Everyone plays a role in keeping workers and travelers safe in work zones
Investments in transportation contribute to safer roads, as well as to a healthier economy. Over the last decade in Oregon, we have repaired or replaced hundreds of bridges, paved and maintained city and county roads, improved and expanded interchanges, added new capacity to Oregon’s transportation system, and removed freight bottlenecks statewide. Based on recent estimates, about 10.5 family-wage jobs are sustained for every $1 million spent on transportation construction in Oregon.
These investments pour money into local communities through contracts, services, and other purchases. That’s great news for the economy, but it brings home the point that we’ve got to plan ahead, prepare for work zones, and be patient when traveling.
As road construction signs, cones, and barrels start popping up along Oregon’s streets and highways and we move into a busy summer construction season, the transportation community is coming together to take a fresh look at work zone safety. The construction industry, freight community, law enforcement, public works agencies, the Oregon Department of Transportation, and others are examining current practices and looking for new ways to keep workers and travelers safe.
Defining the Problem
Nationally there is an upward trend in work zone crashes. In 2010 there were 586 work zone fatalities, 590 in 2011 and 609 in 2012. In Oregon, however, despite a high volume of road and bridgework, the numbers show a decrease in work zone incidents: 11 fatalities in 2011, six in 2012 and four in 2013 (preliminary). But, even one death is one too many.
The situation is serious for both workers and travelers. Both nationally and in Oregon there are more drivers and their passengers killed and injured in work zone crashes than workers. Four out of five work zone fatalities are drivers and their passengers. However, roadway construction is still one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. The risk of death is seven times higher for road workers than for an average worker.
The single biggest factor in crashes is driver inattention; that’s why orange cones, variable message signs, and other tools are used to alert motorists. The other major contributing factor is speed. If drivers obey posted speeds in work zones, safety increases for everyone.
What Are We Doing?
“Our message to Oregonians has always been when you drive dangerously through a work zone you’re not just putting the lives of highway workers at risk – you’re risking your own life, and the lives of your loved ones,” said Matt Garrett, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation. “Continued diligence on the part of the drivers, the construction and transportation industry, and law enforcement contributed to increased safety in the work zones over the last decade, but we cannot become complacent. We need to look for new ways to increase safety through education, engineering, enforcement, and emergency medical services.”
Current Actions Include –
- Administering approximately $3.8 million in federal funds for special work zone traffic patrols. Part of these funds is also used for public information and education.
- Using rigid barrier systems in work zones, when practical, to separate work areas from traffic.
- Closing road segments to traffic to reduce exposure to workers and drivers, and expedite project schedules.
- New safety devices added to ODOT’s Traffic Control Plan “Toolbox” including:
- Portable transverse rumble strips as a tactile alternative to warn drivers.
- Radar speed feedback trailers to help control traffic speeds.
- Real-time “smart work zone” traffic management systems to warn drivers of constantly changing work zone conditions.
- Pedestrian channelizing devices to keep pedestrians out of work areas.
- Increased reflectivity standards for worker personal protective equipment.
- Communicating with Oregonians using memorable campaigns, such as “Give ‘Em a Brake,” “Respect the Cone Zone, Better Roads Ahead” and “Fines Double 24/7 Workers or Not” and include print, Internet, radio and television spots in the campaign.
- Continually reviewing projects, policies, procedures, training, contract specifications and evaluations, as well as legislative and educational efforts, and developing new measures to improve safety.
We all travel through work zones. The simplest things drivers can do to improve safety is to obey posted speeds and to “be alert.” Ask your family, friends and coworkers to show their support for work zone safety by traveling carefully and slowly through work zones. Find tips and resources to share on ODOT’s Work Zone Safety web page.