The dangers faced by road construction workers have been highlighted again as two workers have been killed at a road construction site in the United States last weekend.
In the incident, which occurred at 3:30 am on Sunday morning on the 405 Freeway in the California suburb of Torrance, the deaths occurred when vehicles driven by two suspected drunk drivers collided, sending an SUV spinning onto a group of freeway workers.
A report in the Los Angeles Times says the vehicles were travelling along a marked construction zone on the northbound side of the freeway when the driver of the first vehicle, a Ford Explorer, hit a Lexus SUV.
The second vehicle then spun and hit the workers who were on the far right of the road, killing 56-year old Ramon Lopez and 58-year-old Ricardo Zamora. A third worker was taken to hospital with ‘minor to moderate’ injuries.
The latest incident highlights the ongoing danger associated with road construction work. In the US alone, around 100 construction workers are killed in roadway work zones each year, Bureau of Labour Statistics suggest, with road deaths accounting for around eight per cent of all construction deaths in that country.
The latest incident also highlights the role of sensible driver behaviour in minimising the risk.
To be sure, a number of factors within road contractors’ control can reduce the likelihood of incidents, such as clear and easily visible site barriers, conspicuous clothing for workers, suitably trained traffic controllers where appropriate, speed limits that are realistic and allow for safe movement around the site, and, wherever possible, prior notice to motorists about significant works.
Indeed, in this case, the site was well lit with cones and lights, according to statements from Officer Dion Conley of the California Highway Patrol.
The strongest precautions, however, are for naught if drivers fail to exercise common sense. In addition to drunk driving, speed, mobile phones and other factors can also cause driver error.
Last March, for example, 55-year-old Keith Jakel was killed while working on repairs on a shoulder on US Midwestern Highway Interstate 39 after being struck by a semi truck which had failed to merge into the left lane quickly enough and had chosen instead to drive around a Department of Transportation arrow truck by going onto the right shoulder.
The bottom line is that contractors can take sensible safety precautions, but in the end, they cannot prevent driver recklessness or stupidity.
Only individual drivers can do that.