Road construction is dangerous. According to statistics gathered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, about 200,000 road workers are injured every year. In the 14 years spanning 2003 to 2017, over 100 workers on average lost their lives each year. It's incredibly important to do everything you can to minimize hazards. Fortunately, there are some simple tips you can follow to help keep your workers as safe as possible.
One major cause of road construction injuries is being struck by vehicles or equipment. High-visibility equipment, including vests, armbands, and hats made with reflective or fluorescent materials, is vitally important to prevent this. It's a very small measure, but one that pays off big when it comes to safety -- especially at night. All high-visibility equipment should follow the American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Accessories. It's also helpful to have lights available during dark hours or cloudy weather, to help improve the visibility of workers and equipment.
Not all safety concerns are as sudden and damaging as being hit by a vehicle. Some of them, like hearing damage, is more insidious. Road work is loud, so workers should have earplugs or other protection for their hearing. Hearing protection should be as commonplace as hard hats, steel-toed boots, and gloves.
While most people think of collisions and injuries as road construction-related problems, heatstroke can be an issue, too. Road workers often have to be out on the hot pavement, without shade, and frequently work with a hot paving mix. Staying hydrated can help prevent heat-related illness. Every worksite should provide ample water and sports drinks or other sources of electrolytes.
Since worksites can be loud, and workers should be wearing proper hearing protection, non-verbal communication is crucial. All workers on the job site should be able to quickly and easily understand each other's hand signals and use the same signals consistently.
A good worksite should have enough room on all sides for workers to do what they need to do. Set up barriers, signage, and cones to separate the worksite from the flow of regular traffic, as well as to alert workers about which areas are safe to walk through. Be sure to give motorists ample warning that they're about to pass by road work -- this will make it easier for them to reduce their speed and avoid accidents.
It's important to mark hidden holes, mud, ice, or uneven spots on the ground. Falls account for about 20% of workplace injuries and making sure that slipping or tripping hazards are visible to employees can prevent this.
Electrocution is another on-the-job hazard, especially where buried utilities are concerned. Part of setting up a worksite perimeter should involve clearly marking the location of all utilities to avoid breaching electrical lines, gas pipes, or water mains.
Road workers should know what kind of hazards to expect on the job, how to monitor their blind spots when operating heavy equipment, and be aware of the flow of worksite equipment, traffic, and other workers on foot. Anyone loading or unloading equipment should partner with a spotter, who can help them by communicating where to back in when to stop, and what potential dangers may enter the area.
People often forego wearing seatbelts if they'll only be going a short distance, or not going very fast. Unfortunately, neither of these things guarantees safety. Anyone operating a worksite vehicle or heavy equipment should always wear a safety belt. After stopping, apply the parking brake. If it's necessary to stop on an incline, place a block in front of or behind the tires.
All vehicles and construction equipment have blind spots. If employees have to perform road work around them, they need to assume that they're not visible to the operators.
They should signal to vehicle and equipment operators, and wait for an acknowledgment before proceeding.
When working on a road, it's often not possible to shut down traffic. This means that part of establishing a safe worksite extends outside of that site, to the drivers around it. Set up clearly marked, safe routes for cars and trucks to follow. If possible, have a spotter to direct cars and prevent confusion.
Road work involves hot asphalt, heavy machinery, and potentially dangerous equipment, so it has some inherent hazards that you don't find in other jobs. This doesn't mean that it isn't possible to make road construction as safe as possible. With these easy-to-follow tips, work crews can reduce their risk of collisions, slips, falls, hearing damage, heat-related illness, and other problems that crop up on worksites.