Road Management & Engineering Journal
Road Management & Engineering Journal
Copyright © 1999 by TranSafety, Inc.
January, 2000
TranSafety, Inc.
(360) 683-6276
Fax: (360) 335-6402

Training for Work Zone Safety by Roy W. Anderson, P.E.
Originally published in the April 1987 TranSafety Reporter

(This article on work zone safety is reproduced from the April 1987 (Volume V, No. 4) issue of the TranSafety Reporter, published and edited by Roy W. Anderson, P.E. To find legal summaries of cases related to highway work zones, please check on-line editions of "Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal" at this web site.)

Traffic safety engineers responsible for improving work zone safety have long recognized that training is one of the key elements to reducing accidents in work zones. Training of managers, supervisors and workers is essential. If the design engineer or the project engineer does not understand the fundamental safety needs of drivers, vehicles, and the construction worker, then there is no reason to expect the blue-collar worker at the work site to overcome designed shortcomings or his own lack of training. A chain is no stronger than its weakest link. There are many links in the work zone safety chain, and training remains among the weakest.

One of the most publicly visible of the weak links is the worker on the job. Perhaps the most perturbing act witnessed by most drivers in work zones is the worker who leaps suddenly into the road waving his arms like an aerobics exercise instructor. The message the worker is attempting to convey cannot be interpreted in most instances. The only sure thing is that if the driver does not stop, both he and the worker may be in serious trouble.

Even though road construction and maintenance work are among the most dangerous industrial occupations, they appear to be of little interest to government and corporate management. While many workers put themselves at unnecessary risk for lack of training and disregard for traffic, none is more obviously vulnerable than the flagger. Substantial strides could be made in flagger selection and training; but for the lack of commitment, both the flaggers and road users are left with unnecessary risk.

Speakers at the 1985 national symposium on work zone traffic control provided substantive insight into problems of workers and work zone safety.

Philip Russell, of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), gave sound advice when recommending that flagging should only be employed when all other methods of traffic control are inadequate to warn drivers. "Flaggers should be well-trained and understand what they are to do and how drivers can be expected to respond." He emphasized that the job is too important and hazardous to be assigned to an inexperienced person.

David Gendell, Director, Office of Highway Operations, FHWA, revealed that an FHWA field survey found some work sites use flaggers with deficiencies in dress, position, alertness, equipment, and signaling techniques, all of which he said indicated a lack of training or lack of inspection of flaggers, or both. He noted that in some cases flaggers were used where traffic control devices would have been safer. Gendell said the failures of proper flagging procedures occurred in states where formal training was not required or provided for either state or construction personnel. He urged that formal traffic control training for both the state and the contractor's personnel be promoted.

The Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), required use on all public roads, provides for the training of personnel involved in work zone activities. "Each person whose action affects maintenance and construction zone safety from the upper-level management personnel through construction and maintenance field personnel should receive training appropriate to the job decisions each individual is required to make. Only those individuals who are qualified by means of adequate training in safe traffic control practices and have a basic understanding of the principles established by applicable standards and regulations, including those of the MUTCD, should supervise the selection, placement, and maintenance of traffic control devices in maintenance and construction areas."

The FHWA Federal-aid Highway Program Manual (FHPM) contains the policies of the federal government that govern the use of federal-aid funds. The FHPM mandates training. "All persons responsible for the development, design, implementation, and inspection of traffic control shall be adequately trained." Unfortunately, the term "adequately" is undefined.

The gap between federal requirements for training and what actually takes place will certainly be recognized by plaintiff's lawyers and used effectively in lawsuits. With the increasing number of work zone injuries and deaths, the number of lawsuits can be expected to increase rapidly.

Because there is an increasing awareness of the hazards of work zones and the methods that can reduce the dangers, plaintiffs' lawyers will find a fertile field of authoritative literature upon which to base questions for interrogatories, and to question defense witnesses on the hot seat before a jury.

Government agencies that fail to require and enforce training by their contractors could be faced with lawsuits from construction workers injured in work zones who are unable to sue their employers due to restrictions of worker compensation laws.

The FHWA should move immediately to establish requirements for certification of the specialties responsible for work zone safety, from engineer to flagger. Such certification should be required on federal-aid projects. The states should adopt certification for personnel of government agencies, utilities, and contractors. The cost of the training will be far less than the dollars that will be paid out for injury claims in the coming decade.

One program of certification currently available is sponsored by the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA--703/371-8800): "Training and Certification Program for Worksite Traffic Supervisors." The course is for both engineers and contractor's personnel. A written exam is required for certification. Four state highway departments now require in their contracts that one person have ATSSA certification.

Defendants in work zone cases who have no formal training requirements can expect to be compared to this and other similar programs in legal proceedings in the future.

Defendants who provide for the education of their employees in the protection of themselves and the public they serve will be more likely to find a sympathetic jury selected from a society that strongly believes in education as the foundation of its freedom and enlightenment.

Copyright © 1999 by TranSafety, Inc.

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