Monday, April 5, 2021

Work Zone Awareness: This month, and every month, please help us keep our workers and our roadways safe

By Barbara LaBoe

Many of us spent part of 2020 working from home offices – or makeshift dining rooms – as much of our world shut down. But that wasn't the case for our frontline workers who were still on roadways, ferries and work zones.

They stayed on the job to keep essential travelers and freight haulers safe but, alarmingly, even a massive drop in travel didn't eliminate the work zone dangers our crews faced.

In pre-pandemic 2019 there were 1,672 collisions within work zones or backups caused by work zones. In 2020 – even with far fewer vehicles on roadways and many construction projects paused – there were still 1,128 work zone crashes, including several fatal crashes. Crews also reported vehicles going well above speed limits – in excess of 100 mph – as they passed dangerously close to people working on roadway shoulders.

That's why we're spending the month of April reminding everyone why we need their help keeping our workers – and everyone on the road – safe in work zones. National Work Zone Awareness Week takes place April 26-30 but this is such a crucial issue we'll spend the entire month highlighting the issue – as well as periodic reminders throughout the year.
Our crews work just feet from active traffic to repair or improve travel – please help us keep them safe by
slowing down and staying alert near any work zone.
Sobering statistics

Our workers are out there making travel safe for everyone in the state, but far too often they're injured or have dangerous near misses while just trying to do their job. It's hard to find a highway maintenance worker who hasn't been injured or had to jump out of the way to avoid being struck by a vehicle. Some injuries can take months or even years to recover from and some prevent workers from ever returning to these assignments.

Even worse are the workers who don't survive. Since 1950, 60 of our workers have been killed on the job, the vast majority in a roadway work zone. Even one death is too many and every one of our fallen workers left behind family, friends and co-workers who miss them to this day.

They also bear the brunt of travelers frustrated with construction or work zone delays and have been cursed at and had things thrown at them. Please be patient with roadwork delays and remember that the workers are just there to keep everyone safe.

We need your help
The most tragic part about work zone crashes is that they're preventable. The top three causes of Washington work zone collisions, for example, are following too closely, excessive speed and distracted/inattentive driving.

And it's not just the workers in danger in a work zone. The vast majority of people injured in work zone crashes – 94.4 percent in 2020 – are motorists, their passengers or passing pedestrians. So it's in everyone's interest to ensure work zones are safe. 

Anytime you're in or approaching a work zone please remember 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
Planned work zones often include closed lanes and traffic control, but please also be aware of emergency work on roadway shoulders. Under the state's Move Over law, travelers must move over a lane, if possible, whenever passing crews on the shoulder with flashing lights – that includes law enforcement and fire, highway incident response and maintenance crews, tow trucks, and solid waste and utility crews. If you can't move over, the law requires vehicles to slow down to 10 miles below the posted speed limit as they pass.

Every worker out there is someone's parent, child, spouse, sibling or friend. Their job is to improve your traveling options and keep everyone safe while doing it – and they deserve to return home to their families at the end of each shift. Please help us keep them, you and everyone on our roadways safe.