“Safety is a daily concern in work zones,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan, “but many injuries and fatalities are caused by outside agents, that is, by the driving public. Indeed, many of the victims are the drivers, themselves. National Work Zone Awareness Week is a concerted, national effort to raise public awareness of this danger. We need the public’s help in making our work zones safer.”

How NWZAW started

The idea of Work Zone Awareness Week came from Allan Sumpter, an assistant resident engineer in Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) Bristol District. The district tried his idea in April 1997, at the start of the construction season.

Based on the positive reception in the district, a VDOT task group met and developed plans to do it as a statewide program in the spring of 1998. David Rush, a VDOT senior transportation engineer, was part of that task group. Rush wanted to help spread VDOT’s message even further.

He took the idea to the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA). Within a year, ASSTA, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials signed an agreement to jointly lead – every year in April – an aggressive public relations campaign, National Work Zone Awareness Week.

Over the years that followed, the work zone safety and awareness message would not only spread nationally, it would reach into other audiences beyond roadway workers, including America’s motorists, elected officials, schools, law enforcement and the media. LIUNA and its regional Health & Safety Funds are regular NWZAW participants.

Rush continues to serve as a member of the NWZAW executive committee to this day, while continuing to maintain a strong allegiance to his state’s own work zone safety initiatives.

“The problem is not limited to one area of the country,” said Rush. “Work zone awareness is everyone’s issue.”

This year, National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW) is April 3-9.

On Tuesday April 4th, a media event will be staged at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., running from dusk (approx. 7:30 pm) until 11 pm.

The Schedule is:

  • Master of ceremonies introduces selected speakers:
    1. Sponsors’ representatives
    2. Congressional members
    3. Family members of lost one
  • Actual work zone set up for night work
  • Question and answer period
  • Interviews given to television and news affiliates

The late start is due to this year’s theme – night work.

Night work

As night work becomes more and more prevalent, laborers must learn how to deal with its physiological as well as its physical challenges. “A safe environment must be provided for our workers,” says Dr. Jim Melius, LHSFNA Research Division Director. “In addition, education and training are essential to help deal with all possible hazards. We must know what to expect from our immediate surroundings as well as the inner workings of our own bodies.”

Because of the darkness, extra precautionary measures must be taken. These include having police present, making workers more visible, using drums in the taper, maintaining traffic control devices and providing adequate lighting. Even with all these counter measures in place, there is no substitute for a well rested, alert crew.

The National Work Zone Memorial

Memorials have become an icon of the American culture – a touchstone that helps individuals deal with the loss of their loved ones. Since the early days of our nation’s roadways, men, women and children have senselessly died in work zones accidents. The number of deaths has increased significantly from 868 in 1999 to over 1,100 in 2002. Unveiled in April 2002, the National Work Zone Memorial is a living tribute to their memory, traveling to communities cross-country and year-round to raise public awareness of the need to respect and stay safe in America’s roadway work zones.

“This memorial sends a powerful message to the public and reinforces the need for caution in and around our nation’s work zones,” says James Baron, Director of Communications for the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA).