Worker Fatalities Inside Work Zones

Worker fatalities inside work zones100.0%
Occupants of vehicles or equipment29.9%
On foot struck-bys64.3%
By construction vehicle or equipment31.3%
While backing16.1%
By intruding traffic30.9%

Table 1

Most worker fatalities occur inside the work zone. About a third of the victims are the occupants of construction vehicles or equipment, and another third are pedestrian workers killed by impact with construction vehicles or equipment. Less than a third are the result of intruding traffic.

An astonishing 16 percent are killed by backing equipment. The most common culprit is a dump truck.

Construction vehicles strike workers primarily because of poor sight lines and blind spots. These hazards are aggravated when backing or when moving in an area where space is limited and the turning radius is tight.

Most construction vehicles have warning devices, such as back-up alarms, but, frequently, these are inadequate. In 28 percent of OSHA-investigated fatalities, the back-up alarms were found to be inoperable, meaning that in 72 percent the alarms functioned properly. Indeed, in 12 percent of the fatalities the victim was the vehicle operator’s spotter. Apparently, in a work zone with several vehicles operating and traffic flowing nearby, the elevated background noise desensitizes workers and renders them unable to quickly distinguish a vehicle back-up alarm from surrounding noise.

An obvious remedy would organize internal work zone construction traffic to minimize or eliminate the need to back vehicles and to keep pedestrian workers separate from the internal movements of traffic.

That is the purpose of the internal traffic control plan (ITCP – see Table 2).

ITCP Principles

  • Reduce the need to back up.
  • Limit access points to work zones.
  • Establish work zone layouts commensurate with equipment in use.
  • Provide signage to guide pedestrian workers and construction vehicles within the work zone.
  • Design buffer spaces to protect pedestrian workers from errant vehicles and work zone equipment.

Table 2

Currently, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requires a traffic control plan to safely guide motorist traffic through a work zone using temporary traffic control devices, but no ITCP is required. Few, if any, state transportation agencies require ITCPs.

However, if ITCPs were required, the playing field would be leveled for contractors that wish to pursue better safety planning and implementation. Without such a requirement, companies willing to skimp on health and safety have an inappropriate competitive advantage in the bidding process.

Technological Improvements for Backing Vehicles

Another way to advance pedestrian worker safety in work zones is to improve the capability of truck drivers to see what activity is in progress behind their vehicle before they back up. This can be accomplished with rearview video cameras.

The camera, mounted at the rear of the truck, projects the rear view onto a video terminal in the driver’s cab.

The technology is improving, becoming more durable and affordable. More pressure could be put on truck makers to include the system as standard equipment.

[Steve Clark]