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Digital Alerting Could Reshape Work Zone Safety

With an estimated 100,000 work zone crashes, 44,000 work zone injuries and over 850 fatalities in work zones each year, work zone safety should be a concern for everyone on the road. These staggering numbers are especially relevant for LIUNA members and signatory contractors working in highway work zones because at least 125 of those 850 fatalities each year are construction workers.

LIUNA General President
Terry O’Sullivan

“Highway work zones continue to be one of the most vulnerable jobsites for LIUNA members,” said LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “It’s time to make existing digital alerting technologies work for us and add them to the arsenal of tools that can keep our members safe as they tackle some of our nation’s most important infrastructure projects.”

Construction workers are primarily killed by motorist intrusions into highway work zones when drivers are speeding, distracted, under the influence of alcohol or drugs or otherwise impaired. Construction contractors have a tough task – protect roadway workers from a traveling public that they don’t control and still get the job done on time and on budget.

The LHSFNA supports expanding the use of positive protection to separate highway workers from motorists using physical barriers such as concrete barriers, truck-mounted attenuators and other mobile barriers that can stop a vehicle intruding into a work zone. The Fund is also exploring other methods to protect workers, including emerging digital alert technology.

When given the right information, onboard navigation systems and cell phones using driving apps like Waze, Google Maps and Apple Maps can deliver advance warning to drivers about what’s on the road ahead. Sensors attached to arrow boards or construction equipment or worn by workers can broadcast messages directly to drivers about the need to slow down and stay alert.

Protecting roadway workers is new territory for most digital alerting technology vendors. Walter Jones, Director of the Fund’s Occupational Safety & Health Division, recently sat down with guests from three different vendors to discuss these innovative solutions. Click below to watch the entire episode or read on for several highlights from that conversation.

Jake Sigal, Tome Software

Tome Software engages with multiple companies across the cycling, automotive and smart city industries to create communication solutions between vulnerable road users and vehicles.

“The conversation has shifted to how the vehicle and the people outside the vehicle will be communicating with other vehicles and communicating with infrastructure,” said Sigal. “Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the car companies on what to do with the message. Are they going to slam on the brakes? Are they going to inform the driver to just be aware? Car companies decide that … there has to be this [standard] for how everyone’s going to communicate with the same language on the same radio frequency and make roads safer.”

Serge Beaudry, Ver-Mac

Ver-Mac is a leading manufacturer of mobile electronic traffic control, lighting and security equipment. Ver-Mac’s connected solutions and software can monitor data from portable sensors and other devices and push automated messages to the traveling public in real time. 

“We have technology where we can dynamically change the speed of the road … that’s something we did in Michigan with the help of MDOT and GM. We have a long stretch of road that was 70 miles per hour, and at the entry of the work zone we were decreasing the speed to 60 miles per hour,” said Beaudry. “Then we had another [message] board that was doing a lane closure … and then a special one mile portion where workers were present. In that specific case, we were reducing the speed just before the workers to 45 miles per hour.”

Dave Lambacher, Rombit

Rombit’s plug-and-play IT solutions help improve worker safety by connecting technology to external systems to increase situational awareness and use simple notifications to avoid serious accidents. Geofencing technology allows for real-time alerts of intrusions into specific areas of the worksite or work area.

“The device is designed to provide GPS location for individuals. It’s a location awareness solution that allows you to determine if an individual has entered a specific area. We also use ultra wideband,” said Lambacher. “Using ultra wideband … along with GPS activity, we can also determine things like collision avoidance around construction equipment, bulldozers, earthmovers, fork trucks, golf carts and pickup trucks, allowing both the driver to know that somebody’s near in their proximity as well as the individual to be alerted that somebody’s in proximity.”

Paying for Digital Alerting Through Safety Contingency Funding

The episode also covers using new safety funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to secure funding for digital alerting in highway work zones. Safety contingency funding allows construction contractors to sidestep the normal change order process and quickly pay for necessary safety measures – including positive protection and digital alerting – without additional costs to the project owner.

Are you a LIUNA signatory contractor interested in finding out more about using digital alerting to protect LIUNA members? Call the Fund’s OSH Division at 202-628-5465 or contact us here.

[Nick Fox]

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