Nearly half of highway contractors experience work zone crashes

Last week was National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week bringing attention to safety in work zones for both motorists and workers. WSDOT hosted an event on April 8 at the SR 99/new South Atlantic Street Overpass which included the annual Worker Memorial tribute.

A focus on highway work zone safety is appropriate because 45 percent of highway contractors had motor vehicles crash into their construction work zones during the past year according to the results of a new highway work zone study conducted by AGC of America. AGC officials added that the study found work zone crashes are more likely to kill vehicle operators and passengers than construction workers. 

The 2014 Work Zone Awareness Week theme Work Zone Speeding: A Costly Mistake was chosen to highlight the costs for drivers who don’t slow down. They could face double fines and jail time. And the ultimate price could be someone’s life.

“There is little margin for error when you work within a few inches of thousands of fast-moving vehicles” said Tom Case the chair of the association’s national highway and transportation division and senior vice president of Watsonville CA-based Granite Construction. “As the data makes clear not enough drivers are slowing down and staying alert near work sites.”

Case said that 43 percent of contractors reported that motor vehicle operators or passengers were injured during work zone crashes this past year and 16 percent were killed in those crashes. While they are less likely to kill construction workers highway work zone crashes do pose a significant risk for people in hard hats Case added. He noted that more than 20 percent of work zone crashes injure construction workers and 6 percent of those crashes kill them.

Work zone crashes also have a pronounced impact on construction schedules and costs Case said. He noted that 25 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 38 percent of those project shutdowns lasted two or more days.

Association officials said that 67 percent of contractors nationwide feel that tougher laws fines and legal penalties for moving violations in work zones would reduce injuries and fatalities. In addition 74 percent of contractors said that an increased use of concrete barriers will help reduce injuries and fatalities. And 66 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 Case suggested that the best way to improve safety was for motorists to be more careful while driving through highway work zones. “Ensuring proper work zone safety starts and ends with cautious drivers” Case said. 

View the national highway construction zone survey results. Visit the WSDOT Go Orange for Work Zone Safety website for more information.