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LHSFNA Supports FHWA Proposal, Suggests Even Stronger Protections

The safety of LIUNA members working in and around highway work zones is of the utmost importance. Creating safer roadways for workers and the traveling public is particularly important now, as funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is spurring projects to revitalize roadways across the country.

LHSFNA Management
David F. Rampone

That’s why the LHSFNA recently submitted comments in response to the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) proposed rule on Work Zone Safety and Mobility and Temporary Traffic Control Devices. The existing regulation, which governs traffic safety within highway and street work zones, has remained nearly unchanged for over 15 years.

“The LHSFNA strongly supports the Federal Highway Administration doing everything in its power to protect workers in work zones,” said LHSFNA Management Co-Chair David F. Rampone. “That includes expanding the use of positive protection, making sure those devices are truly crashworthy and never compromising workers’ safety for the flow of traffic.”

Alarming Statistics on Work Zone Incidents

Every year, tens of thousands of workers, motorists, vehicle occupants, cyclists and pedestrians suffer injuries or fatalities in roadway work zones.

  • In 2015, 35 percent of highway worker fatalities at road construction sites were caused by a vehicle striking a worker. By 2020, this figure was 53 percent.
  • In 2021, there were 106,000 work zone-related crashes, including 42,000 injuries and 956 fatalities.
  • In the last decade, fatalities from work zone-related crashes have surged 62 percent.

Strengthening the Proposed FHWA Rule

The LHSFNA’s comments to the FHWA focus on how the agency can strengthen the proposed rule even further and avoid watering down requirements that could put workers’ lives at risk. Specifically, the Fund’s comments address:

Positive Protection Requirements

The FHWA proposal would require positive protection in all work zones unless an engineering analysis determines otherwise. The LHSFNA strongly supports a positive protection mandate and doesn’t believe an engineering study alone should allow this critical protection to be deferred.

“Allowing individual state DOTs to essentially opt out of proven countermeasures like positive protection poses a risk to the safety of workers and motorists,” said Travis Parsons, the LHSFNA’s Director of Occupational Safety & Health.

In short, positive protection should be the default, not something that’s only provided in extreme situations. In the recognized national consensus standard, ANSI/ASSP A10.47-2021: Work Zone Safety for Roadway Construction, positive protection is required for any of the following:

  • The work zone doesn’t allow workers to escape during an intrusion
  • Work zones with a duration of two weeks or more
  • Projects with anticipated operating speeds greater than 45 miles per hour, especially when combined with high traffic volumes
  • Tasks put workers within one lane-width of motor vehicles operated by the public
Defining Positive Protection Devices

The FHWA proposal also suggests altering the definition of what constitutes a positive protection device:

Current definition: devices that contain and/or redirect vehicles and meet the crashworthiness evaluation criteria contained in the National Cooperative Highway Research Program Report 350 ….

Proposed definition: devices that contain or redirect vehicles.

Removing the crashworthiness criteria from the definition of positive protection would open the door to letting state DOTs employ or approve devices that don’t match the crashworthiness criteria for the intended speed or situation.

“The qualifier ‘meet crashworthiness evaluation criteria’ is crucial,” said Parsons. “If positive protection can’t successfully stop or deflect a vehicle away from workers in a crash, it shouldn’t be considered positive protection.”

Creating a physical barrier between workers and the traveling public is only half the battle with positive protection. The ability to meet crashworthiness criteria and hold up in the event of an incident is equally important.

Keeping All Vulnerable Road Users Safe

FHWA’s proposal suggests removing “while not compromising the safety of highway workers or road users” from the definition of mobility, which governs how motor vehicles move through work zones. The Fund opposes this change because it would put more emphasis on the flow of traffic through work zones without considering the effect on workers.

“Far too often, worker safety ends up in competition with concerns about traffic flow,” said Parsons. “Safety should be a foundational part of any definition that addresses how motor vehicles move through work zones.”

The FHWA acknowledged that highway workers are vulnerable road users (VRUs) when it amended the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) to incorporate safeguards for VRUs. Removing considerations for workers’ safety from any discussion of how vehicles move through work zones is a mistake.

For more information, view our Work Zone Safety page. LIUNA signatory contractors and other LIUNA affiliates can also order the Fund’s work zone safety publications after logging in, including our Preventing Intrusions into Highway Work Zones pamphlet.

[Nick Fox]

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