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Crashes Hit 45% of Work Zones

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

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Nearly half of U.S. highway contractors report that their work zones were struck by motor vehicles during the past year, according to a new study by the Associated General Contractors of America.

More of those crashes are killing motorists and passengers than contractors, however, the group found.

WorkZoneSafety
Images: AGC

Motorists and passengers were more likely than crews to be injured or killed in work-zone crashes, contractors told AGC. Six percent of the crashes in the past year killed contractors; 16 percent killed drivers or passengers.

"There is little margin for error when you work within a few inches of thousands of fast-moving vehicles,” said Tom Case, who chairs AGC's national highway and transportation division. “As the data makes clear, not enough drivers are slowing down and staying alert near work sites.”

More than 400 contractors contributed to the nationwide results, with a large enough sample of responses to allow for state-specific results in Texas, New York, California, Alabama, Iowa and North Carolina.

Of the available state results, Texas and New York reported the highest percentage crashes, with 57 percent each. North Carolina had the lowest, with 27 percent.

Multiple Accidents

Nationwide, 45 percent of contractors reported "at least one crash" by a moving vehicle into a highway work zone in the previous year. Of those who had been hit:

  • 20 percent reported two accidents;
  • 16 percent reported three accidents;
  • 7 percent reported four accidents; and
  • 26 percent reported five or more accidents.

HighwayContractorSurvey

One in five of the affected contractors said that one or more workers had been hurt in such a crash. Workers were killed at six percent of the crash sites, the report said.

In addition, one-quarter of the crash sites said the accident had resulted in construction delays, with 38 percent reporting delays of two, three or four days.

Nearly eight in 10 respondents said the problem had grown worse in the past decade, and 88 percent called crashes a "serious" or "very serious" problem, when compared with other work zone hazards.

Driver Toll

Despite the toll on construction crews, motorists and passengers tended to fare worse in these accidents, the survey found. Some 43 percent of work-zone crashes resulted in injuries to drivers and/or passengers; 16 percent of those crashes resulted in a driver or passenger fatality.

Enforcement Lapses

Contractors endorsed multiple measures to address the problem, including tougher laws and penalties. Still, most (90 percent) simply urged tougher enforcement of current laws. Nearly that many (85 percent) said that a stronger police presence would help.

WorkZoneSurvey

Nearly three in four (74 percent) said that the use of positive barriers would help improve safety, and 54 percent said their DOTs and other public owners included a requirement for positive barrier/separation in their bids.

Asked why a positive barrier was not used regularly:

  • 57 percent blamed cost;
  • 19 percent cited impending traffic;
  • 8 percent cited installation time;
  • and 15 percent listed "other," without elaboration.

Two-thirds of respondents also endorsed tougher laws and penalties (67 percent) as well as better or more frequent training for workers (66 percent).

Give'em a Brake

But Case, senior vice president of Watsonville, CA-based Granite Construction, suggested that the best approach was to get motorists to drive more carefully.

“Ensuring proper work zone safety starts and ends with cautious drivers,” Case said.

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Enforcement; Fatalities; Government contracts; Health and safety; Roads/Highways; Worker training; Workers

Comment from Tony Rangus, (4/15/2014, 11:10 AM)

“57 percent blamed cost.” So I guess they weigh the value of a human life or worker injury, to the cost of a positive barrier. Cost vs Benefit analysis at its finest! "...get motorists to drive more carefully"; "Ensuring proper work zone safety starts and ends with cautious drivers." Now there is a quote that begs interpretation. How many traffic fatalities, trafic accidents etc. occur every minute on USA roads not associated with work zones. Making people better drivers is not achievable; worker protection by positive barriers is.


Comment from Karen Fischer, (4/15/2014, 1:01 PM)

There are times when positive barrier methods are not specified or possible, especially when the owner requires a closure to be set up and taken down each day. Owners will simply not allow positive barriers (permanent closures) to be set up on roadways that experience rush hour/high traffic counts. The sheer volume of traffic jammed up because of a permanent closure ITSELF can cause daily accidents to occur. Many contracts do not specify or do not allow the use of positive barriers (permanent barriers such as Jersey Barrier). Because we are such a litigious society, contractors take substantial risk if they do not set up traffic control measures according to the specifications or have the traffic control plan reviewed and approved by the owner in advance. This problem is not as simple as setting positive barriers (either specified or not). In the 25+ years I have worked in the field, what seems to help dramatically is a constant police presence in the workzone (just prior as well as within it). One that is obvious to the motorists (lights flashing, multiple cars). Speed enforcement (writing tickets) shouldn't be the priority. Slowing the traffic by being visible should be. Writing a ticket for speeding after a motorist has risked the lives of workers and him/herself speeding through a work zone at 95 MPH doesn't reduce the risk.


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