Transportation construction advocacy groups are urging the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to beef up workers safety provisions in light of hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries to workers each year.
In a Jan. 6 letter, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association joined the American Concrete Pavement Association, American Highway Users Alliance, American Traffic Safety Services Association, Laborers Health and Safety Fund of North America, and the National Asphalt Pavement Association to include stronger workplace protections for transportation construction workers in its Work Zone Safety Strategy Plan (WZSSP).
“As a segment of the industry that represents the workers who labor on these roadway construction projects and are exposed to many hazards posed both by construction operations and passing traffic, we would like to share some focused input on the WZSSP worker safety provisions which we jointly feel are critical to emphasize,” the groups wrote to Mr. Martin C. Knopp, Associate Administrator for Operations at FHWA.
The group asked that the WZSSP include measures to promote automated speed enforcement, as well as measures to reduce work zone intrusions through enhanced positive protection for construction workers. The group also asked the agency to deploy new technologies to warn and advise motorists of construction areas and to include transportation construction workers in the definition of “vulnerable roadway users,” as outlined in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
The group urged the FHWA to make the most of IIJA funding to enhance safety programs.
“While not yet part of the WZSSP, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act includes an important provision that allows agencies to use federal funds to create project-based ‘safety contingency funds’,” the group wrote. “The purpose of these funds is to set aside money for project safety enhancements that may not have been anticipated when a project was let. The funds enable the contractor and/or agency to revisit the temporary traffic control plan and add additional safety enhancements (such as positive protection) that may not have been initially funded. If both parties agree the improvement is needed, funds can be released to pay for such changes. The WZSSP should recognize this new opportunity and encourage owners and contractors to take advantage of the ability to enhance project safety when appropriate.”
According to the group, an estimated 200 transportation construction workers are killed annually, while thousands are injured.
In the last two months of 2021, at least four transportation construction workers were killed in workplace accidents. A 53-year-old Albion, Ind. man was killed when he was crushed between a tractor and a dump truck. Jerry W. Jones was declared dead at the scene when he walked between a mowing tractor and a tractor to release a towing rope. On Dec. 14, Jones was part of a mowing crew working on a side ditch in Noble County. When the mowing tractor got stuck in the ditch, a county worker moving the tractor using the county dump truck. When Jones went to release the two rope, the tractor lurched suddenly, crushing him between the two vehicles.
In Austin, Texas on Dec. 10, two transportation construction workers were killed when they were struck by a car. According to the Austin Police Department, the two workers were installing road signs around 9:30 a.m., when a black 2015 Porsche SUV veered off the road and into the grassy median where they were working, striking and killing both of them.
And in November, in Louisville, Ky., a construction worker died when he was shot in an attempted carjacking. Louisville Police said Fred O’Bannon was in his work truck at a construction site on I-264 when he was approached by Keyshaun Stewart. Stewart attempted to carjack the vehicle, shooting O’Bannon in the process. Stewart then pointed the gun at another worker, and later opened fire on Sgt. James Chris Lane, shooting him in the face. Lane was able to chase after Stewart, shooting him twice, and arrest him.
ARTBA said the WZSSP is a key document in providing insight for workers, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians on how to make transportation construction sites safer. The groups said they see the WZSSP as a guideline for state departments of transportation, local governments and the private sector to work together to improve work zone safety.
The FHWA will meet with stakeholders over the next few weeks to review feedback on the draft WZSSP. The final document will reflect that feedback, officials said.