Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program
Emergency Roadside Technician Dies When Struck by a Single-Unit Truck on an Interstate Shoulder
In the winter of 2005 a 52-year-old male emergency roadside technician (ERT), (providing traffic control support for police), died when he fell approximately 75 – 80 feet from a bridge after being struck by a single-unit truck. A policeman had responded to a call from a semi-truck driver on the interstate who had blown a tire while driving on an interstate. After the tire blew, the driver immediately pulled the semi onto the right shoulder and called police for assistance. This section of the shoulder was on a bridge on the blind side of a hill, and was too narrow to accommodate the width of the semi. The back left corner of the semi extended out into the right-hand travel lane of the interstate. A police officer arrived and with emergency lights flashing, parked his cruiser on the shoulder at the top of the hill behind the semi. The officer requested assistance with traffic control. An employee of a company contracted by the local police to provide roadside assistance arrived in a panel truck. Upon arrival, he was instructed by the police officer to park his vehicle with yellow emergency lights flashing at the bottom of the hill, approximately 100 yards behind the police cruiser. After parking his vehicle on the shoulder as instructed, the contractor then exited the vehicle from the driver’s side and proceeded to walk up the hill toward the police cruiser. A single-unit truck approached from behind in the right hand travel lane and tried to switch lanes when he observed the yellow emergency lights on the panel truck. When the driver of the single-unit truck switched to the middle lane, the driver struck the right-rear end of a semi trailer in the middle lane, lost control, swerved back into the right lane, sideswiped the ERT’s panel truck, then struck the ERT. Upon being struck, the ERT was thrown over the side of the bridge 75 – 80 feet to the ground below. The police officer called emergency medical services to the scene. They arrived and detected no vital signs in the ERT. The coroner was called and upon arrival, declared the ERT dead at the scene of “multiple blunt force injuries secondary to motor vehicle versus pedestrian”.
To prevent future occurrences of similar incidents, the following recommendations have been made:
The decedent had been employed approximately six months by a company that provided roadside assistance to motorists and the local police department. The company employed 260 persons, 30 were emergency road service technicians who operated panel trucks and tow trucks (flat beds and hooks) to assist disabled motorists and the local police.
Prospective employees were required to undergo a background check, drug, and alcohol tests. Random drug and alcohol tests were performed on all employees after being hired. Emergency responder trainees had a 90 day trial period during which they rode with an experienced responder and were observed. Responsibilities included, but were not limited to, assisting motorists with disabled vehicles, and assisting police in placing triangles, flares or other warning devices to slow traffic during emergency situations. The company contract with the police department stated that when providing support for a roadside emergency, the ERT was to always park his/her vehicle behind the police officer’s. One safety technique responders were taught was to exit their vehicles on the passenger side when responding to an incident on a busy roadway and to use common sense. Responders were equipped with ANSI-certified high visibility reflective vests and company uniforms.
The Kentucky Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program was notified via a newspaper report of an occupational fatality involving an ERT walking on the shoulder of a bridge on a busy interstate highway. The employer and the police at the scene of the incident were interviewed. The coroner record was also reviewed for this report.
At approximately 9:00 AM on a winter day in 2005, a semi blew a tire while driving westward on a six lane interstate highway. The speed limit was 55 miles per hour, the pavement was dry and the sky overcast. Realizing he had blown the tire, the driver immediately steered the semi onto the right shoulder and at 9:05 AM called police for assistance. The shoulder was on a bridge on the blind side of a hill, and was too narrow to accommodate the width of the semi. This caused the back left corner of the semi to extend into the right-hand travel lane of the interstate. A police officer arrived at the scene at 9:07 AM with emergency lights flashing, parked his cruiser on the bridge shoulder at the top of the hill approximately 50 yards behind the semi. The officer assessed the situation and called the company contracted to support police during roadway emergencies for assistance with traffic control. An ERT was radioed to report to the scene, however, he was engaged in assisting another disabled motorist in a separate incident.
Another ERT heard the request, radioed that he was in the vicinity, and that he would dispatch to the scene. At approximately 9:15 AM he arrived at the scene in a company van with yellow caution lights flashing on top of the panel truck. He parked, per company policy, at the bottom of the hill approximately 75 – 100 yards behind the police cruiser. The ERT, who had 100% hearing loss in his right ear, then exited the van from the driver’s side and walked toward the police cruiser to consult with the police officer on how to best manage traffic at the scene. He was wearing a reflective vest and company uniform. A single-unit truck approached from behind in the right hand travel lane traveling at approximately 55mph and tried to switch lanes when he observed the yellow emergency lights on the panel truck. When the driver of the single-unit truck switched to the middle lane, the driver struck the right-rear end of a semi trailer in the middle lane, and lost control. The driver swerved back into the right lane and tried to brake, sideswiped the ERT’s panel truck, then struck the ERT. After being struck, the ERT was thrown over the side of the bridge 75 – 80 feet to the ground below. The police officer at the scene immediately radioed dispatch services to summon emergency medical services to the scene. Emergency medical services personnel arrived within minutes, found the ERT under the bridge and observed no vital signs. The police officer contacted the local coroner who arrived and declared the ERT dead at the scene due to “multiple blunt force injuries secondary to motor vehicle versus pedestrian”.
The police report stated that the brakes were found to be defective in the single-unit truck.
Cause of Death
The death certificate states the cause of death was due to, “multiple blunt force injuries secondary to motor vehicle versus pedestrian”.
Recommendations and Discussion
Recommendation No. 1: A traffic control plan should be implemented and enforced immediately when the travel lane is obstructed.
Discussion: Guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), Chapter 6D: Pedestrian and Worker Safety; Section 6D.03 Worker Safety Considerations, should be followed by incident responders. In this situation, as stated in the MUTCD Section 6D.03(D), a safety zone for responders should have been created using temporary traffic control techniques such as speed reduction and diverting traffic from the right-hand lane. The MUTCD Chapter 6C.04, Advance Warning Area, describes a method of reducing the speed of traffic on highways by effective placement of the first warning sign in meters (feet) should be substantially longer—from 1.5 to 2.25 times the speed limit in km/h (8 to 12 times the speed limit in mph). Since two or more advance warning signs are normally used for these conditions, the advance warning area should extend 450 m (1,500 ft) or more for open highway conditions (see Table 6C-1). Section 6C.08 Tapers, states that tapers are created by using a series of channelizing devices and/or pavement markings to move traffic out of or into the normal path.
49 CFR 392, Subpart C – Stopped Vehicles, 392.22(b)(2(iv) states that “if a commercial motor vehicle is stopped within 500 feet of a curve, crest of a hill, or other obstruction to view, the driver shall place the warning signal required by paragraph (b)(1) of this section in the direction of the obstruction to view a distance of 100 feet to 500 feet from the stopped commercial motor vehicle so as to afford ample warning to other users of the highway” and to place warning signals toward traffic and give motorists time to decelerate and adjust to the changing driving conditions.
Ample time and distance should be provided for motorists to adjust to reduced travel speed and lane funneling. This would have created a safer space for the ERT, police, and towing company to maneuver while responding to the situation. Additionally, radio and/or mobile phone communication between the ERT and police should be established prior to arrival on the scene that includes a hazard assessment of the incident and a clear description of duties to be performed by the ERT.
The Kentucky Fatality Assessment & Control Evaluation Program (FACE) is funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute of Safety and Health. The purpose of FACE is to aid in the research and prevention of occupational fatalities by evaluating events leading to, during, and after a work related fatality. Recommendations are made to help employers and employees to have a safer work environment. For more information about FACE and KIPRC, please visit our website at: www.mc.uky.edu/kiprc/
To contact Kentucky State FACE program personnel regarding State-based FACE reports, please use information listed on the Contact Sheet on the NIOSH FACE web site Please contact In-house FACE program personnel regarding In-house FACE reports and to gain assistance when State-FACE program personnel cannot be reached.