Building Safer Work Zones

Building Safer Work Zones

  • Rebecca Pittman
  • 23 September, 2020

According to the federal Department of Transportation, a “work zone is an area of a highway with construction, maintenance, or utility work activities. A work zone is typically marked by signs, channelizing devices, barriers, pavement markings, and/or work vehicles.”

There are many hazards that a worker is exposed to when working on bridge, highway, tunnel, utility, and other workers along transportation infrastructures work zones. Runovers, backovers, high noise levels, and OSHA’s ‘big four’ are just a few of the on-site hazards workers face. There are also several dangers outlying the work zone. You can not control things such as pedestrians, vehicles, animals, and environmental conditions that can make the work zone hazardous.

Nearly three work zone deaths occur each day throughout the United States. As many as 700 highway construction site deaths happen each year. In the spring, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the American Traffic Safety Services Association join together to coordinate and sponsor National Work Zone Awareness Week. While it’s primary goal is to raise awareness and educate the general public, it is also an excellent time for employers to educate their employees and take steps to improve work zone safety. Here’s what you can do to build a safer work zone.

Train and Educate

Take time to educate all workers on the dangers of transportation work zones. Even veterans in the field could use a reminder that they are not immune to hazards. Workers with specific responsibilities need proper and thorough training on how to use the appropriate personal protective equipment for the job. They should also receive training on the correct techniques and equipment used for the job they are assigned.


Barricade means an obstruction to deter the passage of persons or vehicles. Barricades should be inspected daily (or more often) to ensure they are still in place and working as intended.

Put temporary traffic barriers into place before starting the workers being their on-site tasks. Give workers instructions on where to place the barriers properly. They should be used to direct as much traffic as possible safely away from the work zone.

Worker Visibility

Every worker on site should be wearing high-visibility clothing that meets OSHA standards. Clothing should be reflective and brightly colored. Mark and identify work zones using signage, cones, barriers, and flags. Alert drivers by posting acceptable speed limits and signage giving notice of the type of work happening in the area. Post signage in outlying areas of the work zone to give warning far enough ahead of the work zone so that drivers have time to prepare. You should also use electronic signage to display the hours when workers will be in the zone. This way, drivers who are frequent in the area can note what hours of the day the work zone will be active. This is especially helpful if nighttime work is taking place. For work zones where flaggers are present, be sure the flagger has the proper training and safety equipment to perform their tasks. Also, ensure that the flagger has identified an escape path to use to avoid being struck by oncoming or errant vehicles.

Limit Vehicle Use Inside Work Zone

Minimize runover and backover incidents by limiting the use of vehicles inside the work zone. Avoid backing up cranes, tractors, and other heavy equipment as much as possible in the work zone. Always inform workers when heavy equipment will be in motion and take proper precautions to ensure everyone is at a safe distance of the machinery.

Personal Protection Equipment

All workers should have the proper personal protection equipment designated for their job tasks. This might include gloves, earplugs, goggles, high visibility clothing, helmets, and steel-toed footwear. Be sure that workers get training on how to use their protective equipment and that apparel, such as vests, shoes, and helmets fit correctly and are wearing them at all times. Frequently inspect other types of protective equipment such as harnesses and respirators to ensure that they are working correctly. While you should discourage site visitors from stopping by, there are times when having a nonemployee or visitor to the site is unavoidable. In this case, be sure that anyone coming into the work zone wears the appropriate personal protective equipment they will need during their visit no matter how long or short a time they’ll be present.

Maintaining productivity while also being aware of their surroundings is a challenge. Workers can easily get caught up in the tasks they are doing, and safety can quickly become an afterthought. Accidents happen when safety isn’t top-of-mind. Take time during National Work Zone Safety Week to assess your safety practices on work sites. Educate employees on important safety measures and take steps to correct any safety oversights you may be making. Working together to build a safer work zone might save a life.


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