Bucking a trend?

Increased funding a positive sign, but highway construction is still dangerous

With a presidential election coming this fall and a massive six-year surface transportation bill moving through Congress, Washington, D.C., is humming with activity. There is good news for the industry. Both House and Senate transportation bills would significantly boost federal transportation investment.
When compared with federal legislation recently passed by Congress for 2004 at $33.6 billion, the Senate reauthorization bill, S.1072, would create a federal highway investment program that would begin at about $36 billion and grow to $42 billion annually by 2009. Under the House bill, H.R.3550, highway investment would ramp up from about $40 billion and grow to nearly $60 billion by 2009. Under either scenario, the transportation construction industry has a good financial forecast.
But the news may not be all good. The trends for roadway construction safety are worrisome. A review of total highway construction from 1997 to 2003 shows an impressive 37.1% growth in spending. That has led to an increase in the number of roadway construction zones during the same period.
In these sites, fatalities grew by a whopping 70.4%, with 1,181 fatalities in 2002. Work-zone fatalities increased at nearly double the rate of construction spending.
If work-zone fatalities continue to increase at the same rate as construction spending, those increases in federal dollars could result in even higher work-zone fatality rates. While there are many factors that contribute to work-zone deaths, the transportation construction industry must step up its vigilance now to protect workers and motorists to reverse this disturbing trend.
Additionally, the upward trend in roadway spending and fatalities could be racing toward a head-on collision with trends demonstrated in roadway construction work force demographics.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as reported by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the fatality rate for roadway construction workers averages a little over 32 people for every 100,000 workers. The rate for all construction is about 13 people and the general industry rate is about four people per 100,000 workers. This data shows that roadway construction workers are killed at a rate nearly three times higher than other construction workers and eight times higher than general industry workers.
The injury and death rates are already high, and necessary increases in transportation construction funding are likely to lead to more deaths and injuries unless public officials, contractors, owners, workers—all members of the industry—do not become more active by implementing proven and effective programs to improve safety. These strategies include:

1. Worker safety and health training;
2. Sound safety and health programs supported by upper management;
3. Better communications with Hispanic workers; and
4. More attention to work-zone planning, including better traffic control, use of protective barriers, intelligent transportation systems and use of uniformed law enforcement.

It is time for all private companies and public agencies to make the commitment to safe and healthful workplaces and driving environments to stem the troublesome trends in roadway construction safety.
The American Road & Transportation Builders Association has developed a number of materials to assist employers in their efforts to maintain safe work sites. The programs, in both English and Spanish, include:

• OSHA 10-hour accredited training;
• Safety training videos;
• Free worker safety orientation training materials;
• Free on-site courses, through an OSHA grant, targeted at hazards identified through insurance data;
• A safety management manual for supervisors on CD (English only), which includes OSHA construction regulations and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices;
• A program to teach young drivers how to safely navigate roadway work zones;
• Bilingual safety experts on staff;

For more information, visit the ARTBA website at www.artba.org. or call 202/289-4434.

Sant is vice president, safety and education, for ARTBA, Washington, D.C.

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