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Using Highway Safety Equipment to Protect Road Workers

Highway safety equipment serves an ever-growing need in today’s world. Much of America’s infrastructure is badly in need of repair. Performing that important work is the role of all types of professionals, from general laborers to transportation engineers. This post will focus on the need for this equipment and provide introductory guidelines for its use.

Highway Safety Equipment: The Need

The following statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, and the U.S. Department of Transportation paint a grim picture:

  • Fatalities within highway construction zones averaged 669 per year for the period from 2007 until 2012. The three states with the most fatalities were Florida, Texas, and California. Each reported at least 50 deaths during 2012.
  • Collisions between oncoming vehicles and maintenance workers accounted for 69% of these fatalities.
  • Construction laborers were the most common victims in these incidents, followed by equipment operators and on-site supervisors.
  • 10% of the workers killed in roadside accidents were employed by state or local governments.
  • Around 70% of fatal accidents occur between local hours of 8 a.m. and 4:59 p.m.
  • While it may seem counterintuitive, nighttime road construction work is no more hazardous from a statistical viewpoint than work performed during daylight hours.
  • In total, more than 20,000 workers suffer non-fatal injuries in road work zones each year. Some common causes of injury besides vehicle collision include: slips or falls, contact with moving or unsafe equipment, and exposure to toxic or harmful substances.
  • Large trucks represent a special danger to highway workers. Between the years 2000 and 2008, about one in four work zone vehicle fatalities involved collisions with commercial trucks.
  • In 2008, 22% of crashes involving fatalities occurred on sections of interstate highways located in or near urban areas.
  • In that same year, 59% of highway worker fatalities took place on roads with 55+ mile-per-hour speed limits.

The good news is that many of these incidents can be prevented through the use of highway safety equipment such as high-visibility signs, temporary barriers, and rebounding bollards. These products are most effective when crews use the following steps in their installation:

  1. Establish the section of highway in which work is to be completed. These areas can be marked using either white or pink paint; other colors are reserved for specific designations.
  2. Create a buffer zone between the work area and the zone that will be open to traffic.
  3. Install the appropriate markers. According to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), in low-speed urban environments, warning signs should be placed at 100-foot intervals for a total distance of 300 feet from the work zone. In high-speed urban areas, signs should be placed 350 feet apart, for a total of 1,050 feet from the furthest sign to the work area. In rural zones, signs should be placed 500 feet apart, with the furthest approximately 1,500 feet from the work zone.
  4. On freeways and expressways, the MUTCD advises that signs should be placed as follows: the first should be 1,000 feet from the work zone; the second should be 1,500 feet further; lastly, the third sign should be placed 2,640 feet from the second.

When used in this post, the term “low speed” refers to a posted limit at or below 45 mph, while “high speed” refers to anything above 45 mph.

Additional Guidelines

Highway safety equipment alone cannot guarantee worker safety. To minimize accidents and injuries, supervisors should train workers to be alert for the following danger signals:

  • Motorists driving in an erratic fashion.
  • Squealing tires or sounds indicating sudden stops.
  • Anything that may indicate that drivers are having trouble maneuvering safely through the work zone.
  • The presence of hills, curves, inclement weather, road glare, or anything else that may increase the likelihood of accidents or injuries.


Highway safety equipment is an essential part of a roadway crew’s equipment. When used according to the guidelines outlined in this post, it can help save lives and prevent accidents.