December 31, 2020
Highway Workers: Safety Tips
Although you can't control the occasional obnoxious motorist, you can take steps to help protect yourself on the road:
- Ask that noise levels be monitored at all times to prevent hearing loss. Experts suggest workers wear earmuffs or earplugs to shield their eardrums from high decibels.
- At a minimum, ask for training in how to set up a safe work zone -- an essential part of the job, according to James Baron, communications director of the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA). "You can't just get out there and flag and yell, 'Slow down,'" he says. "There's a way to properly instruct vehicles to slow down and a way to set up a work zone." He and others add that the art of traffic control is letting motorists know what is happening on the road -- as far ahead as possible.
- Use different equipment depending on the road's lane width, traffic speed, and other factors. The ATSSA advises orange safety cones, for example, when working in light traffic, but when cars are coming thick and heavy, the situation might call for barrels -- or even temporary concrete barriers, which can be a life-saving measure.
- Wear sunscreen, a hat, and long-sleeved shirts, if possible, to protect yourself from the sun; and drink a cup of water every 20 minutes or so in very hot weather to help prevent dehydration.
- If you're a supervisor, you should make sure that new employees are prepared to work in all types of traffic. They should feel comfortable using flagmen -- workers who use flags to signal drivers and warn them that they're approaching a work site -- and have enough road sense to never turn their back to oncoming traffic.
- New workers should be taught how to maneuver around massive pieces of equipment and to safeguard a site for optimal security. Often running certain equipment can temporarily block an operator's field vision, so ground workers should be warned never to stand in front or back of an operating vehicle.
- Use protective equipment and personal protective gear (such as hard hats and steel-toed shoes). Reflective clothing is also crucial, especially for night shift work.
- Take advantage of new protections for highway work. Glass-beaded paint used for highway stripes -- to better reflect oncoming headlights at night -- is not the only safety improvement to have hit the open roads in recent years there are also larger, brighter electronic signs. Ask for electronic signs with changing messages and alarms that can be strung up along a barricade to warn workers when someone has driven through the barriers.