Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Impact of the Decision-Making Environment on Policy Responses to Road Worker Fatality in Manitoba and Saskatchewan

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Impact of the Decision-Making Environment on Policy Responses to Road Worker Fatality in Manitoba and Saskatchewan

Article excerpt


Roadway traffic fatalities remain a central concern for policy-makers. This problem is important for road users as well as construction workers, who must coexist with vehicles. When workers are injured, policy and law makers often re-evaluate existing policy. However, contextual factors and the decision-making environment can vary, and therefore so can policy responses to similar events. Recently, two similar highwayworker fatalities occurred in Canada - one in Manitoba and one in Saskatchewan. They both led to legal changes but the changes were starkly different. In Manitoba, changes primarily involved increases in fines, while in Saskatchewan the event led to a broader examination and the development of a more comprehensive safety strategy. The fact that two apparently similar critical events occurred in different provinces within a short time frame presents a unique opportunity to examine the role of decision-making environments while in effect holding the type of event constant. This is useful because under normal circumstances, different kinds of events call for different kinds of policy responses. The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of decision-making environments in the formation of public health and safety policy. In particular, the paper examines the ways in which the decision-making environment differed between the two provinces and how this led to vastly different policy responses. A recent theoretical taxonomy of decision-making environments and outcomes is applied to contextualize results within the larger realm of policy-making.

The safety of workers on highway construction projects remains a critical safety issue, and accidents within work zones pose a threat to all road users.1 This policy challenge is compounded by the fact that the severity of injuries to highway workers is affected by a range of factors, including the location of the work zone, work duration, time of day and type of work activity.2 In addition, sociocultural factors such as the number of licensed drivers, the ratio of workers travelling by carpool, and drivers with limited Englishspeaking ability are associated with higher crash risk.3 Because of the complex nature of relevant policy, legal responses to critical events should also be carefully considered and cannot be reduced to easily implemented solutions.4

Knowledge about the effectiveness of various safety strategies has been in continual evolution and recent research has identified strategies that have effectively improved worker safety on highways. Within this research, roadside signage has been identified as a critical piece of the puzzle and has become a focus.5 Various signage structures and arrangements have been found to be effective, but of critical importance is that signs are visible, easy to understand and give an accurate picture of what drivers are about to face.

In addition to adequate signing, however, many supplemental strategies have been identified. The use of highway flaggers is an effective tool for safety in highway work zones.1,6 However, although flaggers are part of the safety structure to protect other workers, the flaggers themselves are at risk and depend on other aspects of the material arrangements. In a sense, by the nature of their work, flaggers transfer the risk of injury from other workers to themselves. Therefore, not only must safety policies aim at the safety of workers in general, they should include attention to flaggers.

Other effective instruments include emergency flasher control devices, which get drivers' attention and encourage them to slow down,7 and portable electronic message signs.8 Such message signs are particularly useful because not only do they get the attention of drivers, they have the capacity to transmit a number of clear messages in rotating cycles.

Since drivers slow down when they see an enforcement vehicle, it has also been found that mock police vehicles are effective ways to reduce speeds and increase the headway between vehicles entering work zones. …

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