Road Work Safety

Performing road work along a busy highway (or even on slow back roads) can be a dangerous operation. For both workers and drivers, it is important to stay alert and conscientious of your surroundings. NIOSH reports that, on average, 123 workers suffer fatal work-related injuries on road construction sites per year, with 60% of fatalities being caused by struck-by incidents. These incidents can be attributed to vehicle and equipment traffic. Additionally, NIOSH also states that from 1982-2017 approximately 773 individuals on average died in work zone crashes each year. Work zones are hazardous to workers and motorists alike. We can make work zones safer for everyone by utilizing the tools listed below.

Traffic Control Plan

It is important to keep traffic under control in work zones. Work zones should have a traffic control plan in place to maintain organization. Traffic control plans must outline routes for motorists, workers on foot, pedestrians, and work vehicles to follow. The routes must be visible and easily understood. Routes for motorists and pedestrians are determined by Federal, State, and Local Authorities. Construction project managers are responsible for internal traffic control plans within the construction site. When multiple projects are being conducted simultaneously in the same area it is crucial to communicate and have coordinated vehicle routes between contractors.


Signs for information including speed limits and work zones will aid motorists in following the correct traffic route safely. Examples of common signage include: EVACUATION ROUTE, DO NOT ENTER, REDUCED SPEED AHEAD, ROAD CLOSED, and NO OUTLET. Using signs also helps workers identify designated routes within the worksite.

Traffic Control Devices

Traffic control devices include signals or message boards that instruct drivers on upcoming road conditions. They can also include cones, barricades, barrels, and delineator posts. The type of traffic control devices used are determined by Federal, State, or Local Authorities. These control devices must also be used inside of the work zone to direct workers.

Work Zone Protection

Barriers are used to stop motorists from entering the construction work zone. These barriers can be made out of concrete, water, or sand. They can also include collapsible barriers, crash cushions, and truck-mounted attenuators.

Additionally, in the state of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has recently begun to enforce the speed limit by using technology that is strategically placed in work zones. This is a new enforcement known as Automated Work Zone Speed Enforcement (AWZSE). These signs say "SPEED LIMIT PHOTO ENFORCED" to warn motorists to slow their speed. According to an article from the Constructors Association of Western PA, this technology issued over 220,000 violations in 2020, and they have noticed a consistent decline in speed in work zones.


Flaggers must wear high visibility clothing with a fluorescent orange/red or yellow/green background and retroreflective material of orange, yellow, white, silver, or yellow-green in color. This PPE must be performance class 2 or 3. Drivers must also be warned in advance of flaggers ahead. Flaggers must also use STOP/SLOW paddles or paddles with lights or flags. However, flags should only be used in emergencies. The paddle must be octagon-shaped and have a red background with white lettering on the STOP side of the paddle. The SLOW side must include an orange background with black lettering surrounded by a black border.


Flagging stations must be illuminated. Illumination for workers and equipment operators must be at least 5 foot-candles. If no lighting is available to sufficiently illuminate the work area flares or chemical lighting must be used. Any glare that affects motorists or workers must also be controlled.


Workers on foot, equipment operators, and drivers must know the routes that construction vehicles will use in the internal work zone. Equipment operators and signal persons also need to know the hand signals used on the job site. Operators and workers on foot must know theblind spots and visibility limits for each vehicle in the work zone. All workers must also be informed about how shift and night work could affect their performance. Additionally, all flaggers must be trained/certified.

Take Away

Road construction zones are dangerous areas. These potential dangers can be minimized using the right methods. Traffic control plans are extremely important to help protect motorists and workers alike. Traffic control plans incorporate a combination of signs, traffic control devices, flaggers, and protective barriers. Worker visibility is also a concern and should be addressed by wearing high visibility safety garments that are designated as Class 2, or 3 and keeping the workspace well-lit at night. Adequate training is also crucial prior to conducting job tasks. In case of collisions, seat belts should also be worn by equipment operators and motorists alike. Additionally, while working in high temperatures workers should be vigilant of heat-related illnesses. All of these things together can help keep workers safe.

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