Road Management & Engineering Journal
Road Management & Engineering Journal
Copyright © 1999 by TranSafety, Inc.
December, 1999
TranSafety, Inc.
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Contest for Highway Worker Safety
Originally published in the July 1989 TranSafety Reporter

((This article on work zone safety is reproduced from the July 1989 (Volume VII, No. 7) issue of the TranSafety Reporter, published and edited by Roy W. Anderson, P.E. To find summaries of legal cases related to highway work zones, please check on-line editions of "Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal" at this web page.)

The National Research Council (NRC) has announced the winners of its competition designed to gather innovative ideas for better protection of highway maintenance workers from dangerous traffic. The NRC`s Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) sponsored the program.

Out of 126 competition entries, three $2,000 prizes, four $1,000 awards, and thirty $500 prizes were awarded.

The top three winning designs included a special lighting system to be used on the back of snowplows and salt spreaders that allows drivers to see snow equipment more clearly in stormy weather; a sign that can be quickly and easily installed and moved alerting motorists of construction ahead; and a mobile crash-protection device using sand barrels that can be installed quickly for closing off an entire lane of traffic.

The entries were rated on feasibility, usability, effectiveness, and cost. The most promising will be selected for prototype development and testing.


Highway maintenance work is extremely hazardous for both work crews and motorists. Hundreds of highway workers and drivers are injured and killed each year in and around highway work zones.

"We don't have good nationwide statistics, but the number of deaths and injuries is alarming," Damian Kulash of NRC said.

"We're scared in Missouri -- scared for our employees who must work daily within inches from speeding traffic," said Wayne Muri, chief engineer, Missouri Highway and Transportation Department, Jefferson City. "Within the last two years, five Missouri highway workers died and many others were seriously injured in work-zone accidents."

The NRC believes these accidents are caused by several factors, including insufficient warning signage for drivers, lack of audible signals to warn highway workers of impending crashes, and inefficiency of devices to protect workers once a vehicle has penetrated the barriers of the work area. At most work sites, traffic is never more than 50 feet away, and sometimes is as close as one foot. In addition, speeding vehicles create a whirlwind of loose objects around the work place, and noise from the traffic and maintenance equipment often masks the sounds of an impending accident.

First-Place Winning Design

One $2,000 winner, Roger L. Stoughton, senior materials and research engineer, California Department of Transportation, Sacramento, developed a portable protection device to be used when an entire lane needs to be blocked off for a short period of time -- for example, when workers need to patch a pothole. Presently, bright cones are used to keep moving traffic away from the working lane, but there are no effective devices for protecting workers when a car swerves into the work zone. Stoughton designed a mobile protection unit consisting of a trailer loaded with sand barrels that easily could be placed in front of the work zone to protect workers from oncoming vehicles.

Robert E. Fischer, district utility agent, Montana Department of Highways in Butte, developed a temporary warning sign that can be moved quickly, even on difficult terrain. Easily deployable signs are needed because the installation and removal of signs is very hazardous to workers who are on or near the roadway when little information is available to drivers, highway managers say. Signs are often placed where work begins at the start of a shift, but because they are difficult to move, may not be relocated as the maintenance operation moves down the road. The workers may be too far away from the warning signs to provide meaningful warning to drivers.

"Quickly deployed signs are particularly promising," says Horace Edwards, secretary of transportation, Kansas. "Work crews are often tempted to forget the signs if only a small amount of work needs to be done -- this is extremely hazardous."

A third top winner, Emil E. Beals, engineering technician, Illinois Department of Transportation in Effingham, devised a system to illuminate the rear of snowplows and salt spreaders to enable the drivers to see the equipment more clearly in stormy weather. Poor visibility created by blowing snow and the slow speed of the equipment relative to traffic create serious collision hazards. Most collisions involve vehicles running into the rear of snowplows or striking the plow blade when passing.

Beals also won one of four $1,000 prizes. His entry was a system of lights that can be mounted at the ends of snowplow blades to make them more visible to motorists.


Two other $1,000 winners designed audible warning devices to alert workers when a vehicle has entered the work area -- a siren device and a rumble strip to warn cars that they have driven off the main roadway. The fourth $1,000 winner devised a spray-paint dispenser mounted on the front of a vehicle for use in temporary marking of pavement. With clear markings, drivers can understand the new traffic patterns easily.

Other winners received $500 for ideas such as rumble strips, warning systems, barrier designs, lighting devices, and sign fabrication.

Copyright © 1999 by TranSafety, Inc.

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