Surveyor and road worker safety must remain front-of-mind

This column published as "They depend on us with their lives" in Fall 2019 issue

Les Tinkham / October 22, 2019
Les Tinkham
As we all are seeing more and more vehicles on the roads each passing year, we are reminded of the fact that those who must work in or near a road right-of-way, such as surveyors and construction workers, are increasingly more vulnerable to serious injury and sometimes death.

This fact is not lost on those workers, nor on the people who are responsible for sending them there and/or the safety officers who prescribe the safety rules for their company. The problems are multiple, and the answers are few. Types of roads range from graveled back country roads to multilane interstate highways. We also must consider specialty roads—such as multimodal city streets and park and camp trail roads—each of which paint a different picture of the road character, types of users, potentials for accidents, and possible preventive measures. The good news is that safety, for quite a while, has been on the front burner of federal and state agencies whose role it is to prescribe methods and measures to provide needed protective measures. However, more roads, more traffic, bigger vehicles, more drivers (many with cell phones in their hand), the forthcoming driverless cars, more motorcycles, more bicycles, hikers, and pedestrians is stressing the ability to keep the regulations consistent with the demands for more and better safety measures. Fortunately, relevant data is being collected, research is underway, and case studies are being conducted and circulated. 

Eastham & Associates is a planning, engineering, and land surveying company, so I have some firsthand knowledge here. When working around roads, our survey crew wears safety jackets, displays signage per OSHA guidelines, leaves top lights burning on vehicles, and has one member watching the back of the operator. Moreover, safety is always a topic of discussion at our staff meetings.

Most responsible agencies have similar rules and procedures, and all are keenly aware that the number and severity of accidents to surveying and highway construction workers is on the rise nationwide. It is apparent that current actions cannot be considered to be totally adequate, even with these precautions in place and along with the knowledge that it is not uncommon for drivers to frequently ignore all signage and speed through a construction zone. The constant changes occurring in lifestyles, road designs, and vehicle amenities must be recognized and factored into traffic safety regulations and rules.

So where do we go from here? What are some actions and parameters that appear to have merit? 

It is notable that many states and the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) have taken up the gauntlet to review and modify traffic innovations with respect to connected infrastructure and a more widespread application of automated vehicles. Also many other concerned businesses are actively pursuing additional methods or regulations to upgrade safety considerations. Even the current infrastructure bill making its way through the Washington maze has a provision to improve road safety. 

However, what is directly and immediately required is attention being directed specifically to the safety of our surveyors and construction workers who are required to work in the right-of-ways. Providing greater safety measures for these workers will require specialized considerations. Accordingly, it would seem to be a perfect time for establishing a method to gather a body of collective intelligence where interested parties could forward letters or e-mails to some responsible agency to collect and analyze the information, and make recommendations for new and innovative means and methods to provide additional safety under both existing and future conditions, which must also include somehow preventing errant drivers from transgressing safety precautions.

It behooves each of us to make clear in all our professional interactions that road worker safety be afforded a place of prominence in all safety discussions and legislative engagements. They need us.

About the Author

Tinkham is with Eastham & Associates.

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