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LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

“There are more Laborers than other trades on highway projects,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan, “and, because of that, unfortunately, we suffer the most fatalities. Many of these are the result of crashes caused by intruding trucks or automobiles. Our members know the importance of limiting these crashes.”

Though highway work zones are dangerous for Laborers, they are even deadlier for the driving public. Between 1997 and 2002, while the overall number of highway deaths rose just 2.1 percent, the number of work zone fatalities (workers and drivers/passengers) rose 75 percent.

With so much of the danger on highways concentrated in and around work zones, state transportation departments look for ways to attack the problems. And because the danger is so acute for Laborers, LIUNA and its affiliates often suggest initiatives or take part in efforts designed by others.

In 2005, Laborers were involved in several work zone safety programs that were nominated for or won Roadway Work Zone Safety Awareness Awards from the National Safety Council (NSC) and the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). “I would like to commend those LIUNA members and funds involved in these award-winning efforts,” says O’Sullivan. “These efforts have saved Laborers’ lives. We need more programs like these.”

The awards were announced at the Intertraffic North America trade show and conference in Baltimore in September.

The winners were:

State Government Outreach Programs

Taking enforcement to the next level, the Illinois legislature and Governor Blagojevich combined an increase in penalties for speeding in work zones with the first-in-the-nation authorization of statewide photo enforcement. New, specially-equipped, mobile vans allow the easy set up of picture-taking operations. First-time fines are now $375 and repeat offenses bring a $1,000 fine plus a 90-day license suspension. The Illinois Department of Transportation invested more than $900,000 for radio and television commercials to make the public aware of the new surveillance. Using an orange ribbon to symbolize awareness and remembrance, IDOT took its Orange Ribbon Work Zone Safety Campaign to a NASCAR event at the Chicagoland Speedway and enlisted Chicago Cubs pitching star Mark Prior for its radio spots.

Private Outreach Campaigns

Seeking a brand that would support long-term public awareness messaging about work zone safety, Ohio LECET, in conjunction with the Ohio Contractors’ Association and the Laborers’ Union, created Bud the Barrel, a character who works in Smokey the Bear fashion to raise awareness. Bud the Barrel then appeared in a 30-second television spot that aired statewide during Work Zone Safety Awareness Week. Later, a 60-second radio spot was run between July and October in areas where the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) had active work zones. In addition, Ohio LECET, through a cooperative effort with ODOT, purchased 12 display units for ODOT that show the speeds of passing vehicles while also recording speed data for a 30-day period to allow studies of driver speed relative to time of day, weather, accident conditions and other work zone variables.

Local Government Outreach Programs

Building on its The Difference is YOU. Drive Smart campaign (launched in 2003) and anticipating a large increase in daytime work zone projects in Missouri last summer, MoDOT developed a multi-faceted public awareness campaign for 2005. Six radio ads and 21 billboards were deployed. LIUNA members participated by distributing work zone safety materials at highway rest areas during Work Zone Safety Awareness Week. The kick-off event featured MoDOT Director Pete Rahn at his desk in a Route 63 work zone. The state created a new, internet-based map – and set up variable message boards at all work zones – to help drivers avoid or navigate the state’s roadway construction sites. Results are not in for 2005, but the campaign helped reduce work zone injuries from 1,559 in 2003 to 1,172 in 2004.

Aware of the popularity of the TV reality show Survivor among the under-25 demographic, Northwest District Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) officials decided to create an interactive awareness program for high school juniors and seniors, known as Highway Survivor. They then got a boost when Missouri native Twila Tanner won First Runner-Up on the actual TV show and agreed to help promote the MoDOT program. In Highway Survivor, tribes of students move through eight large-scale work zones and other driving situation stations where they answer questions and complete challenges. Post-participation surveys show that 98 percent of the students agreed that they learned something about highway safety and had fun doing it.

Safety Training Programs

To augment the many written manuals that help roadway construction inspectors learn proper procedures for setting up work zones, the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) – in partnership with the University of Arkansas Mack-Blackwell Rural Transportation Center – created five work zone design videos to better illustrate the procedures: the Work Zone Design Safety Series. Copies of each video in the series – Drop Offs, Diversions, Signs of Work, Lane Closures and Work Zone Pavement Markings – were supplied to each AHTD field office and are available, free of charge, to construction contractors, utility offices and local municipalities with road construction responsibilities.

Honorable Mention

To add drama and increase media coverage of its 2005 Give ‘em a Brake (GEAB) campaign, the GEAB coalition brought Michigan Department of Transportation (MIDOT) Director Gloria J. Jeff and her desk to a US highway 127 work zone construction site in Holt (MI). The press event drove home the point that work zones are workplaces, too, for vulnerable road crews. It was backed by four 60-second radio spots that were produced by GEAB and played on stations statewide. Michigan LECET is a member of GEAB.

[Steve Clark]