Who is protecting the protectors? Traffic controllers under the gun
A string of serious safety incidents involving traffic controllers has critics calling for an overhaul of legislative and safety protections, including traffic control training and planning.
In the most recent incident, Queensland detectives are investigating after two projectiles were fired at a traffic controller at a roadworks site on the Bruce Highway at Burpengary on September 22, 2015.
Police report the 45-year-old Sippy Downs man was sitting in a parked vehicle southbound, just after the Uhlmann Road exit, when a white sedan pulled up beside him around 9.40pm.
The front seat passenger, a male wearing a balaclava, pointed a handgun at the man and fired two rounds before the vehicle sped off.
The man managed to duck for cover and the projectiles travelled through the open front windows of the car, passing out of the vehicle and into bushland.
There was no information when this report was compiled whether the incident was a targeted attack.
The incident comes just two weeks after a 50-year-old traffic controller was struck and killed by a car southwest of Brisbane.
Shooting latest in long line of injury risks
While the shooting is far from typical, it joins a long list of occupational hazards faced by traffic controllers.
As previously reported by AlertForce, traffic controllers face an unacceptably high risk of being injured or killed on the job. A 10-year study by Safe Work Australia of truck-related fatalities put incidents involving traffic controller at the head of a list of fatalities involving “workers on foot”.
In Queensland, WorkCover Queensland figures for 2013/14 reveal more than 230 injury claims a year from traffic controllers in Queensland, costing $2.6m a year. More than 50% of injured workers were aged between 40 and 60 years old.
Costs up but days off work falling
Speaking to a Traffic Management Association of Queensland (TMAQ) meeting in Cairns in 2014, WorkCover Queensland customer advisor Pablo Aviles said total claims costs for the industry have continued to rise since 2011.
“This means that there’s more work to be done to prevent injuries and ensure safer work environments,” Aviles said.
“On the plus side, we have seen an ongoing reduction in the average days to an injured worker’s first return to work. In 2009-10, in traffic control services, the average number of days it took an injured worker to get back to work was 33.7, and it is now 19.2.
“This can help reduce the costs of claims, which can have a positive impact on premium rates.
“Similarly, the percentage of injured workers who are able to stay at work, often on a suitable duties plan, during their rehabilitation has improved from 36 per cent in 2009-10 to 50.4 per cent in 2013-14.”
‘Driver aggression’ the big problem
Driver aggression remains the biggest concern for traffic controllers, according to a 2012 survey by the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety-Queensland (CARRS-Q).
Reporting on the survey in its July 2013 newsletter, the Traffic Management Association of Queensland said driver aggression was followed by ‘working close to traffic and machinery’, ‘setting up signage’, ‘working on high speed roads’, ‘working during rain’ and ‘reduced visibility’ (during night, dawn and dusk)
The common types of incidents reported involved vehicles driving into cordoned off work areas, hitting traffic controllers, rear ending other vehicles as they approached roadworks, and reversing incidents involving work vehicles and machinery.
Many workers cited driver errors, such as violating speed limits, distracted driving, and ignoring signage and traffic controllers’ instructions as the main causes of the incidents.
While some believed that existing safety measures were effective, many argued there was room for improvement. Speed control through increased enforcement, increased public awareness, and driver education and licensing initiatives targeted to safety near roadworks were mentioned as potential improvement measures.
The researchers are currently measuring river speeds through roadwork sites.
Later phases of the research involve interviewing drivers regarding what influences their behaviour, and trialling new safety initiatives.
In Queensland and other states, regulators have moved to tighten controls around training delivery in the industry.
Recent Queensland Department of Transport and Main initiatives include:
• a state-wide review of speed signage at roadwork sites to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, compliance and consistency in the determination and placement of reduced speed zones at roadwork sites,
• increasing industry awareness of its responsibilities for ensuring road worker safety following the introduction of the Code of Practice for Traffic Management for Construction or Maintenance Work in 2008, and
• increasing public awareness through a range of activities stemming from the Workplace Rights Ombudsman’report in 2009.
To be accredited as traffic controller in Queensland, a person must complete a Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) Approved Traffic Controller Training Course. The course must be delivered through a registered training organisation (RTO) approved by TMR to deliver the course.
For more details on AlertForce’s nationally recognised traffic control NSW training, go to https://alertforce.com.au/ohs-training-courses/nationally-recognised-traffic-control-training-nsw/
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