Even a quick review of the causes of injuries and fatalities for roadway construction workers leads to one conclusion--most could be prevented.
The good news is most causes of injuries and fatalities can be reduced and perhaps eliminated with just a little more planning. And the news gets even better. The additional planning will actually save time and money.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were an average of 34 fatalities per 100,000 roadway construction workers between 1995 and 2000. For those same years, the fatality rate for general construction was only 16 deaths--less than half that of roadway construction. For general industry (trades other than construction and maritime) the average fatality rate for the same time period was only four deaths per 100,000 workers. Too many workers are being killed on the job in our industry.
In reviewing the causes of death for workers in roadway construction, one hazard jumps out--"struck by" incidents. Almost 45% of roadway construction fatalities occur when workers are run over or backed over--and not just by motorists who ignore the "Slow down, my daddy works here" signs. Half the struck-by fatalities are caused by construction vehicles and equipment.
Avoid getting hit
For at least the past five years, a concept of "internal traffic control" has been discussed among safety professionals as a means to reduce struck-by incidents. In short, this concept demands that contractors and state departments of transportation (DOTs) plan a traffic pattern for construction vehicles, dump trucks, equipment and workers much in the same manner as we currently plan for motorist traffic that will pass through the work zone. While the concept is sound, internal traffic control plans (ITCPs) are rare in the industry. This could be the result of a lack of understanding about the principle, the fact that ITCPs involve a new concept and many have yet to hear about it or a fear that ITCPs will cause more delays for the industry.
In truth, there really is not a good reason for failing to incorporate an ITCP. An ITCP need not be complex or expensive. It does require construction management to look at the jobsite, however, and make a plan to determine:
* Where pedestrian workers will be located;
* Where and how dump trucks and other vehicles will enter and exit the work area;
* Where equipment will operate;
* How all parties will communicate with one another;
* Where to locate exclusive zones for workers and vehicles, so operators and workers know where they should and should not go; and
* How the ITCP will be effectively communicated to all parties on the site.
This last point is especially important for subcontractors who frequently enter and exit the work area in close proximity to workers on foot.
An ITCP does not necessarily require cones, barrels or other traffic control devices inside the work area, but it does require planning time in the early stages of the project. As a result of this pre-work effort, governments and contractors will actually enjoy a more productive and efficient work site as work progresses in an orderly manner, deliveries are better coordinated and fatalities and injuries are averted.
Sprains, falls and objects
When it comes to workplace injuries, there are three big problems in roadway construction that make up 68% of all incidents: overexertion (sprains and strains) = 27%; falls = 24%; and "struck by other objects" = 17%.
Through a little planning, many of the hazards that lead to these injuries can be avoided. For example, the same planning that is necessary for the ITCP can be coordinated to reduce some sprains and strains. Many of the back injuries in our industry come from heavy lifting or carrying heavy objects over uneven walking surfaces. Through planning, managers can schedule materials to be delivered in close proximity to the area in which they will be used, avoiding delays and hazards to workers who would otherwise have to carry materials to the proper location. Another easy remedy is to place objects on a platform or pallet at the height that is easy for the worker to reach. This simple step can avoid the strain on a worker’s body from constantly bending to lift and move objects deposited at ground level.
Other common-sense principles can be applied at little or no cost. Workers should be instructed to get help if they are lifting large or heavy objects. Using a second person not only makes the lifting easier, it also can help the job get done more quickly. Finally, take a little time to look for tools that are ergonomically designed. One does not need to rush out and purchase a load of new equipment, but as older equipment wears out, replace it with more comfortable products. Most often the cost difference is minimal, but the tool can increase worker comfort, leading to better production.
As in other areas of construction, injuries from falls are a plague that we cannot seem to conquer. There are two types of fall injuries and each needs consideration: falls from heights and trips/slips. Both are prevalent in roadway construction. What are the remedies for these problems? Once again, planning is the key to finding solutions.
First of all, before work begins, management needs to take time to consider work areas where workers may be subject to falls (OSHA imposes regulations when the fall exposure is 6 ft or greater). Considerations include:
* Will you have a deep excavation?
* Will workers be on a bridge or overpass?
* Are you erecting structural steel?
* Will workers be required to work from ladders, scaffolds, platforms or aerial lifts?
* Will workers assemble/disassemble elevated concrete forms?
* Will workers install signs or lights?
* Will workers place or pick up traffic control devices from a moving vehicle?
* Will workers need to climb onto large pieces of equipment to operate them?
Such fall exposures are common in nearly every roadway construction job and many maintenance and repair jobs. There may be other fall hazards as well. Each of these hazards requires a specific type of fall restraint, protection or plan. If management has planned for these exposures, the proper equipment, quardrails, procedures, etc., will be on site before exposures occur. If not planned for, work will be delayed as workers wait for the equipment to be delivered--or worse, they proceed to complete the work without proper protection.
If you are working on a bridge or overpass, do not count on the parapet wall to serve as a guardrail. In many cases the parapet wall is too short to meet the OSHA standard of 42 in. (plus or minus 3 in.). Many contractors have contested OSHA citations (with large penalties)--and lost the fight--when they thought the parapet provided adequate protection.
Struck by other objects
For those injuries classified as "struck by other objects," the most important thing an employer can do is ensure that workers are supplied with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). While hard hats are pretty standard on construction sites, roadway construction workers often wear ball caps, particularly in hot climates, because they do not perceive a risk when there is no one working overhead. In many cases this has been a mistake because passing vehicles launch rocks or other debris from the roadway that strike workers. Many workers have been seriously injured or killed when they are struck in the head by a protruding mirror from a passing truck or RV. Also, a lot of roadway construction equipment is large, and tools or other objects can fall from these vehicles and strike workers.
Other PPE frequently needed in this industry includes safety glasses or sun glasses, high-visibility vests that meet the ISEA-ANSI 107 standard, hearing protection and hand protection. No single item is particularly expensive, and if the government or contractor anticipates the hazards and has equipment on hand, workers can proceed with their duties in a safe and efficient manner. Failure to anticipate the hazards can result in delays, injuries or even death.
Roadway construction sites contain many hazards. Proper planning, however, can prevent fatalities, injuries and incidents in these sites to help protect our workers from becoming just another statistic.