Defensive Driving

Nearly 40 percent of all occupational deaths occur as a result of transportation-related incidents. A majority of them occur in traffic work zones. Many are not road construction workers but rather tradespeople, including electrical workers, who must work in or near roadways. Residential contractors also may find it necessary to divert traffic on occasion. Don’t overlook work zone safety, even as a rare or secondary component of completing work. Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have specific standards that require workers to be protected when working in or near roadways, regardless of their primary task.

Traffic-control flaggers are essential to road safety. Most states require the use of these flaggers when working on or near roadways. Prior to doing this job, employees must be properly trained and certified in accordance with the traffic safety control procedures laid out in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

Designated flaggers must be positioned so that vehicles have enough time to come to a complete stop and flaggers have ample time and visibility to avoid potential hazards. All workers—especially flaggers—should wear high-visibility safety apparel.

There are three classes of wear. The class required depends on a number of conditions, but speed is the main factor. Class I apparel is designated for speeds up to 25 mph, Class 2 for 25–50 mph, and Class 3 for 50 mph and faster. It is important to have the right class apparel when working along a road or highway.

Failure to properly set up a safe traffic zone is another significant cause of transportation-related injuries and fatalities. Therefore, it is very important to meet the protection requirements identified by OSHA, the U.S. Department of Transportation and any other relevant state laws.

Drivers need adequate time to react and respond to any precautions created by the work zone. Every work zone should have an advanced warning area so drivers are aware of traffic changes, a transition area to change their path, an activity or work area that includes a buffer space to further protect workers, and a termination area where drivers return to the normal driving pattern.

Signs, barricades, flags, barrels and cones should be used only if they conform to all local laws and regulations for setting up the work zone. Upon completion of the work in a traffic safety zone, all warning signs, barricades, flags, barrels and cones should be removed.

In addition to these safety measures, it is important to follow some simple safety guidelines when operating company vehicles. For instance, a company vehicle must be in safe operating condition, and pre- and post-trip inspections should be conducted in accordance with any relevant laws or company policies. When on the road in a company vehicle, remember that you are representing your company. Therefore, operate it safely, responsibly and respectfully, and always wear your seatbelt.

If a vehicle needs to be parked within 10 feet of a busy road, street or highway, traffic control procedures must be used to properly warn traffic of the hazard. If a vehicle must be parked along a highway at night, parking lights and any flashing or rotating lights should be left on. When parking on an incline, the parking brake should be engaged with the engine off, wheels chocked and the transmission in the lowest gear or in park.

When possible, enter and exit the vehicle on the curb side. When exiting on the road side, be careful opening doors and getting in and out of the vehicle. Many fatalities occur every year while people are entering and exiting work vehicles.

When backing up a vehicle, use extreme caution. If possible, have another employee at the rear of the vehicle to help direct. Whenever backing up a vehicle with an obstructed view, use a reverse signal or backup alarm and keep a constant lookout. Check blind areas, maintain a slow speed, and do not depend entirely on mirrors.

Following the safety provisions identified here can help reduce the risk of being involved in a transportation-related incident on the job. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Transportation website at, OSHA at or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist
Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. He has significant experience workin...

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.