ASSE: Roadway Work Zone Tragedies Can be Prevented, Especially over Holiday Weekend

May 26, 2005

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) is encouraging employers, workers and motorists to be aware of roadway work zone safety rules in an effort to prevent tragedy this Memorial Day weekend and throughout the summer.

Working in and traveling through a roadway work zone can be deadly, ASSE officials note citing the recent crash on Interstate 81 north of Binghamton, New York when a tour bus struck a motorcyclist, a tractor-trailer, a cement mixer and then hit three roadway construction workers from a paving company, killing all three.

In the U.S. in 2003, 1,028 people died in roadway work zones and several more were injured. With 37.2 million Americans planning to hit the road this weekend combined with summer roadway construction the chance for accidents to occur increases. According to the AAA, the number of Americans saying they will travel 50 miles or more from home this weekend is 2.2 percent higher compared to last year.

“These work zone tragedies can be prevented. We encourage employers and the public to watch for the work zone employees even more during this peak traffic time,” ASSE official John Spath, of New York, said. “ASSE members, occupational safety, health and environmental practitioners, know that it is no accident when tragedies don’t occur. Employers, employees and motorists in roadway work zones can be safe by knowing the risks, providing and following proper training, using personal protection equipment and more.”

To prevent roadway work zone workers from being injured on the job, ASSE member George Wolff wrote in the ASSE Construction Safety Management and Engineering Book that employers and employees must be aware of the many types of worker hazards and exposures to risk; the need for a temporary traffic control work zone; the need to set up an advance work zone warning area and transition area; to be aware of the hazards of installing, modifying, and removing work zones; how to best equip a flag person; driver awareness; and, liability and litigation.

In addition to the risk from impaired drivers, Wolff stated that roadway construction workers face a multitude of hazards which include being struck or caught between equipment, injury from overuse and poor body conditions, and environmental exposures to heat, cold and sun.

Recent incidents involving roadway work zone fatalities from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) reflect the different risks involved. Recently:

* a roller operator and a work crew foreman died after they were struck by a motorist in a highway work zone – Okla.
* a construction worker died after a water truck and a scraper collided — S.C.
* an asphalt milling superintendent was crushed under an asphalt milling machine – Va.
* a construction worker died after being struck by a front end loader – Pa.
* a construction worker died after being run over by an asphalt roller at a highway construction site- Va.
* a construction worker died after compactor tipped over at a highway construction site – S.C.
* a flagger was struck from behind and killed by a truck intruding into a highway construction work zone – Wis.
* a state Department of Transportation worker died after being struck by a motor vehicle – N.C.
* a state Department of Transportation highway maintenance worker died after being struck by a car while installing reflectors on a guardrail – N.C.
* a 17-year-old part-time road construction worker died after being run over by a water truck – Ind.
* a construction worker died after being run over and crushed by a grader at a road construction site – N.C.
* a roadway construction worker died after being backed over by a dump truck – Va.
* a highway worker died after being hit by a speeding vehicle while picking up cones on an interstate – Calif.
* in different incidences in different places, construction workers were killed after being backed over by a truck – Calif.
* a city street worker was struck and killed by a speeding car – Iowa
* a highway construction worker died when struck by a semi-tractor trailer – Ky.
* a police officer was killed when struck by a motorist while directing traffic at a roadway work zone – Mass., and
* a worker died after being crushed between a rock spreader and a large roller – Minn.

In a roadway work zone, motorists should pay attention to the orange diamond-shaped warning signs or electronic message boards posted in advance of a road construction project; minimize distractions such as changing a radio station; watch for stopped or slowing traffic, don’t tailgate; keep an eye out for construction workers, their equipment and vehicles, as well as the vehicles around you; and, watch for detours and lane diversions. For additional roadway safety tips please go to and download the free ASSE brochure titled ‘Roadway crashes are the #1 cause of on-the-job deaths.’

Most states have passed laws doubling the fines for speeding through a roadway work zone and other work zone safety legislation. As for the deadly accident on I-81 in New York, the New York Department of Transportation and the New York State Police partner to make roadway work zones safer for both roadway workers and users. The New York State Police provide a dedicated presence on a number of work zones throughout the state aimed at enforcing the reduced work zone speed limits. New York law doubles the minimum fine for drivers who do not observe posted work zone speed limits.

Check ASSE’s Web site at for more information on roadway work zone safety and occupational safety and health.

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