Across the United States, highway work zone fatalities declined for the third straight year in 2004 (the most recent year for which data is available). The figure for 2004 – 92 fatalities – was the lowest of the last decade. Forty percent were construction laborers.
Work Zone Fatalities
“This decline is something we can be proud of,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer, New England Regional Manager and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “The efforts we have made over the past five to ten years are paying off.”
Stephen Pegula, an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, analyzed the data from 1995 through 2002 in a December, 2004, article in the Monthly Labor Review.
His study showed, for example, that in addition to the 118 workers killed in work zones in 2002, 961 drivers or passengers in vehicles that crashed in or around work zones also were killed. These fatalities are a big concern for state department of transportation directors.
Changing the behavior of motorists and commercial truck drivers, however, is difficult. Unfortunately, for instance, a considerable number are alcohol-impaired when they crash. Thus, to save workers’ lives, it is especially important to concentrate on the behavior of workers within work zones.
According to Pegula, of the 844 workers killed from 1995 through 2002, 509 (60 percent) were struck by some kind of vehicle or mobile equipment. Among these, 36 percent were struck by a dump truck and 11 percent were hit by backhoes, levelers, planers, scrapers, steamrollers or road pavers. Thus, in 47 percent of the cases, the worker was killed, not by an intruder, but by a construction vehicle operating in the work zone. The figure may be even higher since another 21 percent of the fatalities resulted from impact by pickup trucks, which may or may not have been outside intruders.
In 2005, the LHSFNA focused on the risks inside work zones, leading the development of the Internal Traffic Control Program (ITCP) by the Roadway Safety Alliance. That booklet – available at no cost to participating LIUNA signatory employers through the LHSFNA online publications catalogue – explains the principles for controlling pedestrian and vehicular traffic flow in work zones.
The Alliance has also produced the popular and highly acclaimed Roadway Safety Program, developed through a Susan Harwood Training Grant from OSHA. Since December, 2003, the Program has had 14,109 visits and been downloaded 3,292 times from its free site.
Upgraded in 2005, the Program covers the 14 most common highway work zone hazards. With a click of the mouse, the CD-ROM version switches from English to Spanish to Portuguese or from U.S. units to the metric system. The CD also includes voice files that allow an English-speaking instructor to play all the modules in Spanish or Portuguese. In addition, the newest version contains an option to display OSHA standards and guidance from NIOSH and other sources that are relevant to a particular hazard. The Program was created by a partnership of the LHSFNA with the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) and the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE).
“We’ve come a long way and now have tremendous programs available,” says Sabitoni, “but there is always more that can be done. With all the work to come under the new highway act, improving work zone safety is becoming still more critical. We won’t stop our efforts.”
Alluding to work now in the pipeline, he adds, “We have initiatives underway on night work and preventing backovers. Stay tuned.”