By Barbara LaBoe
That's the number of our workers killed in work zones since 1950. That's 59 parents, spouses, sons and daughters who didn't come home one night. It's also 59 families who will never be the same. And numerous co-workers haunted by losing one of their own.
We strive to honor our fallen workers every day with our commitment to safety and our efforts to continually improve equipment and training. This week, however, we take some extra time to remember the men and women killed while simply doing their job.
It's National Work Zone Awareness Week, with states across the country pausing to remember workers lost on the job and to reinforce work zone safety messages. In Washington, we will honor our fallen workers and their families at our Worker Memorial ceremony in Olympia on Wednesday, April 13.
Working on the side of a roadway or construction site has inherent dangers. Our workers know that and take great pride in following safety standards to keep themselves and their crews safe. "We look out for each other," they tell us, "we watch each other's backs." And, as an agency, we work to get them the best equipment and materials to keep them safe. Our truck mounted attenuators – a high-tech accordion-like device on the back of a vehicle – protects crews by absorbing the blow from a vehicle entering the work zone. Automated flagger machines are being used in areas where it's just too dangerous to have someone standing next to traffic.
But we still need the public's help to keep both our workers – and themselves – safe. In just the past few months our crews have experienced injuries and a number of close calls. We're seeing drivers failing to yield to emergency vehicles, driving distracted or erratic and speeding – sometimes in excess of 100 miles per hour. Workers tell us they see drivers blow past work zone signs while looking at their phones, eating food or putting on makeup – anything but concentrating on the road and keeping themselves and others safe.
The top three causes of work zone crashes in our state are: inattentive driving, following too closely and speeding. All of these are preventable by drivers simply slowing down and being extra alert around road crews.
Slowing down in a work zone not only keeps our workers safe – it protects you and your loved ones as well. Ninety-six percent of people hurt in work zone crashes in Washington are drivers, their passenger or passing pedestrians. While, thankfully, no WSDOT crew members were killed in 2015, nine people in the state did die in work zone crashes or backups caused by them. Even one such death is too many.
Please help us keep everyone in and near our work zones safe. Remember, slow down, pay attention and obey all traffic signs in a work zone. Together, we can help ensure everyone returns home safe to their family every night.