Monday, April 20, 2020

National Work Zone Awareness Week highlights need to keep road crews safe

By Barbara LaBoe

Maintenance tech Jason Pratt didn't have time to think when he was suddenly dragged away from a car on the side of Snoqualmie Pass several winters ago – he just knew it meant trouble.

Sure enough, a speeding vehicle had lost control and was skidding straight for the vehicle Jason had been kneeling next to while helping install chains. Making matters worse, Jason and the Washington State Patrol officer pulling him to safety were on a high bridge in the westbound lanes, so jumping over the guardrail to safety wasn't an option. Thankfully, they got away just before the speeding vehicle struck the parked one. Everyone walked away that day, Jason notes, though the speeding driver left in handcuffs.
Jason Pratt works on Snoqualmie Pass keeping roads open in the winter and making repairs in the summer.

Jason has been working for us on Snoqualmie Pass for 14 years, and that crash on the Denny Creek bridge is just another example of the risk our maintenance crews face every day. Despite numerous safety precautions and warning signs – and even a WSP cruiser with flashing lights – the driver's decision to not slow down could have easily ended in tragedy.

"We've seen pretty much every close call and incident you can think of," Jason said. "You never know what's going to happen, some drivers are just oblivious even with plenty of warnings and signs. …and that's why we invest so much time in training to teach our employees the best way to stay safe."

It's also why we're commemorating National Work Zone Awareness Week every day this week. Our crews are out there working to make the state transportation system safer for all of us, yet they face incredible risks in the process.

It's a risk that's personal for us at WSDOT – 60 of our workers have been killed on the job since 1950 – and it's why safety is our top priority. But we also need the public to do their part to keep everyone safe.
We need everyone's help in and around work zones to keep our crews and everyone on the road safe.

The statistics are sobering. In 2019, there were 1,672 crashes in work zones on our state highways, including 10 fatal crashes. Many of those injured and killed are the drivers themselves, their passengers or passing pedestrians, meaning work zone danger touches everyone – workers and travelers alike.

Right now, many of our traditional work zones and projects are shut down due to coronavirus public health concerns, but that doesn't mean the risk to our workers has gone away. We've seen a disturbing trend of excessive speeding – sometimes more than 100 mph – even as vehicles pass emergency crews on the side of the road. That's a disaster waiting to happen.

So please join us this week and every week in working to reduce the risks in work zones. Whenever you're approaching one we ask you to:
  • Slow Down – drive the posted speeds, they're there for your safety
  • Be Kind – our workers are out there helping to keep you safe and improve the roadways
  • Pay Attention – both to workers directing you and surrounding traffic; put down your phone when behind the wheel
  • Stay Calm – expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible; no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone's life
And the next time you see warning signs about workers ahead, remember to keep an eye out for our workers like Jason.

"We're out there sweeping, working on guardrail, and fixing signs or keeping the road open and safe for everyone," he said. "So please just pay attention to your surroundings."