Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Knowing potential dangers first hand gives dad of road worker an even greater fear

By Barbara LaBoe

It's every parent's worst nightmare: your child has been hurt and you don't know if they're okay. And even if that child is an adult, the fear remains the same.

For Jim Andersen, who works in our Maintenance Operations office, there was an added element back in October 2019. Jim worked on road crews for 20 years and knew exactly the type of dangers his son Tyler faced when he joined the agency three years ago. He was in a morning meeting when he heard a truck had been hit and remembers sharing a worried look with a co-worker who also had a child out on the roads. Minutes later he got the notification it had been Tyler's vehicle.  

"I had sort of put some of that personal fear behind me when I got the office job," Jim remembered. "That was always a concern for me and my crew when you're out there...and it never fully goes away – but when it's your son, it's an even greater fear."
This family photo shows Tyler (left) and Jim Andersen, who are part of three generations of the Andersen family that have worked for our agency – and know the dangers of work zones all too well.

We work hard to provide training and equipment to keep our crews and everyone on the roadway safe. But the work still carries risk, something we highlight throughout the year and especially this week as part of National Work Zone Awareness Week.

Just a few seconds warning
For Tyler the night of the crash started like many others. He works the night crew and was dispatched to make emergency repairs to State Route 512 near Tacoma. Tyler was in one of our truck-mounted attenuators, a truck with a giant accordion-like apparatus on the back to absorb the impact if anything were to hit it. The TMA is there to protect workers out on the roadway ahead by literally taking the hit for them.

They were waiting for the repaired pavement to cure when Tyler heard a call from another truck that a semi was headed straight toward him in the closed lane. He had just enough time to look in his rear-view mirror and see the semi coming before his TMA was hit. The semi driver tried to swerve back out of the closed lane, but both the tractor and then the trailer hit the back of the TMA – pushing the heavy vehicle forward and injuring Tyler.

"It happened really quick," Tyler said. "I didn't feel it when the tractor clipped the back of the TMA, but I felt the second one."
Tyler Andersen stands with a truck-mounted attenuator vehicle, which is credited with keeping his injuries from being worse when it was struck twice by a semi-truck in 2019.

Tyler was the only one hurt – thankfully, he'd had the rest of the crew move off the roadway while they waited for the pavement to cure – and he was taken to the hospital after the crash. His back and neck were injured, but he was able to return to work a week later – though he had months of physical therapy ahead of him and still has occasional pain.

Still, Tyler said he knew even that night that he'd be back at work. He likes working outdoors and fixing things like he did growing up on the farm. The four 10-hour days shift is also attractive, allowing him to spend more time in the outdoors that he loves.

He's the third generation of his family to work for us, so he was well aware of the dangers of the work. But the crash has given him a new awareness when he's out on the roads.

"We talk about it every day and do our daily pre-activity safety plans, but it really brings it into perspective when you do get hit," Tyler said. "It really jacks up your nerves a little more, because you keep expecting it to happen."

Tyler was already in the habit of calling Jim each morning as the night crew's work was done. Now those calls are even more important.

"It kind of changes things and re-prioritizes things," Jim said. "It's always nice to hear his voice at the end of his shift."

'Lives are at stake'
There have been many advances in highway safety since Jim first started working, including the TMA, which he credits for keeping Tyler and his crew safe from further injury – or worse.

"If this had happened in some of the equipment we used to use, it would have been a lot different," Jim said.

But we still also need the public's help in keeping everyone on the road safe. We average more than 1,500 work zone collisions in our state each year and even one is too many. 

"We see people that wait til the last minute to move over for a closed lane, or get impatient and try to zip back into it too soon," Tyler said. "We need them to be patient and move over for us. The 30 seconds they save being in a hurry isn't worth the impact of striking one of us, or our equipment."

We ask everyone in or near work zones to follow these four steps to keep themselves and our workers safe:
  • 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
After all, every worker out there is someone's child, spouse, parent, sibling or friend. And they all want to come home safe at the end of their shift.

"Just take a step back and take a deep breath whenever you're out on the roadways," Jim said. "Safety is far more important than any delay. Lives are at stake."

1 comment:

The Friendly Flagger said...

I read this article today after I got off work flagging on Kent Kangley rd in Covington. I just smh bc, where I was flagging happened to be a narrow road and a roadwork speed limit was posted at 25mph. Almost half the cars that past me as I was holding up my slow paddle, were going well over that speed limit. Definitely a day I was ready to utilize my escape route if nessecary. I want to go home to my family too.

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