Recognizing National Work Zone Awareness Week 2021 in the Waterworks Industry

The start of the annual construction season is kicked off by National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW), an event held to bring awareness to worker safety in public work zones. This hits home for underground water, sewer, and storm drain workers, who are often in harm's way at job sites that place them on city highways and streets. With the ongoing risk posed to vehicle and pedestrian water workers daily, company operators and civil contractors should take this time to train workers of best work zone practices and establish safe work zones.  

To better understand the importance of National Work Zone Awareness Week and what your team can be doing to better ensure work zone safety, check out the details below. 

Understanding the Importance of National Work Zone Awareness Week

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), work zone fatalities increased by 11% between 2018 and 2019. In 2019 alone, the DOT recorded 135 worker fatalities in road and highway construction. From distracted driving to speeding in highlighted work zones, the risks faced daily by those in the waterworks industry signify the importance of National Work Zone Awareness Week year round.

National Work Zone Awareness Week is an annual campaign that represents the start of the spring construction season and promotes safe driving and worker practices in highway work zones. National Work Zone Awareness Week 2021 will be hosted by the Michigan Department of Transportation and will follow the theme of, “Drive Safe. Work Safe. Save Lives.” In order to properly adhere to this theme, top safety practices must be accounted for by both citizens and employees of the waterworks industry.

Drive Safe: The Importance of Citizen Safe Driving 

Waterworks industry safety isn't exclusive to the employees working under or above ground. Average drivers pass through work zones daily, meaning citizens and city employees are also responsible for following best work zone safe driving practices. 
For the typical driver, the the U.S Department of Transportation offers basic tips to promote both worker and driver safety in highway work zones:
  • Know before you go. Before hitting the road, it’s recommended drivers check the latest traffic conditions and active work zones to know what to expect and allow for possible route changes.
  • Stay alert and obey the roadway. Highway work zones can change daily with varying signs, cones, and barrels, so always anticipate changes and always keep an eye out for workers. Similarly, stay alert to commercial motor vehicles (CMV), such as buses and semi-trucks, as these large vehicles have slower reaction times during sudden stops and quick lane changes.
  • Slow down and watch for sudden stops. Always expect congestion, delays, and traffic cues in highway and street work zones. To maintain worker and driver safety, always obey adjusted work zone speed limits and do not tailgate in the event of a sudden stop.  
While these tips tackle waterworks industry safety from a citizen standpoint, let’s take a look at how civil contractors and water workers can stay safe in work zones as well.

Work Safe: How to Train Workers for Safe Work Zone Practices

Members of the waterworks industry, including underground water, sewer, and storm drain workers must also follow best safety practices when operating in a highway work zone. To ensure the safety of themselves and others, civil contractors must train workers and maintain a system of work zone rules that must be followed when operating in a high-risk work zone. Fortunately, there are countless resources readily available to gather knowledge of the current best work zone work practices. 

General safety practices contractors must implement in work zones include: 
  • Equip workers with high-visibility clothing. Always equip highway and street workers with high-visibility clothing, including fluorescent and reflective vest, jackets, hardhats, and arm bands. Supervisors must always make sure their team is dressed properly, both day and night, to maintain ongoing safety.
  • Promote proper observation skills. Workers must remain vigilant of any potential hazards within the workzone. Blind spots caused by construction equipment and curving roadways are common in work zones and must always be kept in mind before moving positions. If possible, incorporate the use of spotters to maintain a full view of traffic and workers who may potentially come into contact with it. 
  • Adopt and mandate strong jobsite communication. The size of work zones can make verbal communication hard at times. Establish the use of shared jobsite communication signals workers can use to notify each other in the event of potential work zone risk. Likewise, incorporate the use of two-way radios to prevent unnecessary movement in the work zone. 
Aside from the personal work zone safety practices water workers must abide by, civil contractors must establish safe work zones as well. 

Save Lives: How to Establish Safe Work Zones as a Civil Contractor 

The most crucial aspect for ensuring motorist and water worker safety in a high-risk work zone is proper layout. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established a set of work zone safety guidelines that all highway managers and civil contractors are expected to follow. Without establishing a safe work zone, you put both motorists and workers at significant risk of injury and death.  

Of the many work zone requirements expected by OSHA, some of the most important include:
  • Conduct a risk assessment. Before moving forward with a project on a high-risk highway, a manager should conduct a thorough risk assessment. This will allow you to identify and mitigate potential risks prior to having workers in the field. 
  • Use proper signage. Construction sites must feature legible traffic signs, traffic cones, and road surface markings that effectively highlight the area of potential hazard and the presence of pedestrian workers. If the use of traffic control signs are in place, they must be inspected and tested to match the standards of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).
  • Effectively train and utilize flaggers. Many highway work zones will require the use of flaggers to maintain and control a steady flow of traffic. While training requirements will vary state to state, make sure your flaggers are successfully certified under MUTCD standards to operate as a flagger in a high-risk highway work zone.

Promote Waterworks Industry Safety in 2021 and Beyond 

For those in the waterworks industry, your friends over at Fortiline Waterworks by MORSCO understand the potential dangers a highway work zone holds. For National Work Zone Awareness Week 2021, take a moment to reflect on the potential hazards of highway work zones and refresh your safety knowledge. All Proudly Essential Pros have the ability to mitigate potentially harmful concerns for those in the waterworks industry by following proper work zone safety guidelines.