Behind the Wheel at Work – Vol 7 No 1

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Behind the Wheel at Work is a quarterly eNewsletter bringing you the latest news from the NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety.

Volume 7 Number 1 April 2022

Work Zone Safety

Work zones are a sign to slow down. This month we’re sharing ways that employers, workers, and drivers can keep highway work zones safe.

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The Facts

flagman construction sign
Photo by ©tapui / Getty Images

What is a work zone?

According to the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devicespdf iconexternal icon, a work zone is an area of a highway with construction, maintenance, or utility work activities. It is typically marked by signs, channelizing devices, barriers, pavement markings, and/or work vehicles.

Work zones are dangerous both for drivers passing through these areas and for workers who build, repair, and maintain our streets, bridges, and highways.

Motor vehicle crash deaths in work zones from 2016-2020[1]

  • 4,048 individuals – motorists, other road users, and workers – died in work zone crashes. On average—810 per year.
  • These deaths most often occurred in construction work zones (2,454; 61%), followed by work zones of unknown type (1,259; 31%), maintenance work zones (270; 7%), and utility work zones (65; 2%).
  • Most of those killed were drivers of motor vehicles in transport (2,526; 62%), followed by passengers of motor vehicles in transport (788; 19%) and pedestrians (651; 16%).
  • Nearly half of all work zone deaths were in Texas (826), Florida (379), California (371), Georgia (243), and Illinois (150).
  • 30% of fatal work zone crashes involved a large truck (1,075).
  • Number of people killed in work zones when at least one driver was:
    • Speeding (1,272, 31%)
    • Impaired by alcohol (1,139, 28%)
    • Distracted (544, 13%)
    • Drowsy (140, 3%)

Workers killed at road construction sites:

Workers might be struck by a passing motorist or by construction equipment, or they might themselves be an operator whose equipment rolls over.

From 2011-2020[2]

  • 1,260 workers died at road construction sites. On average—126 per year.
  • Transportation events accounted for 73% of worker deaths at road construction sites during the 10-year period (919). In 63% of these transportation events, the worker was struck by a vehicle (577).
  • 371 of the 577 workers were struck by a forward-moving vehicle, 123 by a backing vehicle.

From 2011-2018 (total: 1,008)[3]

  • Pickup trucks and SUVs accounted for 169 worker deaths at road construction sites, followed by automobiles (149), machinery (146), semi-trucks (141), and dump trucks (89).
  • More than two-thirds of the workers who were killed were employed as:
    • Construction laborers (253)
    • Heavy and tractor trailer drivers (142)
    • First-line supervisors of construction and extraction workers (96)
    • Highway maintenance workers (96)
    • Construction equipment operators (81)
  • 864 workers killed at road construction sites worked in private-sector construction. Of those, 68% worked for either heavy and civil engineering construction companies (470) or specialty trade contractors (119).
  • 144 workers (14%) killed at road construction sites worked in the government sector, with roughly equal numbers working for state (73) and local governments (68).

The bottom line: Work zones are a sign to slow down and focus only on driving.

[1] NHTSA [2022]. Fatality and Injury Reporting System Tool (FIRST) ( icon
[2] Bureau of Labor Statistics [2021]. Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 2014-2020external icon. Create customized tables.
[3] 2019 and 2020 data are not available or not reported consistently for all vehicles, occupations, and industries.

How to Promote Safe Driving in Work Zones

road construction barriers
Photo by ©jimmyan / Getty Images

As an employer, you can take steps to promote safe driving and inform workers who drive on the job how to practice safe driving in work zones.

Go-to Resources

information icon
Photo by ©mi_007 / Getty Images

NIOSH web page: Highway Work Zone Safety

National Work Zone Awareness Week web page: nwzaw.orgexternal icon

National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse web pages:

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration web page:

Federal Highway Administration web page: What’s a Work Zone?external icon

In Other News

NSC: Distracted Driving

New National Safety Council (NSC) estimates show that our roads are the most dangerous they’ve been in years. Each day, eight people are killed in distraction-affected crashesexternal icon – eight parents, friends, and co-workers. NSC offers free resources to spread the word about the dangers of distracted driving and the simple changes that can help us all make it home safely on every drive. Visit icon for more information.

How to Choose the Right Fatigue Detection Technology for Your Workplace

Fatigue can reduce focus, slow reaction time, and impair decision-making skills. Since fatigue has many sources, it can be hard to detect on job sites. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published an infographicpdf icon and graphics to highlight different factors for employers to consider when selecting a fatigue detection technology as part of a comprehensive safety management approach.

More Information
Page last reviewed: April 26, 2022