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Preventing Worker Injuries and Deaths from Backing Construction Vehicles and Equipment at Roadway Construction Worksites

Workers on roadway construction worksites are exposed to possible injury and death from moving construction vehicles and equipment. This new NIOSH Workplace Solutions recommends that specific procedures and controls be in place at roadway construction worksites to help prevent backover-related injuries and deaths at roadway construction worksites.

Highway construction workers

Roadway work zones are hazardous both for motorists who drive through the complex array of signs, barrels, and lane changes and for workers who build, repair, and maintain our Nation’s streets, bridges, and highways.

Fatalities in construction and maintenance work zones are the focus of this topic page.  Fatalities in construction and maintenance work zones averaged 778 from 1994 through 1999, 1060 from 2000 through 2006, and 669 from 2007 through 2012.  Fatalities in construction and maintenance work zones reach a peak of 1,095 in 2003, declining to 609 in 2012.  Texas, California, and Florida ranked as the three States with the most motor vehicle crash fatalities in construction and maintenance work zones in 2012—each with at least 50 deaths.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 101 worker fatalities at road construction sites in 2008, 116 in 2009, 106 in 2010, 122 in 2011, and 130 in 2012. Over the 10 years from 2003 through 2012, Texas ranked as the State with the most worker deaths in work zones (131), followed in rank order by Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, California, Georgia, and Indiana. Transportation incidents accounted for 76 percent of roadway work zone fatal occupational injuries in 2012. In 67 percent of these transportation incidents, a pedestrian worker was stuck by a vehicle. Backing vehicles accounted for 11 of the 66 pedestrian vehicular incidents. In 2012, seventy-five percent of occupational fatalities in work zones were to the following occupations: construction laborers, highway maintenance workers , heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers, first-line supervisors of construction an extraction workers, and construction equipment operators. Private sector construction, primarily heavy/civil engineering construction and specialty trades contractors, accounted for 61% of worker fatal injuries in work zones. Service producing industries in the private sector, such as the transportation and warehousing industry and the administrative and support services industry, accounted for an additional 14 percent of worker deaths in work zones. Twenty percent of workers fatally injured in work zones were in the government sector with State and Local governments each accounting for about half of government worker deaths at road construction sites in 2012.

Sources: Work Zone Fatalities by Year and State
Fatal occupational injuries at road construction sites by selected characteristics, 2003-2012 [PDF - 276 KB]

During the 2003 to 2007 period, 639 workers were killed while working at a road construction site.  During this same period there were 8,103 deaths in the construction industry.  The 639 worker deaths in road construction represent 7.9% of all deaths in construction. Nearly half of these fatalities were attributable to a worker being struck by a vehicle or mobile equipment—more frequently by construction equipment than by tractor-trailers, vans, and cars. In 60 percent of the cases where a worker was struck by backing vehicles or mobile equipment, the worker was fatally struck by a backing dump truck.

Source: Fatal occupational injuries at road construction sites, 2003-07 [PDF - 254 KB]

During the 2003 to 2010 period, 962 workers were killed while working at a road construction site.  Eighty-seven percent of these deaths were to workers who were working on site at the time of the incident.  The remaining 13 percent were to workers passing thorough the construction site.  Workers on site were primarily killed when struck by a vehicle or mobile equipment, followed by overturns, fall from vehicle or mobile equipment, and collisions (where victim was inside vehicle or operating equipment).  Workers passing through a construction site were primarily killed in collision events involving either a vehicle or mobile equipment going in the same direction, or a vehicle or mobile equipment striking a stopped vehicle or mobile equipment.

Source:  An analysis if fatal occupational injuries at road construction sites, 2003-2010 [PDF - 246 KB]

General Information – Fatality Reports and Prevention Strategies

In-house Fatality Investigations Reports on Worker Deaths in Highway Work Zone
State-based Fatality Investigations Reports on Worker Deaths in Highway Work Zone
These links provide lists of reports of fatality investigations of incidents where workers in highway work zones were killed. These investigations were conducted under the NIOSH Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program. Although most of the examples involve highway construction, a few cases that occurred in maintenance and utility work zones are also included.

NIOSH Protecting Workers in Construction - Preventing Injuries Related to Motor Vehicles and Equipment [PDF - 2.25 MB]
(July 2008)
NIOSH hosted a 3-day workshop that brought together 60 key stakeholders from government agencies, labor unions, and private employers to discuss measures to reduce worker injuries from vehicles and equipment. Researchers analyzed injury data, reviewed scientific literature, and developed “white papers” to focus discussion at the workshop. NIOSH then compiled research results and workshop participant input into a highway work zone safety guide.

Publications - NIOSH

Roadway Safety

Equipment Blind Areas/Proximity Warning Systems


Other Related Publications - NIOSH

Other Related Publications - FHWA

Research Funded by NIOSH

Work Zone Sign Design for Increased Driver Compliance and Worker Safety
The risk of struck-by incidents in highway work zones threatens construction worker health and safety. The proposed project will investigate the use of dynamic message signs as a means of increasing driver compliance with posted traffic laws, with the ultimate goal being reduced construction worker injuries and fatalities. This study will utilize a high-fidelity driving simulator to investigate how varying sign designs (sign content, refresh rate, and sign placement) impact speed reduction, compliance, and visual attention to workers in the work zone environment. Findings are expected to help lower the incidence of struck-by incidents in work zones by identifying, and eventually implementing, effective sign designs for reducing driver speed and increasing compliance.

Primary Investigator: Lesley Strawderman, Ph.D., PE
Co-Primary Investigator: Teena Garrison, Ph.D.
Co-Primary Investigator: Carrick Williams, Ph.D.

Research Funded by the Transportation Research Board

Identifying and Reducing Worker, Inspector, and Manager Fatigue in Rapid Renewal Environments.
The impact of fatigue on the quality of work and the safety of workers, inspectors, and managers, especially on rapid renewal highway projects, is considered serious and in need of further investigation and solutions.  This project will investigate fatigue as it relates to rapid renewal projects, providing an overview of sleep, fatigue, and alertness and how they impact performance, teamwork, quality, and the potential for accidents and injury. The project will then discuss ways to mitigate fatigue by identifying safe limits for workers and supervisors.

Project Contact: Mark S. Bush
Transportation Research Board
Project Period: 2009-2012 Completed - Reports available at above link.

Press Releases

Division of Safety Research (DSR), Researchers begin identifying highway work sites to evaluate new prevention measures, June 2004

NIOSH, OSHA, Roadway Work Zone Safety and Health Coalition Ally to Improve Roadway Work Zone Safety, November 26, 2003

Ways to Prevent Job-related Roadway Deaths, Critical Research Areas Identified by NIOSH,
November 6, 2003

Press Release: CDC Report Suggests Ways to Prevent Injuries, Fatalities to Workers in Highway Work Zones, May 15, 2001

NIOSH Report Highlights Motor Vehicle Crash Risk for Workers, Recommends Practical Preventive Measures, July 27, 1998

Related U.S. Government Web Sites

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities
Data on fatal and nonfatal injuries at work from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, the annual Survey of Occupational Injury and Illness, and other Department of Labor programs:

Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Comprehensive U.S. transportation statistics for all modes of transportation.

Federal Highway Administration
Information on the U.S. highway infrastructure, safety initiatives, regulations, environmental stewardship, and congestion mitigation.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
Information on regulatory and voluntary programs for reducing injuries, fatalities, and crashes associated with large trucks and buses.

Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices
Federal regulations for operation and set-up of temporary traffic control zones, including highway work zones and emergency situations.

National Highway Institute
The National Highway Institute (NHI) is a training arm of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). NHI provides leadership and resources for the development and delivery of training and education programs to improve the quality of our Nation's highway system and its inter modal connections.

OSHA Directorate of Construction
Safety and Health Topic page covering Highway Work Zones and Signs, Signals, and Barricades

OSHA/NIOSH Roadway Work Zone Safety and Health Partners
Alliance page describes the Alliance's goals and activities.

Other Related Web Sites

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
Provides research results and educational materials to promote traffic safety. This site also has a useful work zone photo library.

American Road & Transportation Builders Association
ARTBA holds annual meetings and conferences, maintains standing committees and professional development sections that work on issues to promote improvements in work zone safety.

American Society of Safety Engineers
Offers basic resources for safety professionals on work zone safety.

Associated General Contractors
AGG holds annual meetings and conferences, maintains standing committes and professional development sections that work on issues to promote improvements in work zone safety.

Construction Safety Council
The Construction Safety Council is a non-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of safety and health interests in the field of construction throughout the world.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Vehicle crash test results and a wide variety of educational materials on traffic safety. Offers useful state-by-state comparisons of traffic safety laws.

International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE)

Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFA)

National Asphalt Pavement Association
NAPA holds annual meetings and conferences, maintains standing committes and professional development sections that work on issues to promote improvements in work zone safety.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Provides information on vehicle testing and standards, occupant restraints, impaired and drowsy driving, and national crash statistics.

National Safety Council
In conjunction with ARTBA offers Roadway Work Zone Safety Awareness Awards. Offers general work zone safety information for safety professionals.

National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse
Provides information for government, industry, and the public to promote the safe and effective operation of highway work zones.

Transportation Research Board
Provides information from the arm of the National Research Council that engages government, industry, and academia in promoting research, policy studies, and information-sharing addressing all aspects and modes of transportation. Offers publications for a fee including, Illumination Guidelines for Nighttime Highway Work, Highway Maintenance Safety, Support, and Service

University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI)
Provides research results from an interdisciplinary center with expertise in large-truck safety, human factors, engineering, public policy, and data collection and analysis. Work Zone related research includes pedestrian and road worker visibility, and application of intelligent transportation systems in work zones.


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