ASSE Announces Voluntary Roadwork Safety Standards
While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may regulate certain aspects of the construction industry which relate to road and highway work, the absence of a blanket standard that addresses this sector of employment safety in detail has been a major concern to certain workplace injury watchdogs. The most recent attempt to impose some type of order on the mish-mash of overlapping roadwork safety policies has come from the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).
On January 5, 2010 the ASSE announced that it had completed a voluntary consensus standard dubbed “Work Zone Safety For Highway Construction.” The ASSE has been in existence for almost 100 years, and has grown in size and stature to represent one of the most respected national safety organizations in the country. The standard is set to be published by the American National Standards Institute (identifier A10.47-2009) and go into effect February 24, 2009.
Highway work provides many challenges to risk managers due to how exposed workers are to a wide variety of different hazards. Most obvious is the presence of speeding cars, many of whose drivers pay little or no attention to signage warning them to slow down before entering a work zone. This is compounded by the low visibility associated with certain outdoor work scenarios (night time, precipitation, fog) as well as the frequent use of heavy equipment which can itself seriously restrict the field of vision of both operators and workers on foot. Obviously, both day and night PPE supplies should be available.
A10.47-2009 has been designed to cover a wide range of different employment scenarios associated with highway work, and deal not just with typical construction activities such as paving, maintenance or repair, but also the often overlooked utilities activities that take place on public roadways. Given that roughly twenty percent of all workplace fatalities in 2008 occurred on highways, and a third of those involved someone being struck by a vehicle, it is clear that highway work ranks as one of the most dangerous types of employment in the United States.
The fact that individual states often have their own policies in this area only adds to the confusion for foremen and risk managers attempting to satisfy conflicting legal requirements while still offering their workers the highest possible degree of injury protection. The federal government’s involvement in roadwork safety balances the convenience of motorists (through the reduction of delays and the scheduling of major work to occur at night, for example) with the safety of workers, which is not always an equation that works out in favor of hazard mitigation.
Although the ASSE standard is voluntary in nature, its adoption across the country by private contractors may spur OSHA into taking longer look at whether highway work requires its own section of the federal regulatory code.