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Staying Safe During Work Zone Setup and Tear Down

LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni

“Our Laborers are often found performing highway repair or maintenance work,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “But before these jobs can begin, workers must plan for and use traffic control devices such as barrels, cones and signs to coordinate the site and direct traffic around the work zone. This is one of the most dangerous work zone operations Laborers can perform.”

During work zone setup and tear down, workers are often exposed to traffic that is not being slowed down or directed around them, which is what makes these operations so hazardous. Recently, two Laborers were killed in Indiana while picking up work zone traffic control devices (TCDs).

Despite the inherent dangers of work zones, proper planning and training can help reduce the risk for workers and save lives.

Setting Up and Removing Temporary Traffic Control Zones

Each jobsite should have a traffic control officer or competent person onsite to ensure that setup, tear down and repositioning of the work zone occurs in accordance with a site-specific traffic control plan (TCP). It is their job to ensure proper tear down and repositioning are performed inside the work zone safely and performed from properly marked vehicles.

Properly setting up a work zone helps create an orderly and predictable flow of traffic through highway construction sites. The use of advance warning areas, transition areas and buffer zones all play a part in directing motorists through the work zone safely. If possible, workers should utilize police to stop traffic temporarily while a work zone is set up or taken down.

Alternately, workers should place cones or other channeling devices from an elevated safety platform such as the back of a truck. Placing TCDs along the shoulder of the roadway prior to installation can help limit the time workers spend in the roadway. Temporary TCDs should be removed when they are no longer needed as soon as it is practical to do so. When work is suspended for short periods of time, temporary TCDs that are no longer necessary should be removed or covered. For maximum safety, a work zone should be taken down in the opposite order that it was set up.

While in work zones, workers should always:

  • Maintain effective communication with each other
  • Use a spotter(s)
  • Wear the appropriate performance class (2 or 3) of high-visibility safety apparel in accordance with ANSI/ISEA 107-2010: American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear
  • Stay alert and aware of their surroundings
  • Use extra caution near hills, curves, poor lane markings or other areas that could contribute to poor motorist visibility or erratic movements
  • Plan for emergencies, such as having a bailout plan in case a vehicle intrudes into the work zone
  • Report unsafe conditions to their supervisor
  • Use a truck-mounted attenuator (TMA) when placing or removing TCDs
  • Ensure proper lighting is used if working at night

All work zones must be designed and configured in accordance with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which mandates the development of TCPs for construction, maintenance, utility and emergency operations.


The LHSFNA has several resources available in its Publications Catalogue that provide guidance on safe work zone practices. As part of the Road Construction Industry Consortium, the LHSFNA helped develop the Roadway Safety+ Program, which includes modules on work zone design, setup and control for workers and supervisors.

The Highway Work Zone Safety Manual reviews the major hazards in highway construction zones and the Highway Work Zone Safety Checklist condenses this information into a pocket guide that also includes traffic control and flagging procedures.

The LHSFNA’s OSH staff is also available to assist contractors in developing effective TCPs. For assistance, call 202-628-5465.

[Nick Fox]

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