HOT TOPICS - ROAD WORKER SAFETY
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24 June 2009

Highways Term Maintenance Association renews call for strict approach on alcohol and drug misuse

22 June 2009, London, UK: The Highways Term Maintenance Association (HTMA) has renewed a call for a blanket ban on alcohol and drug misuse after welcoming action by one of its members to dismiss guilty employees, following random testing.

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9 June 2009

HTMA contribute to industry report on winter maintenance

9 June 2009, London, UK: The Highways Term Maintenance Association (HTMA) have contributed towards a report to parliament on the lessons for winter service by highlighting how they continued to deliver services and coped with the unprecedented demand on salt treatments, during the severe weather at the start of this year.

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Road SafetyContents

How Significant is the Road Worker Safety Problem?

Traffic ConesBritain's roads are some of the busiest in the world. They are also some of the safest. In terms of overall road safety, current national figures point to a very promising trend, with casualties at their lowest level for over 40 years. This is good news given the growth in traffic over this period. The growth in traffic though brings with it significant increased risks for the 3,000 to 4,000 road workers who work on motorways and major roads at any one time.

In today's traffic conditions, the live carriageway of any highway is a very, very dangerous place to work and injuries to road workers have been increasing against the national trend.

The casualty figures in 2005 were simply unacceptable: 5 deaths and 12 major injuries - more than twice the number of fatalities of any of the previous five years. And all the fatalities were caused by workers being struck by third party vehicles. 1,500 people on motorways and trunk roads were injured in roadworks during the year 2000 in more than 800 accidents.

FACT: 800 accidents are reported every year, but many other accidents go unreported. (Source: TRL 2000)

FACT: 11 roadworkers were killed in roadworks on motorways or trunk roads in England between October 2000 and February 2002. This equates to a 1 in 1000 (Source: HSE 2002)

FACT: According to research by Dr Stephen Roberts reported in The Lancet, roadworkers have the 16th most hazardous occupation in Great Britain; higher even than for military personnel.

Casualty Stats

Highways Agency Construction Casualties 2000 - 2005 - (all construction workers) source: Highways Agency.)

YearFatalSerious
2000 3 13
2001 3 18
2002 3 27
2003 2 10
2004 1 17
2005 5 12

 

What is the HTMA Goal to Reduce Road Worker Fatalities?

Since the launch of the HTMA in April 2005, one issue has dominated the roads maintenance sector – safety. We are dedicated to reducing road worker accidents. Our goal is simple – zero injuries, zero fatalities. In the short term we must get a reasonable balance between the needs of the road user and the safety of road workers using a risk based approach. The long-term aim should be to plan future improvements that make the working environment safer, including: design for maintenance/operation, which has the added benefits of whole-life cost savings, less interventions and less congestion; reduce road workers exposure to live traffic and lessen the risks to road workers when on the network; highlight the importance of road workers and their safety to the public by raising awareness and the industry consistently maintaining the highest standards.Improve road user awareness and responses by improving driver education.

At a general level, the government has taken the Road Safety Bill through Parliament, including new drink-driving legislation, driver training schemes, and a revised penalty system and is looking at improvements to the speed camera network and working with the police to fight back against anti-social use of roads. We are aware, too, that communication is vital - communication with road designers, with road workers, with different departments and stakeholders, and with the media. In all these areas, there needs to be continuing commitment from industry and public sector partners - from management through to the road worker - to make the step change required.

What is the HTMA Doing to Solve This National Safety Problem?

HTMA Safety Forum members are actively involved within industry working groups such as the UK Road Worker Safety Forum (RoWSaF), Chapter 8 Technical Board and Sector Scheme 12. Decisions made by these working groups have an impact on our Industry and the people who work in the Industry, so it is vital that we influence their decision making process. The HTMA Safety Forum was a key contributor to the Temporary Traffic Management on High Speed Roads – Good Working Practice Document. We have also produced two industry videos illustrating safe working practices within general term maintenance called Inroads and another for high-speed roads called Life in the Fast Lane. The HTMA Safety Forum was also at the forefront in supporting the HSE’s drive to reduce the number of manual handling injuries within the industry through the transportation and use of pre cast concrete products. Behavioural safety within highway maintenance is an important area of research and development. A number of HTMA members are already using behavioural based safety to influence the way people think at work. Improving occupational health benefits to the industry is another key area for the Safety Forum to develop. Having a better understanding of the occupational health risks associated with our works will make the industry a healthier place to work. We will also focus our efforts on developing more detailed analysis of incident data. We believe that analysing the incident data will allow us to identify trends, which will allow resources to be targeted more effectively. Designing for safety is another key development area. Our role is to make sure that those responsible for designing, building and improving roads consider how they will be maintained for the safety of all.

The Road Workers Perspective

There are few jobs more important than highway maintenance. It may go largely unappreciated by the end customer - the motorist, but road workers are looking after some of the busiest roads in the world in the face of continued growth in Britain's vehicle fleet, and the inevitable consequences of that growth for wear-and-tear on the network. And by helping to tackle congestion, road workers are directly supporting the British economy. And they do this despite working in some of the most difficult conditions that anyone has to tolerate. The types of activities our contractors do includes: Salting and snow clearance during the winter; Emergency repairs after accidents and incidents; Keeping fences, barriers and road markings in top condition ; Resurfacing, repairs of the carriageway and structural defects ; Building new carriageways, such as road widening ; Cutting grass at junctions and central reservations to improve visibility ; Clearing drainage systems - this helps prolong the life of a road ; Clearance of litter ; Road Workers even change the light bulbs in the central reservation. The risk of death or injury at work, faced daily by the workers who maintain England's motorways and trunk roads, is highlighted by the results of a recent industry survey. Almost one in five workers suffer some injury caused by passing vehicles in the course of their careers while working on our road network. More than three-quarters suffer verbal abuse from drivers, and many have reported having objects thrown at them by motorists. Roadworkers were asked if they had experienced: deliberate throwing of missiles, near miss, verbal abuse, slight personal injury caused by road user's vehicle (eg bruising), major personal injury caused by road user's vehicle (eg broken bones). The responses were:

  • 13% of roadworkers surveyed had sustained slight injuries;
  • 3% had sustained major injuries;
  • 77% had suffered verbal abuse from passing drivers
  • 54% had a near miss with a vehicle
  • 40% had experienced missiles deliberately thrown at them

Road workers felt most at risk during the morning and evening peak travel periods and in the early hours of the morning.

The drink driving parallel

The HTMA believes there is a vital need to educate drivers to start taking the problem of speeding and the outcomes of speeding more seriously. Habitual speeders know that other people don't necessarily disapprove of their actions - in the same way as they disapprove of drink driving. It took a long time to change attitudes to drink driving. But by communicating the message at every opportunity, with intelligent advertising and marketing, the Government eventually succeeded. Today, drink driving is socially unacceptable. A similar sea change is required with speeding and people's attitude to road works. That means we need to educate the public, the motorist, the trucker - and the media. How often have we seen a balanced report on road maintenance in the papers or on TV?A report that explains why road maintenance is necessary... What would happen if maintenance was abandoned... Why road workers are vulnerable to traffic. And yet all we see are headlines like: "Months of Cone Misery for Motorists".

Planning Roadworks

Traditionally, if there is one thing that causes motorists more frustration than any other, it is the overnight appearance of a ‘forest’ of cones with little or no warning or information as to the reason. Hopefully, this aspect is largely becoming a thing of the past as a significant amount of planning is now undertaken prior to any major roadworks scheme. Such projects are now often planned several years ahead taking cognisance of issues such as the optimum time and the likelihood of reliable weather where this is a requirement. The substantial rise in traffic volumes over the past decade has significantly impacted on roadworks planning, through not just the increased maintenance requirements brought about by the additional volume, but through the challenges to keep congestion at a minimum as any reduction in available road space can have significant consequences for journey times. While safety and security are the primary drivers when planning road works, contractors also incorporate extensive consultation with affected local communities and a targeted media campaign designed to advise drivers who use the affected route of the proposed works and levels of disruption. This forward planning and awareness through the media allows for drivers to plan their journey accordingly.

The Importance of Traffic Management

When considering the traffic management plan for any major scheme the safety and security of both the travelling public and the workforce is the primary aim. By the very nature of road works operations, the element of risk is introduced when managing traffic on high speed roads. The first essential element is to reduce the risk by reducing the speed. This can be achieved to a certain extent through the use of traffic management measures but experience has proven that the only reliable way of achieving consistently reduced speeds is through the use of safety cameras. The introduction of a temporary speed limit and safety cameras is done in conjunction with the respective Safety Camera Partnership, whofollow a risk assessment process which considers the level of exposure to risk of the public and the workforce. This is the reason that a variety of different traffic management measures can often be found at roadworks sites. However, the biggest single risk to road workers occurs not in major schemes but during routine maintenance operations and emergency lane closures. During these operations it is often only a line of cones that separates the workforce from high speed traffic. During these operations there is a clear need for motorists to act responsibly and respect the rights of road workers.

Engineering Out the Risk

For some time now the HTMA has been championing the introduction of new technology designed to reduce the risk to road workers. This can be achieved both through measures at the construction stage and through the use of new and improved technology for maintenance operations. New construction processes and standards mean a much longer design life can be achieved at the outset, significantly reducing the amount of routine maintenance operations required. In addition, where a maintenance requirement is identified during construction, the facility to achieve this without significantly impacting on traffic flow is considered carefully and where appropriate, additional engineering measures are introduced. In respect to maintenance operations on existing structures and highways the HTMA has been actively involved in developing technology in association with the Highways Agency, and over the past few years a number of innovative solutions which have had a positive impact on safety have been introduced. New techniques to improve safety and reduce congestion at roadworks on high-speed roads, for example, are now undergoing trials. Automated cone laying machines, fixed to the rear of a traffic management vehicles, can place and collect standard road cones without the need for road workers to stand in a live carriageway next to fast moving traffic. The machines accurately positions cones on the road surface at 15mph - laying up to 40 cones per minute and reducing the time taken to establish and remove temporary traffic management. Road users will benefit from the shorter period of time taken to change from normal carriageway to a coned-off area. Using the new machines, traffic cones will be laid and taken up more quickly, removing manual handling and enabling more routine maintenance work to be undertaken during each closure so reducing the frequency of road works and congestion. A new barrier transfer machine (BTM), which can lift 12 tons of concrete safety barriers for motorway roadworks into place at a speed of 7 mph, is also now in operation, offering a higher level of barrier protection to motorway road workers.

Chapter 8

In June 2006 , a new revised 'Chapter 8' of the Traffic Signs Manual was launched. Chapter 8 gives guidance on best practice for temporary signing and management of traffic on the highway. Again, it is designed to make traffic management for roadworks safer - and less stressful for both workers and drivers. It talks about new measures like flashing cones on the approach to works; mobile carriageway closures; and improved incident management. It also encourages more effective use of speed limits at road works. Drivers should expect consistent limits to be set depending on the work being carried out, without confusing variations. This should be combined with speed detection equipment and other methods of persuading people to reduce speed. The Traffic Signs Manual is now in two parts - Part 1 Design and Part 2 Operation, and is available in hard copy format and electronically. It can be accessed via the DFT website www.dft.gov.uk with the benefit of a new search facility.

The Road Worker Safety Action Plan

The Highways Agency Road Worker Safety Action Plan was unveiled at the HTMA Conference 2006. Potential solutions listed in the ‘Action Plan’ include: A review of procedures to reduce the exposure of roadworkers to live traffic and cut the risks of working on the highway. Is there a need, for example, for signs to be provided in the central reservation of dual carriageways when workers have to cross live carriageways? A review of maintenance priorities so workers don't have to be on the network so often. More targeted speed limits at road works - which can be altered to match safety requirements. Improving the accuracy and content of variable message signs to give road users more warning of works and the presence of road workers. Improving the training of workers on high-speed roads. The promotion of better driver awareness and improved driver education. And finally, the development of an incident and near-miss reporting centre.

Click here to download The Road Worker Safety Action Plan PDF

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