Road and highway construction workers are crucial for ensuring roads are safe, new lanes and exits are created and other transportation projects are completed. However, working in the midst of speeding traffic or in the dead of night results in unfortunate accidents and fatalities.
There are about 250,000 people working in the road and highway construction industry. According to a report from the US. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 46 percent of employees in road work zones were killed in pedestrian vehicular accidents. These accidents include events involving vehicles and mobile equipment. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that 76 percent of injuries in road and highway work zones were a result of transportation events, like a vehicle striking a worker in the work zone.
Familiarizing your crew with standard safety guidelines will keep everyone aware of the hazards and better prepared before they get to work. Below, you’ll find our list of top road construction safety tips to help you keep everyone on your team safe.
1. Implement Proper Training
As with any new environment, those working on road or highway construction sites should go through proper training to be aware of the policies in place and the imminent hazards they’ll face. Relaying consistent protocols to your team also ensures that everyone follows the same procedures. Your training should address things like:
- Safety training schedules
- Traffic control plans
- Schedules for equipment and materials inspections
- Known hazards for your worksite and plans to alleviate them
- Equipment training
- Emergency and first aid plans
In addition to initial training, you should also brief your crew every day since conditions and hazards can greatly vary.
2. Ensure a Competent Person is On Site
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines a competent person as someone who can spot existing and potential hazards in and around the work area that are dangerous to employees. Competent people are also authorized to make changes to the worksite to remove identified dangers.
Requiring a competent person at all times seems simple, but can quickly be derailed if your only competent person needs to temporarily leave the worksite. Identify your key “competent people” in your crew and implement a schedule, if needed, to ensure that at least one person is on site at all times.
3. Set Up a Proper Perimeter
The worksite should have ample space on all sides for work to be done. Using proper barriers, cones and other barricades ensures drivers know when the worksite begins and ends. Barricades should also be used inside the worksite to indicate where it’s safe for crew members to walk, where materials are stored and where equipment is used. Your crew should also mark utility lines to prevent electrocutions and other avoidable injuries.
4. Increase Worker and Work Site Visibility
OSHA requires construction employees working on highway and road sites to wear high-visibility clothing. High-visibility clothing includes things like hats, vests and armbands with reflective or fluorescent materials. You can also use lights to increase visibility if your crew is working in the evening or during periods when it’s difficult to see.
5. Wear the Proper Safety Equipment
Additionally, crew members should also wear earmuffs or earplugs when working in areas with extreme noise. Extreme construction noise can cause severe hearing damage if precautions aren’t taken by your crew. Other important pieces of personal safety equipment include steel-toed shoes, gloves and respirators. Crew members should also ensure everything fits properly and do checks throughout the day to confirm everything is in place.
6. Control Traffic
Post traffic signs an ample amount away from the work zone so drivers can prepare to adjust to changes like slow downs or reduced lanes. You should also give drivers enough space to safely transition out of the work zone and back into the regular flow of traffic. Flaggers who are directing vehicles should never turn their backs to oncoming traffic.
7. Use Caution When Operating Heavy Machinery
Large machines, like rollers and excavators, have blind spots and are capable of fatally injuring your fellow crew members. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to safely operate heavy equipment on a road or highway construction site.
- Use a seatbelt at all times
- Apply parking brakes whenever vehicles are not in use
- Put a block in front or behind of the tires when left on an incline or decline
- Use a spotter when moving, unloading and loading equipment
- Check that mirrors and other visual aids like tail lights are attached and operational
8. Watch for Moving Vehicles and Equipment
When you’re not operating heavy construction equipment, be aware of the areas heavy equipment are moving, exiting and entering. Steer clear of areas where walking is prohibited. You should also ensure you’re not in a position where you’re caught in between pieces of equipment or under anything like booms or arms. In addition to heavy equipment in the work zone, you should also pay attention to drivers.
9. Avoid Blind Spots
Steering clear of blind spots sounds easy. However, this can prove difficult when you have equipment moving in and out of the worksite in an already small work zone. You should always make eye contact with the operator and ensure they see you if you’re planning to walk around them.
When in doubt, never assume that a vehicle sees you. Signal the operator and wait until the equipment is off before walking towards or near them. Communication signals are also crucial when heavy equipment is around. Every crew member should know what each signal means so they know whether they should stop, wait or avoid the area.
10. Be Constantly Aware of Your Surroundings
In addition to moving vehicles and blind spots, you should stay extra vigilant while moving around the worksite to spot potential hazards. This can include moving potential obstructions or debris in the heavy equipment zone or a readjusting a barrier that’s been accidentally nudged out of place. Things are constantly moving in a construction zone and paying attention to hazards like these can keep you and your crew safe.
11. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated is important at all times of the day and all seasons. It’s easy to get thirsty when working on roads and highways with the hot sun, machinery and asphalt raising the surrounding temperature. Dehydration during cold weather is also common since most of us don’t realize how much water we’re losing throughout the day.
There are many ways to prevent dehydration like learning the signs of heat-related illnesses and providing plenty of water for your crew members. Brief your crew on the importance of staying hydrated and keep an eye on everyone throughout the day.
Common Road Construction Hazards
Construction workers can also prepare for road construction by learning about the sources of accidents and fatalities. Learn more about these common road construction hazards below.
- Collisions: As we’ve mentioned, collisions with construction equipment and oncoming traffic are a major cause of both injuries and fatalities. Taking the proper precautions like locking mobile equipment in place, keeping communication clear and frequent with equipment operators, and staying vigilant of your surroundings are a few ways to mitigate collisions.
- Slips and falls: Slips and falls account for 20 percent of road construction injuries according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). However, the Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety & Health (eLCOSH) recommends a few things to avoid these hazards, like steering clear of muddy, wet or icy surfaces and filling in or marking hidden holes in the ground.
- Weather: Working in extreme weather conditions is one dangerous part of the job that can’t be avoided. Extreme heat increases the risk of heat-related illnesses and winter weather can cause issues with visibility and mobility. Each condition requires different types of precautions, but general safeguards like recognizing symptoms of cold or heat stress, limiting the amount of time worked during extreme days and providing proper break areas are a few solutions to consider.
- Overexertion: This hazard accounts for about 17 percent of non-fatal construction injuries. Repetitive motion and improper form when performing tasks are big factors in overexertion injuries. Educating crew members about the importance of proper form and providing reasonable opportunities for breaks are a few ways you can mitigate this hazard. Construction exoskeletons are options to consider since these can relieve strain on a person’s body and force them to use the correct form.
Safety Tips for Drivers
Construction worker precautions can only work to an extent. To keep everyone safe, drivers must also be mindful of active construction sites on the road. We’ve put together a handful of tips you can use to inform drivers about staying safe on roads and highways with active construction activity.
- Pay attention: Signs should be posted well before the construction zone. Pay attention to the posted directions and adjust accordingly. You should also stay aware of any unexpected slows, stops or movement near the worksite.
- Keep headlights on: Making crew members aware of your presence, especially in instances of low visibility, is important for everyone’s safety. Your headlights also help you navigate the modified road or highway area near the construction zone when it’s late at night or otherwise difficult to see.
- Follow the speed limit: Speed limits are lower in construction zones and it’s important to follow them to keep fellow drivers and construction workers safe. You may also face a penalty if you are caught speeding or committing other traffic violations in a construction zone. Laws and punishments vary by state.
- Give ample space: Tailgating is especially dangerous in construction zones if any sudden stops or slow downs occur. For example, cars may need to stop if materials accidentally spill into the road. Driving too close to the car in front of you can cause an accident.
We’ve also put together a visual guide below of common road signs used during road construction work.
Safety precautions on the road for both construction workers and drivers are not negotiable. Keeping these road construction safety tips in mind and continuously practicing good safety habits can mitigate injuries and fatalities for your crew. If you’re looking for other ways to keep your crew members safe, you should take a look at our library of construction safety articles.