Keeping the UK’s road network running smoothly is essential but dangerous work. A recent survey by highways maintenance company, Amey, revealed some alarming statistics for roadworkers: despite 87% of drivers acknowledging that being a road worker in the UK is a dangerous occupation, almost three quarters admitted they had exceeded the speed limits designed to protect those workers. More worryingly, since 2017, there were nearly 5,500 reports of drivers accidentally entering roadworks.
With the summer holidays upon us, the roads are busier than ever as Britons head to airports and scatter nationwide on UK staycations. But how can road workers be better protected against the dangers that drivers present to them?
Here we look at five key steps to achieving road worker safety:
Step 1: Increase public awareness of the dangers that road workers face
In 2013, the Highways Agency published a multi-faceted document about influencing driver behaviour at roadworks. But despite radio campaigns, engagement with local businesses, recommendations for roadside signs, average speed cameras and CCTV, problems persist.
Delving deeper into the problem, a 2016 report by Transport Focus looked at roadworks from a road user perspective and found that drivers were frustrated when they didn’t understand why speed limits were set lower when they couldn’t see any road workers. The report had nine key recommendations, including suggesting that Highways England should set speed limits in roadworks no lower than is required to maintain safety and should encourage compliance by explaining why a limit is necessary, going beyond just stating ‘for safety reasons’. If drivers understood the scale of the risks to road workers, driving behaviour could be improved through roadworks.
Step 2: Provide the correct safety equipment to roadworkers
To avoid road user confusion and reduce the number of roadwork incursions, the right signage and barriers are crucial. High visibility clothing is imperative at all times, but never more so than at night when roadworks often take place. This includes hi-vis vests and hi-vis trousers. Head protection is vital for road workers too. In 2016, Highways England launched new guidance about roadworkers helmets, designating different colours for different responsibilities.
Step 3: Implement technological innovations
New technology is being developed to help protect road workers against occupational dangers. Amey is developing a Crash Skid, a crash control system that’s designed to alert drivers to roadworks and reduce their speed. A high-tech mat helps slow a vehicle over a long distance, with cables to catch and lift a vehicle to help minimise momentum. Additionally, the use of new technologies, such as SAFETYcam and Intellicone, help protect roadworkers by capturing instances of dangerous driving and are designed to reduce incursions.
Step 4: Manage fatigue among night time roadworkers
Understanding the link between fatigue and accidents in road workers is also important. The Highways Term Management Association Health Safety & Wellbeing Group has produced resources specifically targeted at workers in Temporary Traffic Management, including a ‘toolbox’ of resources with sleep and nutrition tips, information about fatigue as an occupational health hazard, and how to recognise common signs of fatigue.
Step 5: Protect road workers’ mental health
Road workers are faced with unprecedented verbal and physical abuse from irate road users. In a 2018 survey, it was reported that nearly three-quarters of road workers in Scotland had received verbal abuse from motorists, and a third had experienced bottles, coffee cups, food wrappers, banana skins and dirty nappies being thrown at them. Such behaviour can potentially harm the mental health of road workers and is an issue that’s being taken evermore seriously, with mental health featuring prominently in Highways England’s Health and Safety plan. Their “Home Safe and Well” campaign has the vision that no-one should be harmed when travelling or working on the strategic road network.
Other industry bodies are addressing the mental health of road workers too. In June 2019, Safer Highways held a Mental Health Summit at the House of Commons, which gathered 100 high-profile industry leaders together to reinforce their commitment to raising awareness of mental health among road workers.
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