance of 1,000 feet. Retro-reflective clothing on workers must clearly identify the wearer as a person and be visible through a full-range of motions.
- Improve the visibility and maintenance of traffic control devices. Where positive protection is not available, use retro-reflective material on all drums and cones and, where possible, use drums in the taper instead of cones. When using cones, stack two together or put weights on them to keep them in place. Make certain that all signs and channelizing devices are maintained in place and in good condition.
- Appoint a full-time Traffic Control Crewperson (TCC). A TCC, responsible for maintaining traffic control, should regularly monitor the work zone by driving through it several times a night. The review should include all aspects of project visibility. The TCC must also make sure the work zone signage does not send confusing, mixed messages.
- Reduce the glare from work lighting. To avoid blinding motorists passing the work zone, position and align lights to keep them aimed toward the work area and not toward traffic. Glare is also a problem for motorist visibility and is caused by not extending light poles to the proper height or by not aiming the light downward to limit illumination to the work zone.
Night work also poses a variety of personal challenges for Laborers that arise from the need to adjust to an uncommon sleep cycle. For help in understanding and adjusting to these challenges, see "The Nightlife" – Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be.
“Despite its special challenges, night work greatly eases problems for the public and, therefore, for state transportation officials,” says O’Sullivan. “Inevitably, we will be doing more of it, particularly as the stimulus package rolls out. The key for Laborers and contractors is to recognize the challenges and implement specific plans to address them.”
The LHSFNA publishes the Highway Work Zone Safety Checklist for roadway hazards and remedies, which can be ordered through the online catalogue. Most recently, the Roadway Safety Awareness Program received an upgrade with new modules and interactive demonstrations – including the topic of night work. It can be downloaded on the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse (www.workzonesafety.org).
[Walter Jones is the LHSFNA’s Associate Director of Occupational Safety and Health]