Road Management & Engineering Journal
Copyright © 1999 by TranSafety, Inc.
Fax: (360) 335-6402
Work zone safety is one of the most perplexing of road safety problems. We have known for at least two decades how to make significant improvements in work zone safety for motorists, workers, and pedestrians, yet such life-saving knowledge is constantly ignored by government agencies, contractors and utility companies. Only now, the increasing cost of liability insurance, when it can be obtained, has brought new recognition of the hazards in work zones on our highways.
In the mid sixties, the California Division of Highways became concerned about the substantial rise in fatal and injury accidents in work zones. They set about identifying causes and ways to alleviate the problem. Their statistical studies showed that work zones did not have to be so hazardous. "Detour Ahead," published under a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) grant in 1972, was virtually ignored by the rest of the nation until the mid 1970's.
An accident investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board of the fiery death of a mother and her two babies in a work zone on the Beltway around Washington, D.C. focused attention on the failure of not only the Virginia highway department, but of the FHWA as well. A lawsuit by the Center for Auto Safety won injunctive relief from a federal court. The FHWA Office of Safety subsequently launched a major effort to improve work zone safety. As a result, some improvements were made but far short of what was needed. Over the past decade, numerous research projects have been completed, training courses created and, most importantly, changes were made in the "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices" (MUTCD).
While the MUTCD and its companion, "Traffic Control Devices Handbook," contain substantial guidance, they are not "cookbooks" that provide all the answers to maintaining work zone safety. The most significant provisions in the MUTCD are the FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES. Compliance with these management principles would result in major improvements in work zone safety. Until these very basic principles are accepted and practiced by those responsible for work zones, no significant improvement will be achieved. These principles form the basis of a risk management program for work zones and will become a major element in future injury lawsuits as a framework for judging whether the defendant was negligent in providing for the safety of the public and workers.
The MUTCD stresses that work zones present to the motorist unexpected or unusual situations in traffic operations and special care must be taken "in applying traffic control techniques in these areas." The primary management principles include the following:
Little progress will be made in safety improvements until training for all involved with work zones is provided. "Each person whose action affects maintenance and construction zone safety, from upper level management personnel through construction and maintenance field personnel, should receive training appropriate to the job decisions each individual is required to make". The management of all organizations responsible for work zone operations must be committed to this basic concept if the hazards of work zones are to be significantly reduced.
If organizations responsible for work zone safety do not find the necessary commitment from within their own organizations, many will find a financial incentive in costly lawsuits, where juries often find the road agencies negligent. The large number of paving and bridge building projects funded with billions of federal-aid dollars, and the increasing awareness of plaintiffs' lawyers to the abuses in work zones, will make work zone safety suits very popular on court dockets across the country.
Copyright © 1999 by TranSafety, Inc.