The beginning of spring signals the start of road construction’s busy season. Road construction crews will begin popping up around the state to repair streets, roads, highways, and bridges. Although work zones play a critical role in providing a safe area for workers, they can be a major cause of congestion. In some instances, many drivers become impatient with delays and disregard speed limits. In 2018, 21 percent of fatal work zone crashes involved rear-end collisions related to speeding and tailgating (Federal Highway Administration).
Monday, April 20th, marks the beginning of National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW). Each year, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and its partners sponsor NWZAW to bring attention to motorist and worker safety around work zones. This year’s theme is Safe Work Zones for All: Protect workers. Protect road users. At Sain, we do our best to ensure the safety of our crew and the public. Our protocol is to place standardized orange construction signs ahead of a work zone to signal what lies ahead. Unfortunately, for various reasons, many people do not notice the signs. The FHWA outlines several measures for drivers to protect not only themselves but also road construction crews:
- Be prepared
- Wear your seat-belt
- Stay focused
- Be alert
- Slow down and don’t tailgate
- Obey road crews and signs
- Watch for workers
- Share the road
- Use caution around large vehicles
- Be respectful of workers and fellow drivers
Our team regularly participates in safety meetings and does our best to guard against potential risks, but it all hit home when we witnessed a major accident. A few months ago, several inspectors and I were working overnight on a paving operation. At 4:00 am, a backhoe was moving within the work zone and was hit by a semi-truck going 65 miles per hour. The backhoe flipped on its side and screeched down the roadway. Sparks lit up the sky, and the backhoe stopped within 50 feet of us. Luckily, the semi-truck veered off into a ditch. If the backhoe had gone in a different direction, it would have plowed into a group of 20 crew members working on the paving operation.
After the crash, I ran to the backhoe and found the operator unconscious. It was a scary moment to see the contorted body in the backhoe covered with broken glass and blood spatter. I recognized the operator as a peer of mine – he has a wife and young kids like I do. I called his wife scared to tell her the news, not knowing how things would turn out. He was taken to the hospital and remained in the ICU for a few days. Fortunately, he is okay now, but the accident left several scars and a bent nose, serving as a constant reminder.
This incident made a significant impact on me and my crew. Work zones have potential risks, and you always have to be thinking about safety. A dangerous situation can happen at any moment, so wear your personal protective equipment (PPE), have an escape route, and don’t let your guard down. The same applies to drivers – being distracted or otherwise not focusing on your driving is easy to do, but in a moment can lead to an accident that can’t be undone. So please be safe in your driving habits, and be aware of work zones where any driving errors can quickly turn fatal.