Utility Worker Shares Work-Zone Accident Story

With the winter getting uglier, work zone safety becomes even more important.

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It’s winter here in the Midwest, and we’ve been trapped in a pocket of January-like weather for the past couple of weeks. The roads are slick, traveling is a mess, and utilities are already responding to broken water mains and emergency repairs.

Combine those elements, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for traffic accidents.

This week in Madison, Wis., a water utility crew narrowly avoided tragedy when an alleged drunk driver slammed into a work trailer. According to a police report, the trailer was parked off the roadway when the accident occurred. Thankfully, no one was injured.

But nine months ago, another Madison Water Utility employee wasn’t so lucky. On a frigid February night, Jim Garde was working on a broken water main. He had his back turned to traffic, so he didn’t see a car careening toward him. Thankfully, his supervisor spotted the vehicle, yelled and grabbed Garde moments before impact, probably saving Garde’s life.

“For the first few months after the accident, my life was pretty messed up,” says Garde in an interview with Madison’s WKOW. “I couldn't do anything on my own. My wife had to dress me for two months.”

The driver who hit Garde was intoxicated at the time. Garde suffered a broken leg and severe damage to his shoulder. He’s currently in physical therapy, and he hopes to get back to his old job of repairing water mains. Until then, he can only perform light work duty for the utility such as marking water lines.

“It’d be nice to have my life back from before the accident happened,” he says in the WKOW interview. “But we’re just dealing with everything.”

Work zone accidents are unfortunately a major safety concern for utility workers. According to the Department of Transportation, a work zone accident occurs every 15 hours. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association reports that work zone accidents kill 600 people annually and injure another 35,000.

Although most work-zone accidents are attributed to driver actions, it’s imperative that you and your crew follow safety protocol. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, recommends these steps:

  • Develop a traffic control plan before work begins.
  • Use detours to close roads and reroute traffic to put a safe distance between your crew and traffic.
  • Reduce speeds in work zones.
  • Use advance warning signs and traffic control devices

For more information on setting up a work zone, please take a minute to read Jim Aanderud’s “Keep Your Workers Safe with Traffic Control.” It’s a great reminder of what you can do to control your crew’s safety.

Stay safe this winter season.



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