On the road to reducing injuries

24 Aug

I’m late for work. On a normal day I’d be whizzing along the dual carriageway, sticking to the speed limit of course. Instead, I’ve moved about 200 yards in half an hour. The reason? Roadworks.

As I pass the workers busily resurfacing the road I realise that their job is one I could never do. There’s just a thin barrier of cones between the workers and my car, the driver behind me is on his phone and I don’t think he’s noticed the workers walking around just feet away from his vehicle. These workers are literally putting their lives in the hands of me and ‘phone guy’ – relying on us to drive safely through the roadworks so they can go home and see their families at the end of a long shift.

I had the opportunity to interview John O’Keefe – health, safety and environmental director for highways maintenance company EnterpriseMouchel – a few weeks ago, and the reality of the dangers that workers face really hit home. “When our people are working on the road network, they are at risk of people who fall asleep at the wheel, those who are drunk or on the phone, and these can all result in accidents. That’s our biggest concern and we rely on them to drive safely in order for us to stay safe,” he told me.

According to John, there have been occasions where people have either not seen or have purposefully disregarded the company’s roadworks and have steamed on through regardless. “There have also been issues with cyclists, particularly in London, who often feel safer in our closed off works area than they do on the highway,” he explains. “I can understand their mentality, but that puts our workers at risk in our own working area. The main challenge we face is keeping the public safe in relation to the work we’re doing while keeping our own workers safe in a protected zone.”

The company is currently trialling a ‘cone intrusion system’ which is effectively a warning system if the line of defence is broken. “If someone comes through our barrier of cones, an alarm will sound. It might be a minimal warning but it might give workers just enough time to get out of the way,” adds John. As part of its ongoing trial of this concept, the company is experimenting with various types of detection including the use of laser technology and investigating the fitting of personal alarms that will trigger in addition to audible warnings.

So next time you’re stuck in traffic due to roadworks, spare a thought for the workers risking their lives to make the roads safer for us. Having previously been frustrated at having to slow down to 40mph and merge into one lane on a motorway, I now realise that the restrictions are there for a reason.

Read my full article on EnterpriseMouchel in the September issue of Safety Management.

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