The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 03, 2013

Work zones a magnet for wayward motorists

By The Building Tradesman

Any time a construction work zone is put into place, there’s better than one-in-three odds that a motorist will run into it.

That comes from a study released by the Associated General Contractors of America during National Work Zone Awareness Week (April 15-19).

The study found that 38 percent of highway contractors had motor vehicles crash into their construction work zone during the past year. And while the crashes are much more likely to kill or injure the motorist, construction workers are also at risk.

“Any time your job site is just a few feet away from fast moving traffic, danger is never far away,” said Mike Hoover, the chair of the AGC’s national highway and transportation division. “When you see construction signs and orange barrels, take your foot off the gas, put the phone down and keep your eyes on the road.”

Hoover said that 46 percent of contractors reported that motor vehicle operators or passengers were injured during work zone crashes this past year, and 14 percent were killed in those crashes. He noted that more than 18 percent of work zone crashes injure construction workers, and 8 percent of those crashes kill them.

In Michigan, the state Department of Transportation announced on April 17 that crashes, injuries and deaths in work zones dropped in 2012 compared to 2011. MDOT said for 2012, there were 4,530 crashes, 1,149 injuries, and 15 fatalities in work zones, down from 4,633 crashes, 1,312 injuries, and 18 fatalities in 2011.

“Crashes were down across the board for 2012 but too many people are still at risk of serious injury and death,” Transportation Director Kirk Steudle said in a statement. "The majority of the responsibility to create a safe environment is on the driver more than anyone. Eliminating distractions save lives and will help us get closer to Michigan's goal of zero deaths.”

The Michigan Laborers District Council, which relies on road projects to employ thousands of members every year, said safe roads and the worker training made possible by prevailing wages are all tied together.

“Construction safety is about protecting workers and ensuring taxpayer-supported road projects get completed on-time and on-budget,” said Geno Alessandrini, Business Manager for the Michigan Laborers District Council. “We are committed to investing in top-notch training programs to keep our members safe and provide Michigan taxpayers with a good value for our road dollars. Our training and apprenticeship programs wouldn’t be possible without Michigan’s prevailing wage law. To get our economy moving, we’re urging our elected officials to protect prevailing wage and make the investments that are needed to fix our roads and keep construction workers safe.”

The AGC surveyed nearly 800 contractors nationwide to glean the work zone information. The survey found that 21 percent of contractors reported that work zone crashes during the past year have forced them to temporarily shut down construction activity. Those delays were often lengthy, as 30 percent of those project shutdowns lasted two or more days.

Association officials said that 68 percent of contractors nationwide feel that tougher laws, fines and legal penalties for moving violations in work zones would reduce injuries and fatalities. And 70 percent of contractors nationwide agree that more frequent safety training for workers could help. They added that many firms and the association have crafted these types of highway safety programs.

But Hoover suggested that the best way to improve safety was for motorists to be more careful while driving through highway work zones. “The best way to improve work zone safety is to get motorists to slow down and pay attention,” Hoover said.