Construction Ahead: Traffic Safety Work Zones

By Tom O'Connor | Apr 15, 2018
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Prior to working in a traffic zone, employees must be trained properly and certified in accordance with the traffic safety control procedures laid out in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. When setting up a traffic safety work zone, workers should put warning devices in place to allow drivers adequate time to react and respond to any necessary precautions created by the work zone.

Advanced warning areas need to be established so drivers are aware of traffic changes. There should be a transition area to change their path and a termination area where drivers return to the normal driving pattern.

An activity or work area with buffer space needs to be created to further protect workers. You can use signs, barricades, flags, barrels and cones to achieve this. However, they must conform to all local laws and regulations for setting up the work zone. When work is complete, the buffer can be removed.

High-visibility safety apparel should also be worn in traffic safety work zones. This is especially important for flaggers. There are three classes of safety apparel, depending on the speed of passing vehicles: Class 1 apparel for speeds up to 25 miles per hour (mph), Class 2 for 25–50 mph, and Class 3 for speeds over 50 mph.

Designated flaggers should be positioned so vehicles have ample time to come to a complete stop and workers have ample time and visibility to avoid potential hazards.

Regardless of whether an individual will conduct tasks in a work zone, everyone will pass through one at some point. Although a work zone is designed and set up with safety in mind, drivers and pedestrians must realize our responsibility to be alert and obey traffic laws.

When traveling through a work zone, always expect the unexpected, and plan on changing road conditions. Speed limits are sometimes reduced, lanes shift, traffic lanes end, and workers often walk or work on or near the road surface. As a result, drivers should always adhere to work zone speed limits. Speeding is consistently one of the major causes of work zone crashes. This is why fines are doubled for speeding in work zones.

Never tailgate, and always maintain a safe following distance. Rear-end collisions are the most common crash in work zones. Always maintain a safe distance between vehicles as well as those working in the work zone and their equipment. There may be times workers and their equipment will need to share the roadway; give them as much space as possible for everyone’s safety.

There are many different types of warning signs to help drivers move safely through a work zone. Always read signs and comply with warnings until leaving the work zone.

Pay attention to road crew flaggers, since they will know best how to move traffic safely through the work zone. They generally are in communication with others in the zone so they will know of changes before they are obvious to those driving through the zone. A flagger has the same authority as a regulatory sign, so traffic citations can be issued for disobeying a flagger’s directions.

Pay full attention to the roadway and minimize any unnecessary distractions. Avoid adjusting the stereo volume or GPS and using cell phones, even hands-free, in the work zone. Make sure to account for work zone traffic into commute times. Delays in work zones are unavoidable, and in the spring and summer, expect them. Leave enough driving time to allow for slower moving traffic.

Drivers can help maintain traffic flow by merging as soon as it is safe to move over. Rolling right up to a lane closure and cutting in slows down the flow of traffic for everyone. Remember work zone crew members are simply doing their job and working to improve roadway conditions; be patient and stay calm.

By following the appropriate safety tips when working or traveling through traffic safety work zones, the number of occupational injuries and fatalities can be reduced.

About The Author

O’CONNOR is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm. Reach him at [email protected].

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