Road Workers Face Increased Risk of Occupational Injury During Pandemic with Spike in Work Zone Crashes

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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an undeniable and significant ripple effect in many aspects of our daily life. But one unanticipated result of the pandemic is the increase in car accidents involving roadside work zones. Despite fewer cars on the road, there has been an alarming increase in both work zone crashes and fatalities resulting from those work zone collisions, according to highway safety officials.

The Federal Highway Administration reported that traffic decreased by 40% in April and 26% in May of 2020 compared to April and May of 2019. But despite the drop in vehicles on the road, several states saw an increase in fatal work zone crashes.

What’s Causing the Spike?

One of the major factors involved is speed. At the beginning of the lockdown in March 2020, drivers began speeding more, no longer halted by the start-and-stop traffic as they had previously been. This led to drivers traveling at dangerous speeds, and as a result made car accidents, including work zone crashes, much more likely to end with a fatality.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic, many transportation departments have tried to take advantage of the less populated roads and increased construction, maintenance, and repair work on roadways. This combination of higher speeds and more worksites has proven to have deadly consequences for work zone crews. Unfortunately, though many cars have returned to the roads, roadside construction workers are still dealing with more speeders and distracted drivers.

What Makes Work Zones So Dangerous?

Speeding is a dangerous thing to do in general. But speeding in a work zone can be particularly hazardous for drivers and workers alike. A federal report done in 2018 by the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse found that there were 672 fatal car accidents in work-zones in 2018, leading to 755 deaths. Workers accounted for 124 of those who were fatally injured.

Work zones also frequently create unfamiliar traffic patterns, harbor narrower rights-of-way, and facilitate hectic construction activities, which drivers may not anticipate if fatigued or distracted. The nuances of a roadside construction zone already create risk for roadside workers, but the dangerous levels of speeding exacerbate the risk of workplace fatality for onsite workers.

Furthermore, it is increasingly difficult for police officers to enforce traffic laws in work zones. Many work zones have limited space, narrow lanes, and small or non-existent shoulders. This makes it challenging for officers to enforce the lowered speed limits.

Which States See the Most Work Zone Fatalities?

While nationwide data has yet to be compiled and released for 2019 and 2020, reports done by the National Work Zone Safety Clearinghouse for 2018 cite Texas as the most dangerous state for construction workers. According to the report, Texas saw 141 fatal work zone crashes in 2018 which resulted in 157 fatalities, 7 of which were workers. While that’s lower than the previous year’s 146 fatal work zone crashes and 168 fatalities, Texas was still the state with the most work zone accidents every year from 2009 to 2018. In addition, the National Work Zone Safety Clearinghouse estimates that 45,000 people suffered non-fatal occupational injuries due to work-zone crashes nationwide.

What is Texas Doing to Keep Its Workers Safe?

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association is working towards improving the construction industry and keeping workers safe. In a statement made in August of 2020, ARTBA Chairman Steve McGough stated that the organization is working with the state’s transportation construction sector in an attempt to improve traffic safety and lower the number of work zone crashes.

McGough also outlined some of the processes and technologies the association and its affiliations are using to make the roads a safer place for workers. Some of these safety measures include mobile barrier systems that protect workers from motorists, smart work zones that offer queue warning systems in order to give drivers advance warning of any traffic bottle-necks or backups due to construction, and systems that detect construction vehicle access areas and warn drivers of construction vehicles as they move in and out of worksites.

In addition, McGough said that the transportation construction sector has implemented several measures to keep its workers safe amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, including face masks, social distancing, improved and increased sanitation stations, less frequent sharing of tools, and screens for workers as they enter the workplace or other related sites.

Nevertheless, the issue of fatal work zone crashes is a nationwide one, with many states taking their own approaches to fix things. Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation has started to set up automated systems in construction zones that utilize cameras and radar technology to monitor drivers, detect speeding, and report drivers going faster than 11 miles above the construction zone’s speed limit. Ohio officers set up air enforcement zones in a dozen construction areas; their Department of Transportation workers painted white lines spaced every .25 miles, and airborne state patrol utilizes those markers to calculate drivers’ speeds, and then radios nearby troopers should they identify anyone speeding. Regardless of how a state chooses to address the problem, it is clear that law enforcement should work to hold speeding drivers accountable in order to keep workers –and other motorists—safe from these tragic and often preventable work zone crashes.

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured in a car accident and/or in a workplace accident, call our Personal Injury Lawyers today to discuss how we can help. Call us at 713-224-9000, or fill out our contact form here and we will get back to you shortly.