Busier roads put roadside workers at greater risk
Increased traffic on roads due to summer travel and the province’s reopening creates an increased risk for roadside workers in the Kootenays.
“Roadside work is a dangerous job,” says Louise Yako, program director for Road Safety at Work and spokesperson for the 11th annual province-wide Cone Zone awareness campaign. “With regional travel restrictions lifted and more activity on roads, we all need to do our part when driving to make sure roadside workers make it home to their family at the end of their shift without injury.”
Between 2011 and 2020, 12 roadside workers were killed and 207 were injured resulting in time loss in B.C. Last year, 23 workers were injured because of being hit by a motor vehicle.
“One of the greatest risks to a roadside worker in the Kootenays is a motor vehicle being driven through their workplace,” said Yako. “Dangerous behaviour like speeding and distracted driving puts workers at risk – and drivers too.”
Roadside worksites involve hundreds of activities, not just road construction, she points out. “Anyone who works alongside or on roads in close proximity to traffic is considered a roadside worker.” This includes municipal workers, landscapers, flag people, tow truck drivers, road maintenance crews, telecommunications and utility workers, and emergency and enforcement personnel. “And each one of them is someone’s parent, friend, neighbour, and work colleague,” Yako said.
The awareness campaign encourages people to practise safe driving behaviour in Cone Zones, which are work areas set up to alert drivers that roadside workers are on site. Cone Zones help protect workers and drivers from injury or death and often use distinctive orange cones – but not always. “Some areas can’t set up cones due to operational needs,” Yako explained. In those cases, reflective triangles and signage are used if possible.
So what should drivers do when approaching a Cone Zone?
“Slow down and leave your phone alone,” said Yako. “Pay attention to temporary road signs, traffic cones, and directions given by traffic control persons.”
Tickets for driving infractions in Cone Zones can be costly:
- Using an electronic device while driving ($368);
- Speeding ($196 and up);
- Disobeying a flag person ($196);
- Disobeying a traffic control device ($121).
The province’s “Slow Down, Move Over” law spells out legal responsibilities for drivers when vehicles with red, blue, or amber flashing lights – tow trucks, fire, police, ambulance – are present. The law requires drivers to slow to 70 km/h if the posted speed limit is greater than 80 km/h. If the posted speed is less than 80 km/h, drivers need to slow to 40 km/h. Drivers should always be prepared move over and increase the space between their vehicle and the work zone, if it’s safe to do so.
Roadside worker safety is a shared responsibility. Employers are required by law to ensure the health and safety of their workers and contractors along B.C.’s roads and highways, including providing job specific training, equipment, supervision and resources. Workers can increase their safety by following safe work procedures (including work zone set up and take down) and reporting unsafe work conditions to their supervisor.
The Cone Zone campaign runs through the end of August, supported by the Work Zone Safety Alliance.
The construction and transportation sectors have the greatest percentage of roadside incidents in B.C., according to WorkSafeBC statistics for 2011-2020.
Construction trades account for 51% of all roadside injury claims, with traffic control persons (flaggers) accounting for almost three-quarters (70%) of them.
Transport workers (e.g., truck drivers, bus drivers, tow operators) have the second highest number of claims, accounting for 23% of all claims.
Service jobs (such as police, fire, and security guards) account for 5%; garbage and public works account for 7%; and landscapers account for 5%.
Lead image: Roadside workers in a Cone Zone. Photo submitted
Work Zone Safety Alliance