A concerted industry-government safety push has helped drive down the number of construction-worker and motorist fatalities in highway construction zones, but officials say there are still far too many deaths at these dangerous jobsites.
According to an Associated General Contractors of America survey released on April 23, 68% of the 400 firms responding experienced at least one vehicular crash at one of their highway work zones in the past year; 18% reported worker fatalities in those accidents.
The survey was just part of a series of events held on April 23-27 during the 13th annual National Work Zone Awareness Week, which aims to keep the spotlight on highway construction-site safety.
There has been progress. U.S. Dept. of Transportation statistics show there were 576 deaths in highway work zones in 2010, the year of the most recent data, down 15% from 2009's 680 and well below 2006's 1,004 fatalities. DOT says 85% to 90% of the deaths were drivers and passengers; construction workers account for the other 10% to 15%.
Government has focused on the problem. The Federal Highway Administration notes that, over the past seven years, it has issued four construction-zone regulations, including rules mandating high-visibility clothing for workers and improved design of highway jobsites. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood's campaign against drivers' cell-phone use and texting also should make work zones safer.
The private sector is playing a key part, too. Brad Sant, American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) senior vice president for safety and education, says that, starting in the late 1990s, "We really saw the industry get serious and take notice about work-zone fatalities." In 1998, ARTBA and FHWA launched the Work Zone Information Clearing House; the work-zone awareness week began a couple of years later. In 2007, industry groups, unions, state DOTs and federal safety agencies formed Roadway Work Zone Safety and Health Partners, with the goal of preventing jobsite deaths. On April 19, the partnership was renewed for a second time.
Sant says, "The industry is making great strides. Are we there yet? No. Six hundred people [a year] are still dying." Brian Turmail, an AGC spokesman, says, "We're not going to stop until the fatality number is zero and the injury number is zero, if we can get it there."