Safety Tips For Minimizing Risk on Highway & Road Construction Sites For Workers

road construction work zone safety tips

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that roughly 20,000 construction workers are injured each year in highway and street construction accidents. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, approximately 100 construction workers are killed each year – 101 in 2008, 116 in 2009, 106 in 2010, 122 in 2011, 133 in 2012 and 105 in 2013. Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) data indicates that 55% of fatalities occur within the work zone itself.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, transportation incidents accounted for 66% of fatal roadway worksite incidents. In most of these occurrences, a worker was hit by a moving vehicle. Incidentally, backing vehicles accounted for 27 of the 48 pedestrian vehicular incidents. 60% of cases involving workers hit by backing vehicles involved dump trucks.

Fortunately, fatalities have fallen significantly since the 1960s, with 1.37 fatalities for every 100 million miles of travel, as opposed to 5.5 fatalities in 1966.

Table of Contents

Common Causes of Highway Construction Injuries

The leading cause of roadside worker injuries and fatalities is contact with construction vehicles and equipment. Workers operating construction equipment are most likely to be injured by collisions or overturning equipment. They might also be caught in equipment while it is left running.

causes of highway construction site injuries

Injuries between 2003 and 2008 broke down roughly as follows:

  • Contact with equipment or falling objects – 35%
  • Slips and falls – 20%
  • Overexertion – 15%
  • General transportation – 12%
  • Exposure to harmful substances (i.e. asbestos and solvents) – 12%

Causes of fatalities between 2005 and 2010 were as follows:

  • Run-overs/back-overs (mostly by dump truck) – 48%
  • Collisions between vehicles and mobile equipment – 14%
  • Getting struck or caught by construction equipment – 14%

More than half of fatalities caused by run-overs or back-overs involved construction vehicles. Such collisions have been attributed to limited visibility around equipment, with statistics concluding that 29% of workers were cleaning or repairing, 28% walking along the road and 18% directing traffic. NIOSH provides blind area diagrams to assist in visualizing areas that can’t be seen by equipment operators.

According to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC of America) Highway Worker Safety Program, there are four basic hazards known as the Focus Four Hazards. These include:

  • Falls, due to improperly constructed surfaces and unprotected edges
  • Struck-bys, due to vehicle strikes and falling or flying objects
  • Caught-in-betweens, due to rotating equipment and unguarded parts
  • Electrocutions, due to contact with utility lines and live circuits

The AGC of America also warned about the risk of soft tissue injuries that can cause years of pain and suffering.

The following conditions increase dangers for all construction workers:

  • Constricted work sites
  • Inclement weather
  • Low light
  • Reduced visibility
  • Vehicle congestion

Flaggers, who signal drivers to drive cautiously while passing through a work site, run the risk of being struck by vehicles or construction equipment. It’s especially dangerous when flaggers can’t be seen by motorists or equipment operators.

With the steady increase of traffic congestion around the country, more construction work is scheduled at night; although the combination of increased traffic and night work compounds safety considerations for highway construction workers. 25% of accidents occur in the evening although less than 9% of the work force is on duty.

Daniel B. Krieg is committed to worker safety, which includes ensuring you have the highest quality products to keep employees safe and healthy.

Safety Standards for Highway & Construction Sites

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) developed standards to improve workplace safety and health. Part 1926 addresses safety concerns for construction sites, specifically the use of danger signs, caution signs, exit signs, directional signs and traffic signs. The following requirements are only a few examples:

  • 1926.200(g)– Construction sites shall be posted with legible traffic signs at points of hazard.
  • 1926.200(g)(2)– All traffic control signs or devices used for the protection of construction workers shall conform to standards set by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
  • 1926.200(h)(2) – Accident prevention tags shall be used as a temporary means of warning employees of an existing hazard, such as defective tools, equipment, etc.
  • 1926.201– Signaling by flaggers and the use of flaggers shall conform to standards established by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

Part VI of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), issued by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), provides additional guidance on standards for traffic signs, road surface markings and signals. Section 6D.03 requires the use of high-visibility safety apparel working on federal highways.

The NIOSH Construction Equipment Visibility webpage provides guidance on how to prevent back-over injuries and fatalities while advising on proper equipment operation and servicing. NIOSH has led the effort in reducing the number of workers struck by road construction equipment.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) provides standards for high visibility safety apparel and headwear, specifically through ANSI 107-2010. ANSI A10.47-2009 provides guidance on flagger safety, run-over/back-over prevention, equipment operator safety and personal protective equipment.

The National Highway Work Zone Safety Program (NHWZSP) also works to enhance the safety of highway work zones for motorists and highway works alike. The NHWZSP provides standardization of traffic control devices and traffic control plans in addition to work site evaluation. The NHWZSP also introduces innovative technologies to improve safety.

It’s important that worksite safety plans consider the above standards and guidelines. All safety plans should include hazard assessments to identify risks and outline provides to mitigate them.

Safety Tips for People Who Work on Highways

Given the dangers of roadside construction work, it’s vital to know how to stay safe while working on a highway. Consider the following safety tips to protect yourself from work zone injuries:

  • High Visibility Clothing – wear high visibility clothes, arm bands, hats and vests, preferably fluorescent or reflective.
  • Be Observant – Be sure to look before you shift your position. Pay attention to all potential hazards, particularly blind spots, for moving construction equipment.
  • Beware of Work Site Vehicles - Understand channel lanes where walking is prohibited and where vehicles enter and exit the work site. Remain aware of any traffic in and out of the work site. Flaggers should be particularly vigilant when it comes to understanding traffic flow and work zone set up, and ensure that traffic channeling devices are properly placed.
  • Use Spotters – Use spotters to look out for danger, when loading and unloading equipment from vehicles. If you’re a spotter, know where best to stand and confirm what hand gestures mean.
  • Understand Communication Signals – Understand all communication signals used between equipment operators and workers on foot.
  • Don’t Stand Under Suspended Equipment – Never stand under suspended equipment like buckets, booms or arms. Be especially vigilant in areas that use buckets.
  • Apply Parking Brakes – Be sure to apply all parking brakes on equipment. Vehicles parked on inclines should use appropriately-sized blocks placed behind or in front of the tires.
  • Use a Seat Belt – Don’t operate any vehicles (e.g. rollers) without wearing a seat belt.
  • Be Cautious When Approaching Vehicles – Be careful about approaching machinery without first signaling the vehicle operator to shut down the equipment, and also getting an acknowledgement from the driver.
  • Make Eye Contact Before Moving Operating Equipment – Equipment operators shouldn’t move equipment without making eye contact with workers in the vicinity.
  • Don’t Ride on Moving Equipment – Never ride on moving equipment such as rollers.

Flaggers should keep enough distance from other highway workers to ensure they can be distinguished by passing motorists. Flaggers should also use good sight communication or two-way radios to communicate with fellow flaggers. This will minimize risk on highway work sites.

All workers should be careful not to assume they can be seen by equipment operators or motorists. You’ll need to make sure that motorists slow down and equipment operators acknowledge your presence.

Administrative Controls


If you’re supervising or managing a highway construction project, consider the following tips on how to keep highway workers safe with administrative controls:

  • Complete a Risk Assessment – A risk assessment, based on OSHA regulations and standards outlined in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, will help identify the risks workers face. The plan should outline what measures are needed to eliminate or mitigate those risks.
  • Train Workers on a Safe Work Zone – Be sure to train workers on how to set up and maintain a safe work zone. Anyone flagging traffic should know to follow the safest practices. When it comes to traffic control, it’s important to warn motorists of traffic zones far in advance.
  • Require Equipment Training – Be sure that employees know how to maneuver around equipment and take all precautions for their own safety and that of others.
  • Encourage Responsibility – Encourage employees to take some time to walk around the site and check for hazards.

Engineering Controls

You can also use engineering controls to protect your workers, such as:

  • Separate Workers from Traffic – be sure to separate workers from traffic as much as possible; although some workers will need to be flagging traffic in the road. Flaggers should know never to turn their backs to oncoming traffic.
  • Establish Safe Traffic Flow – To ensure that workers and vehicles move around the work site safely, it’s vital to establish where workers can enter and leave the site. There should also be procedures for when construction equipment is backing up and where it could come into contact with workers.
  • Consider Which Vehicles to Use – Traffic speed and the size of the work site are key factors in determining which equipment to use.
  • Improve Visibility- It’s important to ensure as much visibility as possible for workers. If visibility is low, use spotters to look out for potential hazards. Use of reflective uniforms also helps improve visibility. Additional work lighting may be necessary in addition to reflective tape on equipment.
  • Use Proper Safety Barriers – While light traffic might call for orange safety cones, heavy traffic may require barrels, or even temporary concrete barriers.
  • Mark Utility Lines – Identifying utility lines will help prevent electrocutions.
  • Ensure that Employees Are Vigilant Around Moving Equipment – It’s important that employees never stand in front of or behind an operating vehicle since equipment can often block an operator’s field of vision.
  • Manage Noise Level – Be sure to monitor noise level to prevent hearing loss. You should advise workers to wear earmuffs or earplugs to protect them from high-decibel noise.
  • Consider New Technology to Improve Safety – Glass-beaded paint better reflects oncoming headlights at night and makes it easier for motorists to exercise added caution. Electric signs with alternative warnings can give workers some warning when someone drives through a barricade. Rumble strips are a useful way to communicate caution and remind drivers that they’re entering a work zone.
  • Make Sure Employees Wear Personal Protective Gear – Construction workers should always wear appropriate protective gear such as hard hats, reflective clothing and steel-toed shoes.

With improved visibility, safe maintenance of traffic as well as sufficient planning and communication, many potential hazards can be avoided.

Wear Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

OSHA regulates employers to provide construction employees with proper personal protective equipment (PPE), used to supplement administrative and engineering safety controls. OSHA standards provide criteria for personal protective equipment, including protection for the head, feet, eyes, face, hearing and respiration. It could be the last defense between a worker and a possible injury.

However, many injuries occur not because employees don’t have protective gear but because they choose not to wear it. This means that employers not only need to provide the PPE, but must require employees to always use it.

A risk assessment will determine what personal protective measures work best at a given construction site. Such an assessment will require some, if not all, of the following.

  • Head Protection – Hard hats protect against impacts from fixed and falling objects. Some hard hats may come equipped with face shields or ear muffs. Helmets should fit properly and never be altered. They should also be replaced after any heavy blow. Be sure to inspect them periodically for cracks or deterioration.
  • Eye and Face Protection – Hard hats don’t protect the face, which makes safety goggles or face shields very important. When it comes to cutting, grinding, welding, or nailing, eye protection is essential. They should also be worn when working with concrete or harmful chemicals, or when exposed to electrical hazards. Goggles might be tinted and some offer side shields.
  • Foot Protection – Steel-toed boots will prevent toes from being crushed due to falling objects. Construction workers should also wear slip-resistant, puncture-resistant soles.
  • Respiratory Protection– When employees work with paint or are exposed to toxic airborne substances, respiratory protection is vital. Respiratory protection can protect against pesticides, paint spray, fumes and even dust. Respirators must also be cleaned to remain effective.
  • Hearing Protection–Be sure to use earplugs or earmuffs in work areas with high noise levels.

  • Hand Protection–Workers will need heavy-duty rubber gloves for concrete work and welding gloves for welding. Electrical hazards require insulated gloves and sleeves. Be sure to keep gloves snug.
  • High-Visibility Clothing–When visibility may be impaired, reflective clothing will be necessary.

There are also additional considerations for anyone managing a construction team, to ensure protective gear doesn’t create dangers:

  • It’s not enough to wear personal protective gear. Such gear should also be worn correctly to protect workers against dangers. Training may be necessary.
  • Supervisors should remind employees to check clothing, to ensure loose clothing or hair doesn’t get caught in machinery. Fall harnesses should be worn snugly so there are no dangling straps.
  • Supervisors should make sure employees face equipment when dismounting, in case clothing is caught in the machinery.

You should also wear hats and use sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun. Drinking a cup of water every 20 minutes will help prevent dehydration.

Daniel B. Krieg’s Focus on Highway Contracting Safety

Since 1933, Daniel B. Krieg has been offering quality products for homeowners, large and small contractors and government entities. Daniel B. Krieg offers a wide variety of traffic safety products, personal protection equipment, signs, posts and many other highway contracting products. As a growing company, Daniel B. Krieg remains committed to innovation by offering the most state-of-the-art equipment available.

Consider Daniel B. Krieg for highway construction safety equipment. We sell personal protection equipment such as safety vests, gloves, hard hats, protective clothing and safety glasses in our Harrisburg & York store locations. You can also find traffic safety items including barricades, cones, parking blocks, fencing, signs and sign stands, safety flags, speed bumps and stop/slow paddles.

Daniel B. Krieg understands your safety concerns, and we work to ensure you have the highest quality products to keep employees safe and healthy. Browse our online store today!

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