An Analysis of Fatal Occupational Injuries at Road Construction Sites, 2003-2010

By Pegula, Stephen M. | Monthly Labor Review, November 2013 | Go to article overview

An Analysis of Fatal Occupational Injuries at Road Construction Sites, 2003-2010


Pegula, Stephen M., Monthly Labor Review


From 2003 to 2010, 962 workers were killed at road construction sites. Nearly half of these deaths resulted from a vehicle or mobile equipment striking the worker. Using data from the Bureau's Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, this analysis categorizes workers by whether they were working at or passing through the road construction site when fatally injured.

The annual number of occupational road construction site deaths garners much attention among policymakers, safety professionals, and others. From 2003 to 2010, more than 7,000 deaths were reported at road construction sites. (1) Over the same period, 962 workers died from injuries incurred at a road construction site. (2) (See tables 1 and 2.) Even as overall fatal workplace injuries decreased, fatal workplace injuries at road construction sites remained relatively constant.

Previous analyses have focused on a general overview of fatal occupational injuries at road construction sites and on specific incidents that led to those injuries. (3) This analysis will separate these deaths into fatalities incurred by those who were working at the road construction site and fatalities incurred by those who were simply passing through the road construction site. The analysis includes information that is available only from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) case narratives, which will be used to distinguish between these two groups of workers, each of which faces decidedly different hazards. (4)

Background

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), published and maintained by the Federal Highway Administration, "defines the standards used by road managers nationwide to install and maintain traffic control devices on all public streets, highways, bikeways, and private roads open to public traffic." (5)

Section 6C.02, "Temporary traffic control zones," defines a work zone as

   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. It extends from the first warning sign or high-intensity
   rotating, flashing, oscillating, or strobe lights on a vehicle to
   the END ROAD WORK sign or the last TTC [temporary traffic control]
   device. (6)

Sections 5G ("Temporary traffic control zones") and 6 ("Temporary traffic control") outline many aspects of setting up and maintaining road construction sites, including signage, channeling devices, flaggers, and worker safety. In particular, section 6D.03, "Worker safety consideration," outlines five parameters for improving worker safety:

A. Training--all workers should be trained on how to work next to motor vehicle traffic in a way that minimizes their vulnerability. Workers having specific TTC responsibilities should be trained in TTC techniques, device usage, and placement.

B. Temporary Traffic Barriers--temporary traffic barriers should be placed along the work space depending on factors such as lateral clearance of workers from adjacent traffic, speed of traffic, duration and type of operations, time of day, and volume of traffic.

C. Speed Reduction--reducing the speed of vehicular traffic, mainly through regulatory speed zoning, funneling, lane reduction, or the use of uniformed law enforcement officers or flaggers, should be considered.

D. Activity Area--planning the internal work activity area to minimize backing-up maneuvers of construction vehicles should be considered to minimize the exposure to risk.

E. Worker Safety Planning--a trained person designated by the employer should conduct a basic hazard assessment for the worksite and job classifications required in the activity area. This safety professional should determine whether engineering, administrative, or personal protection measures should be implemented.

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