By Barbara LaBoe
This morning 60 orange traffic cones, 60 white helmets and 60 white roses line the lobby of our headquarters building in Olympia.
They appear every year on the day of our Worker Memorial honoring the workers killed or injured on the job. But, no matter how many times you see them, it's still a sobering reality check about the dangers many of my co-workers face on a regular basis.
Each cone bears the name and date of one of our workers killed while doing their job. The list stretches from 1950 (the last year we have good records) into modern day. Each one represents someone's parent, spouse, sibling, child or friend who never made it home from what started as a normal day of work. Some of their loved ones will join us at the ceremony this year in what is always one of the most humbling and moving parts of the day.
Today's event is especially solemn as we remember Bruce Cowing, a Hood Canal Bridge maintenance worker who died May 16, 2016, near the end of his shift. The Washington State Patrol investigation determined Bruce momentarily lost control of his truck and accidently drove off the bridge. His death highlights how easily a family's world can change in an instant.
Bruce is the 60th name on our Memorial Wall, which will be unveiled during the ceremony. It's a list we never want to increase. We hope today's event is the last time we add a name to this wall – but we need your help.
The top three causes of work zone crashes on state roads are distracted driving, following too close and speeding. These are all avoidable. They're also all actions that put everyone on the road at risk. Statewide, 96 percent of the people injured in work zone crashes are passing motorists, their passengers or pedestrians. Eleven people died in work zone crashes last year in Washington and another 523 were injured. It's in every drivers' best interest to be extra alert in work zones – your own life could depend on it.
We're spending the month sharing information and tips about how to help keep everyone safe in work zones. We're also sharing messages from our workers, asking drivers to slow down, pay attention and give them the space they need to improve or repair roads, bridges and ferries.
You may not get to see the cones, speak with family members or attend our ceremony today. But please keep our workers – past and present – in your thoughts when you're driving. We want to see everyone return home to their families every day.