|Ashley Repka, a crew member at Formecology, a landscape company based in Evansville, Wis.,
wears an orange vest while placing safety cones on the roadway around parked vehicles and
other equipment, an important step to reduce the risk of an injury or fatality.
Oscar Ruiz, a native of
Mexico, was doing landscaping work on the shoulder of the busy Santan
Freeway in Maricopa County, Ariz., when he was struck by a vehicle and
killed. The driver of the vehicle, who had just worked a 10-hour night
shift and had three hours of sleep the previous night, struck a truck
pulling a trailer, then veered off onto the shoulder of the road where Ruiz
was working. Although Ruiz was wearing an orange shirt at the time, the
driver told police he didn’t know he had hit him. Safety cones and
barricades marking the work zone were in place.
This incident is just one example of the many hazards
landscape contractors face when working near busy roadways. Even when a job
site is away from a major highway, it’s important to take precautions
to reduce the risk that a crew member will be hit.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers,
roadway work zone crews sustain nearly 27,000 first aid injuries and 26,000
lost-time injuries per year at an annual cost of $2.4 billion. Each year in
the United States, more than 1,000 workers are killed in roadway work zone
incidents—an average of three workers per day.
While many of these injuries and fatalities are the
“fault” of the oncoming driver, landscape crew members are at
high risk of injury or death, particularly when working on foot.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) is paying increasing attention to safety in and around roadway work
zones. OSHA, whose mission is to protect employees from serious injury and
death, believes that it’s critical that landscape contractors and
other employers take proactive steps to reduce the risk of motor vehicle
crashes in these areas.
Some OSHA areas and regions have specifically targeted
roadway work zones for enforcement efforts. One of the first was the
Jackson, Miss., area, which instructed its OSHA inspectors to be on the
lookout for crew members working in roadway work zones without the proper
Reminder: If one of your crew members is injured or
killed and OSHA investigates, it’s you, the employer, who can be
cited and fined. That’s among the reasons why it’s so important
to have written safety rules that are consistently enforced and to require
all of your crew members participate in regular, documented safety training
Here are a few more facts about roadway work zone
injuries and fatalities:
- Nationwide studies indicate that driver
inattention is the single biggest factor in work zone crashes. Excessive
speed is the second biggest cause.
- The most common type of accidents in roadway
work zones are rear-end collisions.
- More than 40 percent of work zone crashes take
place in the transition zone just before the work area.
What to do
Although much national emphasis has been placed on
crashes in work zones adjacent to busy roadways, parking vehicles or
equipment on any road puts your crew members at risk of being struck by a
At Formecology, a landscape design, build and care
firm in Evansville, Wis., employees are instructed to park trucks and other
vehicles in as safe a location as possible. Even in low-traffic residential
areas, crew members place safety cones or other barriers around parked
vehicles on roads. Wearing orange vests and staying within the marked area
when walking to and from parked vehicles and equipment will also reduce the
risk of injury.
Here are some tips for landscape contractors who work
- Require crew leaders to hold brief, on-site
tailgate training sessions at the start of each workday. Have crew members
sign off on an attendance sheet. These sessions should be specific to the
work being done, identifying hazards and potential hazards that day and
discussing other relevant safety issues.
- Review and plan tasks so that vehicles and
equipment back up as little as possible. Backing incidents are common in
our industry and can often be prevented. If vehicles do need to back up,
ensure that there are designated “spotters” or
“signalers” indicating when it is safe. This is especially
important because at least some crew members will likely be working on
- Maintain all vehicles and equipment in good
working condition. Ensure that alarms, lights and other devices are working
properly. Train crew leaders to immediately take unsafe vehicles or
equipment out of service. Require equipment operators to wear seat belts
and to use rollover protection and other safety devices as recommended by
- Provide crews with safety cones and other
safety devices. Cones or barrels, warning signs for vehicle and equipment
entrances and similar equipment are critical. Equipment that is used at
night should also have both reflective tape and appropriate lighting, such
as amber revolving lights.
- Provide high-quality protective gear for
workers. This includes hard hats, safety glasses, hearing protection and
high-visibility, reflective vests. Hard hats must have reflectors for work
that is done at night. Regularly inspect high-visibility clothing to make
sure the color has not faded and the reflective properties have not been
Barbara Mulhern is a Belleville, Wis.-based
agricultural/horticultural freelance writer.