“We’re all in this together” is the theme of the 2013 National Work Zone Awareness Week, April 15–19. The theme highlights the complexities of work zones, especially in urban areas, and the need for awareness and planning on the part of everyone affected by work zones — DOTs, road workers, drivers, bicyclists, motorcycles, pedestrians, emergency response, law enforcement and utility workers.
What began as an idea by a Virginia Department of Transportation employee in 1997 has grown into a national movement to promote awareness and improve safety for workers and motorists. Held in the spring each year, the event kicks off construction work season and coincides with daylight saving time.
National Work Zone Awareness Week begins with a ceremony to honor those who have lost their lives in work zones and to emphasize the dangers of the job and the importance of work zone safety. Events taking place throughout the week and across the country include holding a press conferences in work zones so the media can experience the speed and noise that workers face every day while working.
This year’s ceremony will take place April 16 in Washington, D.C. Eleven states are competing for the honor of hosting the event next year and are judged by their commitment and efforts to promote work zone safety awareness.
“National Work Zone Awareness Week is really just one week in a year-round campaign to promote safety,” said David Rush, Work Zone Safety Program manager with the VDOT for 34 years. “We started going to high school driver education classes to talk about work zones. We reach about 30,000 kids each year. Workers come in and talk to them, which allows them to realize that is a person with a family behind those cones. We’ve seen a two-thirds drop in teenage work zone accidents in Virginia since the classes began.”
Virginia’s impressive commitment to work zone safety has paid off. The state has the third largest roadway in the United States but averages 3,200 crashes with eight or nine fatalities each year. It’s common for smaller roadways to average 10–12,000 crashes annually, with 30–40 fatalities. “We are slowly getting the message out. It helps that other states are doing it also,” said Rush.
Part of Work Zone Awareness involves acknowledging and remembering those who have died. Unveiled in April 2002, “The National Work Zone Memorial — Respect and Remembrance: Reflections of Life on the Road” is a living tribute to their memory.
The memorial travels year-round to communities across the country to raise public awareness of the need to respect highway workers and to be concerned about safety in America’s roadway work zones. The memorial has visited many sites since its inception and is available to anyone interested in increasing public awareness about roadway safety. The American Traffic Safety Services Association Foundation encourages its members, chapters and state DOTs to host the NWZ Memorial at events and is accepting names to be included on the memorial.
Results of this national public awareness campaign are impressive. Since its inception in 2000, national work zone related fatalities have dropped from 1,186 to 530 in 2011. The majority of crashes occur on primary highways and involve drivers in their early 20s. Four out of five work zone fatalities are motorists who fail to merge, do not slow down or are not paying attention while driving. In addition to educating motorists, training workers to follow the proper procedures is key to preventing injuries and fatalities in work zones for everyone. “We stress worker safety and training — not just on large interstates but small local city projects, such as painting the curb, repairing a fire hydrant or opening a manhole,” said James Baron, ATTSA director of communications.
ATTSA provides work zone safety training courses, webinars and certifications for all types of scenarios, including specialized areas such as flagging. “We even have programs that provide training to teach these skills so workers can go back to their city and train others,” says Baron.
Rush agrees with Baron’s emphasis on implementing safe practices. “It’s important that workers set everything up perfectly and use their devices and procedures properly as they are trained to do, such as setting up the proper buffer space, having shadow vehicles positioned to protect them and facing traffic rather than having their back to traffic,” he said. “They should also always ride through the work zone after setting it up because things look different from that perspective. Driving through is one of the most important things you can do. Then make an adjustment if you notice a motorists can’t see a sign due to a tree branch in the way or something.”
Popular local activities to celebrate National Worker Zone Awareness Week include:
- Encouraging workers and residents to wear orange
- Lighting public buildings in orange and encouraging employees and citizens to wear orange in support of NWZAW. In 2008, Wis-DOT had Wisconsin’s capitol dome lit with orange lights as memorial to workers who had died or been injured in work zones.
For information about National Work Zone Awareness Week,
For information about Virginia’s program,
For information about training programs,
- Order and hang free NWZAW posters.
- Distributing work zone awareness pins and ribbons. Proceeds go to support the Foundation’s Roadway Worker Memorial Scholarship Program and the National Work Zone Memorial Program.
- Tying orange ribbons to car antennas
- Having citizens sign a barrel or work zone sign pledging to practice safe driving in work zones.