Investigation: # 02MI106
Highway Worker Killed by Passenger Vehicle While Setting Up Highway Work Zone Warning Signal
On Friday, August 9, 2002, a 26-year-old technical sales representative employed by a highway traffic management firm was struck and killed by a passenger vehicle while setting up a highway work zone warning device. The victim and her partner were working on the shoulder of a six-lane interstate highway. The shoulder was 11 feet wide where they were working. A guardrail was placed at its edge to prevent cars from driving over the drop off onto the embankment. The workers were therefore constrained from moving farther away from the moving traffic. Several areas of signage identifying the work zone were in place before the work zone including one approximately one-quarter of a mile before the area where they were working. An electronic message board, message side facing traffic, was mounted on the back of a trailer. The victim, on the hitch side of the electronic message board, had plugged her laptop computer into the board to check the calibration of the “Do Not Pass” message. She was positioned with her back to oncoming traffic. The company vehicle in which she and her co-worker had driven to the site was parked a slight distance beyond her. A car swerved off the road onto the shoulder striking the sign, trailer, and workers. The victim was crushed between the message board trailer and the company vehicle. Her co-worker was propelled 50 feet from the point of impact down the embankment and received serious injuries to his legs, pelvis, hands and face. He was hospitalized in critical condition. He is continuing to recover from his injuries.
On Friday, August 9, 2002, a 26-year-old technical sales representative employed by a highway traffic management firm was struck and killed by a passenger vehicle while setting up a highway work zone warning device. On August 12, 2002, MIFACE investigators were informed by the MIOSHA personnel who had received a report on their 24 hour-a-day hotline that a work-related fatal injury had occurred on August 9, 2002. On October 7, 2002, the MIFACE researcher conducted a telephone interview with a representative of the company that employed the fatally injured worker. During the course of writing the report, newspaper articles, MIOSHA Newsletter articles, the MIOSHA file and citation, police reports, and the medical examiner’s report were obtained.
The company for whom the victim worked had been in business for 22 years. It employs approximately 150 people. Its business is highway traffic management and product and systems technology. A road building and maintenance contractor had contracted with the company to set up electronic traffic control devices in preparation for road construction.
The victim was a civil engineer employed by the company for two years as a technical sales representative. She normally worked in an office at its headquarters but had requested a field assignment to enhance her experience. She and her co-worker had been setting up electronic traffic control signs for five days when the incident occurred.
The company convened a general meeting yearly where safety issues might be discussed. Occasional meetings were held during the year dealing specifically with safety. Department heads were responsible for safety. The company did have a safety committee consisting of four salaried and two hourly employees. In general, the company relied on the road building contractor to provide safety information. Most of the safety training consisted of on-the-job training provided by more experienced workers.
The incident occurred at approximately 6:00 p.m. The weather was clear. It was daylight, and the victim and her co-worker were completing the last assignment for their day. There was no apparent reason for the vehicle to leave the highway. According to newspaper accounts of the vehicle operator’s trial for causing the death of a road construction worker, her attorney argued that his client had swerved onto the shoulder to avoid hitting a truck that had braked suddenly in front of her. The jury did not convict the vehicle operator on the charges brought against her.
The MIOSHA investigation resulted in one serious violation being issued to the company for failing to have an accident prevention program. Review of the company’s traffic control plan required by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) indicated that the placement of the advance warning signs used to alert motorists of the upcoming work zone were adequate and appropriately positioned. Several areas of signage identifying the work zone were in place before the work zone including one approximately one-quarter of a mile before the area where they were working.
On Friday, August 9, 2002, a 26-year-old technical sales representative employed by a highway traffic management firm and her partner were activating electronic boards for flashing highway work zone traffic control signals with a laptop computer. The 3.2 miles of highway construction work was scheduled to start on Monday, August 19, 2002. The dynamic lane merge system signs advised motorists to merge from three lanes to two lanes as they entered the work zone. She and her partner had been working on the project for about a week.
On the day of the incident, they had activated several electronic highway work zone warning signals and were preparing to wrap up the work for the day around 6:00 p.m. They were working on the shoulder of a six-lane interstate highway with a speed limit of 70 miles per hour – 3 eastbound lanes and 3 westbound lanes. The area in which they were working was located at the top of a slight rise in the road on the westbound side of the highway. The shoulder was 11 feet wide where they were working. A metal guardrail was placed at its edge to prevent cars from driving over the drop off onto the embankment. The workers were therefore constrained from moving farther away from the moving traffic. Signage identifying a reduced speed zone ahead had been placed at several intervals before the work zone as well as at the beginning of the rise. The beginning of the rise was approximately one-quarter of a mile before the area where they were working.
The victim and her partner were wearing reflective vests and hard hats. The black Ford F-250 company pickup truck in which they had driven to the site was parked on the shoulder of the highway a slight distance in front of the orange trailer upon which the message board was mounted. A strobe light was flashing in the back of their pickup truck.
The victim had walked back to the electronic message board from their truck to check the calibration of the message board on the trailer. She was at the hitch side of the trailer and had plugged her laptop computer into the message board with her back to oncoming traffic. The vertical message board displayed a message that read “Do Not Pass”. The words “When Flashing” below the “Do Not Pass” were not flashing. The electronic message sign was approximately six feet high. The height of the combined trailer and message sign was approximately eight feet.
A car driven by a woman with a 5-year-old child in the front seat and laundry piled high in the back seat swerved off the road onto the shoulder striking the message board trailer, sign and the pickup truck. The collision of the car and trailer caused the trailer to move forward and strike the back of the pickup truck. The victim was crushed between the trailer and the truck. Her co-worker was propelled 50 feet from the point of impact down the embankment and received serious injuries to his legs, pelvis, hands and face. He was hospitalized in critical condition. He is continuing to recover. A Michigan investigation revealed no violations of traffic control requirements.
The driver of the car was prosecuted and tried. The jury did not convict her on the charges brought against her. Newspaper accounts of the trial indicated her attorney argued that she had swerved onto the shoulder to avoid a truck that had braked suddenly in front of her. He also said the area was not clearly marked so his client did not know it was a construction area.
CAUSE OF DEATH
The cause of death stated on the medical examiner’s report was multiple injuries sustained as a pedestrian at a road construction site, struck by a motor vehicle. The victim’s toxicological results were negative.
Highway work zones are hazardous areas in which to work when they are well-marked
and well-controlled. Additional significant exposure is encountered when the
traffic-control work zones are being established. Had an accident prevention
plan been developed by the company and reviewed with the workers, perhaps the
necessity of working during rush hour on Friday on a freeway with a 70-mile
per hour speed limit could have been avoided.
Even though the findings indicated that appropriate procedures were being followed
to set up the traffic control warning zone, departments of transportation and
road contractors should consider the use of supplemental traffic control devices
in addition to the minimum specified by the Michigan Manual of Uniform Traffic
Control Devices (MMUTCD). Truck-mounted attenuators can be placed to significantly
reduce the consequences of impact if a vehicle penetrates the work space. The
attenuator dissipates the energy of a rear-end collision. They are particularly
useful in moving and short duration work zones where they can move forward as
work progresses to protect workers from being struck from behind by traffic
Had pre-programmed or remote-programmed variable message boards been used,
the exposure time of the workers would have been shortened. The time of day
and volume and speed of traffic at the location where they were working, compounded
by the fact that they could move no further than 11 feet from the traffic flow,
placed them in an extremely hazardous situation. One of the principal ways to
control exposure is to reduce the time of the exposure. If they could have preprogrammed
the signs or dropped off the message board and continued to another safer location,
their exposure time would have been lessened.
Michigan enacted a law in 2001 that imposes severe penalties including prison time for persons convicted of killing or injuring a road worker. The law was designed to emphasize the importance of following posted limits and remaining attentive while driving through highway work zones. This law, continued motorist education, strict enforcement of speed laws, and implementation of other alternative speed control measures, such as the increased presence of law enforcement at the beginning of the work zone, should reduce the hazards to workers in highway road construction projects.
MIFACE (Michigan Fatality and Control Evaluation), Michigan State University (MSU) Occupational & Environmental Medicine, 117 West Fee Hall, East Lansing, Michigan 48824-1315. This information is for educational purposes only. This MIFACE report becomes public property upon publication and may be printed verbatim with credit to MSU. The author of this report is affiliated with Wayne State University. Reprinting cannot be used to endorse or advertise a commercial product or company. All rights reserved. MSU is an affirmative-action, equal opportunity employer.
To contact Michigan 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.
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