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Let’s Take a Fresh Look at Safety

Leaders Work Together to Make Work Zones Safer

work zone safetyTogether they’re taking a fresh look at safety

The group’s charge was clear; look for new ways to increase safety in work zones.

More than 26 leaders from the construction and trucking industries, law enforcement, federal and state government, and other interested people came together in December for the third meeting in a series of executive strategy sessions on work zone safety. They are examining current practices and looking for new ways to keep workers and travelers safe.

“I’m pleased to see a lot of people from a lot of organizations working to make things better,” said Brian Gray with Knife River Corporation, one of the members of the group.

At two earlier meetings, the group identified four areas of focus and formed task forces to identify and prioritize issues and action items:

  • Separation and mobility
  • Enforcement
  • Continued engineering enhancements
  • Stakeholder engagement and education

Safety and mobility can coexist

The separation and mobility task group met several times to discuss “perceived” challenges between the trucking and construction industries. The task group soon found that they were on the same page; safety and mobility do go together.

“You don’t have to choose between mobility and safety,” Gray said. “We can coexist. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.”

The task group recommended several actions including drafting a strong statement (guiding principle) that emphasizes balance between mobility and worker safety; adding a construction industry partner as a stakeholder on ODOT’s Mobility Committee; drafting a decision tree that engineers and project managers can use during the design phase and improving written and verbal communication between stakeholders throughout the process.

“We have a process in the Traffic Control Plans Design Manual that outlines procedures and options for work zones, but a decision tree or checklist might clarify things,” said ODOT Traffic/Roadway Engineer Bob Pappe.

Law enforcement resources are a top issue

For the law enforcement task group, the top two issues identified are resources/staffing and presence, which include looking at alternatives to officer presence such as photo radar and lights.

“Everyone agreed that more enforcement was needed, especially outside of the larger cities,” said Captain Dave Anderson with Oregon State Police. “Staffing shortages make it difficult for Oregon State Police and local law enforcement agencies to meet some work zone commitments.”

Possible solutions discussed include increasing funding and staffing for law enforcement agencies, decreasing or eliminating the fund match requirement for federal grants, developing a statewide method for prioritizing projects that need enhanced law enforcement for work zone safety and addressing barriers in how funding is distributed. For example, federal work zone safety enforcement funds usually can’t be spent on maintenance projects.

“We can work together on finding funding solutions,” said Bob Russell, interim president of the Oregon Trucking Association.

“Working with our federal partners, maybe we can find a way to make federal grant matching requirements a little less onerous,” said ODOT Director Matt Garrett.

Continuing to look for new engineering approaches

The engineering enhancement task group reviewed current processes for how ODOT traffic control plans are put together and then discussed issues and ideas. Together they came up with five recommendations:

  1. Improve clarity around requirement to use traffic control supervisors as a bid item
  2. Better construction sign management
  3. Changing the look of some construction signs
  4. Mounting radar speed reader boards on moving vehicles in the work stream
  5. Use smart work zone devices to improve information and driver messages

“We must continue to evaluate tools and tactics to make sure they are working for us and helping us achieve our goals,” said Oregon State University Professor Dr. John Gambetese, who conducts work zone safety research as part of his job.

“It’s a good idea to refresh our knowledge about the tools and options available to us,” said Joe Squire, ODOT construction and materials engineer.

Looking for new ways to reach out

The single biggest cause of work zone crashes is driver inattention. The other major contributing factor is speed. If drivers pay attention and obey posted speeds in work zones, safety increases for everyone. But, as we all know, people don’t always make the best choices when they’re driving.

“We need to look for new ways to remind people about the importance of driving safely through work zones,” Gray said.

During the 2014 construction season, in addition to the traditional public services announcements, billboards, ads and new stories that ODOT coordinates, the group developed and distributed a series of articles about work zone safety targeted at the construction industry, ODOT employees, law enforcement and other partners (this is the seventh article in that series). More than 2,074 people viewed the stories on the Internet meaning that partners shared the stories through blogs, newsletters and other means beyond the initial list of 500 recipients.

In addition, this summer, the group shared a dramatic video put together by an ODOT Maintenance crew. The video tells the story of a near miss incident. It quickly became one of the most popular on ODOT’s YouTube channel.

What’s next?

The Oregon Work Zone Executive Steering Committee will meet again in the spring. In the meantime, the task group will work on turning some of their recommendations into actions.

“I’m impressed with the efforts you’ve put forth,” Garrett told the group. “You’ve given your valuable time and effort to this. I think you’ve identified some actions that we can put our collective weight behind.”

How can you get involved?

Everyone in the group agreed that no matter what role you play in work zone safety, effective communication is essential. We must continue to talk to each other. Whether it’s a pre-construction meeting between the project team, contractors and freight haulers, or a mid-project check-in with local law enforcement, or a “Hey did you hear about…” conversation with a coworker, or asking family and friends to travel carefully through work zones, everyone can help.

Visit the ODOT Work Zone Safety webpage for additional resources and information.

This is the seventh in a series of articles on taking a fresh look at work zone safety.

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