National Work Zone Awareness Week brings much needed attention to motorist and worker safety issues in work zones. The 2017 theme is “Work Zone Safety is in Your Hands,” which highlights the complexities of work zones and the need for awareness by everyone affected by work zones – DOTs, road workers, drivers, bicyclists, motorcycles, pedestrians, emergency response, law enforcement, and utility workers.
Many work zone fatalities happen at night, for a variety of reasons. Traffic at night tends to be less dense and while this is good, the vehicles that remain on the road may be operated by drivers who are drowsier than their daytime counterparts or may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Workers can be harder to see at night and outside of lighted work zones. Limited driver vision also means fewer environmental cues, which can limit proper depth perception and judgments about road obstruction closure rate. These factors and many more are precisely why there are so many mandated traffic controls to separate vehicles from workers, requirements for portable area lighting units, requirements for workers to wear high visibility and reflective clothing, and the like.
First preventative focus tends to be on keeping the work zone safe from the fast moving vehicles outside of the work zone and this attention is warranted. Yet employees inside of the cordoned-off confines of work zones face insidious hazards such as the potential for late night inattentiveness and mistakes resulting from their own fatigue. The cacophony of heavy equipment backing alarms (potentially operated in close-quarters by more potentially drowsy workers) adds to the problem.
Drowsiness and fatigue extend reaction times of equipment operators inside and drivers outside of work zones. Depth perception and visibility may be diminished as previously mentioned. All of these factors reduce safety margin (the margin for being human without dire consequences).
As National Work Zone Awareness Week reminds us, it’s important to pay extra close attention and drive a little slower next time you pass by workers on the roads. Your life isn’t the only one you could be saving.