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New statistics published by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC of America) have put the issue of safe traffic management plans at construction sites into the spotlight. According to their research, 45 per cent of highway contractors experienced an incident in their construction work zones during the past year, due to motor vehicles crashing into them.
In addition to this, the organisation found that these types of work crashes were more likely to lead to a fatality for vehicle operators and passengers rather than construction workers. A total of 43 per cent of contractors said operators or passengers were injured in the past year, while 16 per cent recorded a fatality as a result of the crashes.
However, construction workers aren’t immune. Over 20 per cent of work zone crashes in the period surveyed led to an injury for employees and in six per cent of the cases, one or more workers died.
These incidents can have a tragic impact on workers, their families, friends and colleagues – but they can also take a toll on the company as well. In the research from AGC of America, 25 per cent of contractors had to temporarily shut down all construction activity due to a work zone crash and 38 per cent of these lasted two or more days.
When it comes to putting in place prevention and risk management strategies, 74 per cent of contractors were in favour of using more concrete barriers to reduce injury and fatality rates. As well as this, 66 per cent said work health and safety training for employees, such as a traffic management course, would be helpful.
The AGC study was based on the responses of over 400 contractors around the country, which were gathered during March this year.
“There is little margin for error when you work within a few inches of thousands of fast-moving vehicles,” said Tom Case, chair of the organisation’s National Highway and Transportation division.
“As the data makes clear, not enough drivers are slowing down and staying alert near work sites.”
While these results are based on American workers and construction site zones, the message they carry can be applied to the Australian industry as well.
Traffic and construction safety in Australia
According to Safe Work Australia, the national body representing WHS concerns across the country, the construction industry employed 9 per cent of the Australian workforce during 2011-12, or 1.01 million people. In the period between 2007-08 and 2011-12, a total of 211 people employed in the industry died as a result of a work-related incident.
That brings the total number of deaths to 4.34 per 100,000 workers, almost twice the national rate of 2.29. Vehicle incidents contributed to 34 fatalities, with 21 occurring when the employee was in a car and 10 when he or she was in a truck.
Being hit by moving objects and falling objects each accounted for 29 of these fatalities. Of the workers hit by moving objects, 16 of these incidents involved road transport of some kind.
What can be done, and who has responsibility?
It’s clear that the problems surrounding construction safety and traffic management remain a significant cause of work-related death and injury in the industry. But what can be done about this serious issue?
Under Australian WHS law, any person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has a responsibility to ensure their workplace doesn’t pose any dangers to health and safety.
This is achieved either by eliminating the hazards altogether, or if this is impossible, minimising and controlling the risks. The legislation also stipulates that PCBUs are obligated to provide any information or training that would be required to protect people from a risk to their health and safety.
There are several issues that can complicate this problem on construction work zones. Firstly, keeping motorists and workers apart is essential to avoid collisions and the possibility of injuries or fatalities.
Speeding traffic is one of the major risk factors here, as is inadequate sign posting or lighting. Both of these factors can combine to contribute to drivers failing to notice road workers in their surroundings.
Driver error is another cause of work-related incidents in these types of construction zones. All of the normal behavioural factors that can influence typical road safety come into play, such as driver distraction, use of cell phones and unsafe merging practices. Another risk factor was aggressive driving, which led to motorists entering restricted work zones and disregarding warning signage.
In these cases, there are several things you can do to promote a higher level of worker safety. Any signs in use need to be clean and in good condition so motorists can clearly comprehend their meaning. Workers who have a direct role in controlling traffic should have received sufficient training, and everyone can benefit from work gear that makes the more visible to passing motorists.
Alerting the public in the days preceding the project can be a good way to reduce the rate of incidents. If you can, getting the word out through media channels as well as through roadside warnings as this may be able to reach a wider audience. This way, drivers will be prepared for any change in the road conditions due to construction work being undertaken.
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