Pay Attention: Traffic Work Zone Safety for Employees

Ron O’Keefe

Safe and efficient movement of traffic through a work zone is a primary concern for municipal public works agencies. As traffic continues to increase across New Hampshire, worker safety during road improvement projects is a top priority. The need for standardized control is especially critical when the abnormal conditions of a temporary traffic control zone make travel hazardous for the motoring public and pedestrians.

There are several ways to reduce risk and improve worker safety while maintaining efficient traffic movement. First, make sure staff is outfitted with high-visibility apparel. Everyone from public works staff to firefighters and police officers can now be seen wearing high-visibility apparel while working on the roadways of New Hampshire.

High visibility apparel must conform to the standards of the American National Standards Association (ANSI) as either Class II or Class III apparel. Class II is the minimum standard. This typical sleeveless vest can be either "breakaway" or "non-breakaway." Although slightly more expensive, the "breakaway" vests are recommended for maximum risk reduction. These vests are constructed using a "hook and loop" product to secure the vest. If caught on a passing vehicle's side mirror, the vest is designed to "break away," removing the vest from the worker and not dragging them down the road with the vehicle. Class III high-visibility apparel resembles a jacket or full shirt garment increasing the amount of high visibility product. These garments are required to be used during night operations or on roadways with a speed limit greater than 50 miles per hour.

Worker training is the second piece to reducing risk in active work zones. Flaggers must be certified to ensure that safe and proper flagging techniques are being used. The goal is improved worker safety in conjunction with efficient traffic movement through the work area. The New Hampshire Local Government Center Property Liability Trust has recently contracted with Ron Machos Jr. to instruct our members in Flagging and Work Zone Safety. Ron is the Vice President of New England Traffic Control Services, Inc. located off of Route 28 in Epsom. Ron comes to us with 25 years of flagging and work zone safety experience and is a Certified Flagging Instructor. "I am looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experiences with municipalities throughout the New Hampshire," commented Ron.

The Flagger/Work Zone Safety training is a certified program following the guidelines set forth in the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. "You can never know it all or stop learning new, improved and proper techniques for traffic control; however, I cannot stress enough the importance of 'uniformity'. We are about uniformed traffic control. That's why we have the Manual on UNIFORM Traffic Control. We can't have everyone thinking they can modify what is in place. When we in the industry perform uniformly it is then that the public will fully understand our signals to them" stated Ron.

Creating a safe temporary traffic control zone includes specific criteria following the ATSSA guidelines. The first area a driver encounters is the Advanced Warning Area. This section is designed to warn drivers of what to expect ahead. Utility Work Ahead, Right Lane Closed and Be Prepared to Stop are examples of an Advanced Warning Area. When flagging operations are used, a sign must be present stating Flagger Ahead or displaying the symbol legend of a flagger.

The second area of a temporary traffic control zone is the Transition Area. The Transition Area moves traffic out of the normal travel path, usually with channelizing devices. The Transition Area usually involves tapered travel areas to gradually move traffic away from the next area of a temporary traffic control zone, the Activity Area.

The Activity Area is broken into three different spaces: the Work Space, the Traffic Space and the Buffer Space. The Work Space is closed to traffic and set aside for workers, equipment and materials for the project. The Work Space can be stationary or mobile. A trenching operation is an example of a stationary work space while mowing or ditching are examples of a mobile work space. The Traffic Space is exactly that, the space to which the traffic is directed.

The Buffer Space is an optional feature that allows recovery space for out of control vehicles that venture toward the Work Space. Workers and/or equipment should not be located within the Buffer Space. Lengths of Buffer Spaces differ depending on the work being done and roadway conditions. Guidelines for the Buffer Space are a part of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control. The use of Buffer Spaces is recommended whenever possible for enhanced worker safety.

Once traffic is clear of the temporary traffic control zone, an additional Buffer Space may be used leading to the Termination Area. The Termination Area returns traffic back to its normal path at the end of the work zone area. It is optional to include an End of Road Work sign to let the motoring public know they have left the temporary traffic control zone.

Motorists see a flagging operation and tend to think this is going to make me late. Many do not see the importance of the temporary traffic control zone and the individual flaggers as they safely direct vehicles. Many of these workers are struck by inattentive motorists each year.

Communities must be diligent in providing proper equipment and the necessary training to their staff to ensure temporary traffic control zones are implemented properly. The NH LGC PLT offers the Certified Flagger training program along with the Emergency Responder Traffic Control program. For more information visit our web site or contact your health and safety advisor for assistance.

Ron O'Keefe is a Health and Safety Advisor for NHLGC Property-Liability Trust. He may be contacted at 800.646.2758 ext. 3384 or by email.