Keep Your Workers Safe with Traffic Control

Keep Your Workers Safe with Traffic Control
Jim Aanderud

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Few contractors consider sewer cleaning or lining jobs dangerous. Crews go out and perform routine tasks without giving much thought to the hazards. But for those who work in and around traffic, a constant reminder of the everyday dangers is warranted. 

The number of people driving near work sites, who are impaired in some way, whether by medications, alcohol, or just lack of sleep, is horrifying. But the reality is there are thousands of drivers on the road at any given moment who are slow to react for many reasons. 

With the recent increase in texting, distracted driving is also a concern. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 18 percent of injury crashes in 2010 were reported as distraction-affected crashes. This condition is certain to increase with the advancement of portable devices. 

Be aware of surroundings

The truth is that working on city roads is very dangerous. Whether it’s closing a lane on a busy thoroughfare or working in a quiet neighborhood, accidents can happen in an instant and with little warning. Be aware of surroundings and stay vigilant of traffic. 

Some companies consider traffic control a big hassle. It is time consuming to set up and takes away from normal production work. We often cut corners in order get it over with as quickly as possible. However, a haphazard traffic control setup can lead to disaster. We must never compromise on the quality of our traffic control setups. Those signs and traffic cones are what save our lives. 

Recommended traffic control setups, as seen in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) from the Federal Highway Administration, aren’t designed to just look nice. The recommended layouts are designed to have the least impact on traffic flow, and to provide the safest work environment. Crews need to follow the setups accurately in order to guarantee worker safety. 

According to the Federal Highway Administration, there were 106 road worker fatalities in 2010. This was down from a high of 165 in 2005. These fatalities happened to people just like the men and women in your crews. 

Warning drivers

Temporary traffic control warns people. It is used to caution drivers that there is roadwork taking place ahead and they will be directed in a way that interrupts their normal driving routine. Let drivers know as soon as possible in order to give them time to prepare and take action.


Take pride in the traffic control setups. Signs should be placed properly to give drivers sufficient warning. Cone spacing should be consistent to give drivers a clear path in which to proceed. Although signage and cones should be set up based on posted speeds, sometimes it may be necessary to make adjustments based on actual speeds. Stretching out the length of tapers is one way to compensate for increased speeds. 

Traffic control setups should never have too many options. This can confuse drivers and cause them to enter your taper zone with uncertainty. The better you regulate traffic, the safer you and your crews will be. 

Remember, your crews have the right to be there. They are performing a valuable and necessary service that justifies the interruption to traffic. 

Take precautions

Workers are most vulnerable during the setup and take down of signage and cones. Wearing a safety vest does not guarantee protection. Follow these precautions to save the lives of workers:

  • Never turn your backs to traffic and always keep your eye on oncoming vehicles in order to react appropriately.
  • Always anticipate a hazardous situation. Having an escape plan ready can save lives.
  • Leave plenty of room in the work area. The more cushion, the better. The more reaction time, the safer you will be.
  • Be conscious of the sound of a vehicle hitting a cone. That sound should trigger a survival reaction. Have a plan in place: How will workers get out of the way? Where will they move? 

Once traffic control has been set up, take a few minutes to observe. What kind of impact does it have on traffic flow? Are drivers struggling to merge? Do drivers have to brake hard? This is the time to make the appropriate changes. Sometimes small adjustments can make a big difference. 

For those who are used to working in traffic, do not become desensitized to its dangers. Remember the hazards and remain attentive of changing conditions. 

About the Author
Jim Aanderud is owner of Innerline Engineering, a video pipeline inspection company based in Corona, Calif.


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