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With spring in the air, construction crews are gearing up for the busy road work season ahead. Many road crews will welcome an influx of new and inexperienced workers.
Whenever workers are in proximity to live traffic, there are unique safety challenges both for workers and for drivers. Employers can take steps to ensure both worker and driver safety, and to minimize incidents by observing the principles of work zone design and operation.
Start planning well in advance
The key to setting up your road crew for a safe construction season is planning for it long before the work begins. Winter can wreak havoc on roadways. By the time conditions are favourable for outdoor road work, your crew and contractors will likely be in high demand.
Address any staffing shortages early on. A lot of life happens in the off-season, so do not assume that seasonal employees are returning. During the pandemic, some workers may feel hesitant to rejoin the crew – address these concerns and be upfront about any changes to procedures. Clearly communicate the efforts being made to keep the crew safe on site.
Tailor your traffic management plan to each work zone
Part of your advance planning should include a thorough traffic management plan to ensure the safety of workers and motorists in the work zone. Sites on or along the road are exposed to hazards such as vehicle collisions (especially at high speeds), changing weather conditions, exposure to vehicle exhaust, moving machinery and equipment, and unpredictable motorists.
Plan the traffic diversion so that the flow of traffic ensures the safety of the workers and does not endanger other road users. Consider any hazards related to vehicle traffic and include written procedures and roles and responsibilities for set up, maintaining, and removing the work zone. Be prepared to use the various required layout options for the work site as needs may change as the work progresses. What is the maximum speed vehicles may use in the work zone? What types of signaling or traffic control devices will be used and where are they located? How will the crew address any hazards created by the road work (e.g., dust, falling rock, loose gravel, potholes, etc.)? These hazards should also be addressed in the plan, as well as procedures to follow in case of an incident.
On some work sites, a traffic control person may be required to protect workers in the construction zone where other methods of traffic control are not adequate. Barriers, barricades, lane control devices, traffic signal lights, sign trucks, and other methods should be the first line of defense to ensure the safety of all workers. Most Canadian jurisdictions require that a person who is controlling traffic have training, complete a certificate, or be considered competent.
Have the right gear for the job
In addition to ensuring all tools and heavy machinery are in good working order and operators are trained on their use, you must have the appropriate safety equipment for each site. Warning equipment gives motorists necessary information or a heads up, in the form of temporary rumble strips, or fixed or mobile gantry signs. Guidance equipment, such as traffic cones, drums, and barricades, can guide traffic but does not protect workers. Protection equipment such as concrete barriers, crash trucks, and crash cushions can act as physical barriers to protect workers.
Inspect the site daily to ensure that signs, cones and other signaling equipment are placed in the right position, free from damage, and cannot easily be moved by people, cars, or wind gusts. When work is done, remove all traffic control equipment in reverse order to when installed. Advance signs should be removed last and only after all other devices have been removed. Store vehicles and equipment outside the pedestrian route.
In general, road workers should wear a hard hat with high visibility colour strip, CSA-certified safety boots, and highly visible vest or clothing that complies with the CSA Standard Z96-15 (R2020) High-Visibility Safety Apparel. Consult the CSA Standard or check with your provincial legislation for specific requirements.
Create a safety-focused culture
Ensure all crew members receive comprehensive training before they arrive on the work site. Provide refresher training often and clearly communicate changes to safety procedures. Everyone on site should know what to do in an emergency, and know the names of crew who are trained in first aid. Make it easy for emergency responders to attend any incidents promptly by posting the address of the worksite in a visible area, and sending it to each crew member by text or email for each site.
Ensure every crew member is familiar with road crew safety principles, such as not working on the edge or outside of the work zone, never unloading or loading a vehicle from the live side of the traffic, and always work facing oncoming traffic. Drivers of work vehicles should avoid backing up altogether, reverse slowly, or use a trained guide. Use vehicles and mobile equipment that are highly visible (mark their sides and rear with retro reflective tape) and equipped with warning devices for backing up.
Adjust the work schedules to avoid exhaustion or distraction. Check in with your crew members regularly on their mental health and ability to do their work safely. Demonstrate your commitment to safety by encouraging them to come forward when they feel they are not able to perform tasks safely. Monitor and record incidents, injuries, and near misses to further improve incident prevention.
Lane closures, detours, uneven surfaces, and information overload can all contribute to incidents with drivers. By planning for the work, using safe work procedures, and providing workers with the training and equipment they need to work safely, you’ll ensure a safe, successful and productive road work season.
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CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.
New Podcast: Chemical Hazard Assessment and Prioritization
Small and medium-sized workplaces rely on safety data sheets for understanding the hazards associated with the chemicals they are using. But what if you have more questions about the chemicals?
In this episode, we talk to Dr. Thomas Tenkate from Ryerson University about chemical safety management and a new free tool that can help workplaces more effectively assess and understand chemical hazards.
The podcast runs 8:15 minutes. Listen to the podcast now
Encore Podcast: Keeping Workers Safe When Working from Heights
There’s no escaping the fact that working at heights is risky. Every year, workers die or are injured as a result of falling from ladders, scaffolds, roofs, or other elevations. In this episode, CCOHS shares steps employers and workers can take to minimize the risk and help prevent falls and the injuries that go along with them.
The podcast runs 5:12 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
New COVID-19 Resources
Masks and Respirators: Source Control or PPE?
Wearing a mask or respirator is an effective way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Understand the differences when using them as source control or personal protective equipment in your workplace. This infographic breaks it down.
Controlling COVID-19 in the Workplace
No single control measure is 100% effective against COVID-19. This infographic explains how the hierarchy of controls can be applied to COVID-19 in the workplace, including examples of controls for each level.
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