Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Shining a light on those who work on our roads and ferry terminals

By Elizabeth Guevara

Through the challenges of the COVD pandemic, wildly changing weather and an increase in major crashes, our maintenance crews and ferry employees continue to head to the office to try to keep everyone moving safely. Only, many of their offices are on our highways and ferry terminals.

And while most of us who work in an office are generally pretty safe, their offices can be hazardous places to get work done.

There is nothing that is more important to us than the safety of our workers, and that's why every April we turn a spotlight on it with our Work Zone Awareness campaign. That spotlight is even brighter this week as it is National Work Zone Awareness week. During this campaign we put an even greater emphasis than usual on reminding drivers to slow down, stay focused and move over while approaching and passing through work zones.

One of our engineers narrowly escaped tragedy when his work truck – this is what’s left of it – was hit by a semi in March 2019 – causing him to roll down an embankment to escape the crash.

Daunting statistics

While overall driving was down since 2020 when many people began working from home during COVID, the number of collisions in work zones remains high. There were 1,128 collisions within work zones or backups related to work zones in 2020. In 2021, there were 1,232 work zone collisions, including several fatal crashes.

While we want our workers to be safe, we want you to be safe too. Statistics show that 94 percent of the people who are hurt in work zone crashes are the driver, their passenger or nearby pedestrians, rather than workers. But that doesn't make it less dangerous for the road crews.

Much of our work takes place at night, creating an extra level of potential
hazards despite working to establish safe work zones.

It is almost impossible to find a highway maintenance worker or ferry terminal employee who hasn't had a close call by having to run out of the way or jump over a guardrail or, worse, been injured in a work zone incident. 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, we have had 60 workers killed on the job – the vast majority in marked roadway work zones. Even one death is too high a cost to pay and every one of our fallen workers left behind family, friends and co-workers who miss them to this day.

Nationally, there's a work zone crash every 5.4 minutes and each year 670 people are killed in roadway work zones. Our state alone averages 626 roadway work zone injuries a year.

The busy construction season also brings a lot of frustration from the traveling public about roadwork delays and often take it out on our work zone workers. Please be patient and remember that the workers are just there to keep everyone, including themselves and their fellow workers, safe.

Road workers equip themselves with protective gear but it’s important to remember that they are still regular people under the hard hat and reflective clothes, and we ask drivers to be alert, slow down and give them room.

How you can help

Most work zone crashes are preventable. For example, the top three causes of Washington work zone collisions are excessive speed, distracted/inattentive driving, and following too closely.

We work hard to keep our workers safe with equipment and training, but we also need the traveling public's help in keeping everyone on the road safe.

Road workers want to go home safely to their family and friends so please follow their directions, slow down, be patient, give them room and stay alert.

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.

Our employees in work zones are spouses, parents, children, siblings and friends – and they all deserve to go home safe at the end of their shift. Please help us keep them, you and everyone on our roadways safe.