Wearable Illumination: A Solution to Struck-by Incidents in Construction
Struck-by hazards are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in construction, according to data compiled by the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR). Specifically, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fatalities of occupational pedestrians struck by a vehicle in work zones increased nearly 32 percent from 44 deaths in 2015 to 58 deaths in 2016.
Additionally worrisome is that the last impactful study conducted on roadway construction was done in 2003. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program’s Report 498 resulted in standards and guidelines used today by the Federal Highway Administration for work zone tasks and illumination requirements. The report concluded that “lighting is a key factor in performing construction at night. Illumination levels and lighting configuration directly affect the safety, quality and cost efficiency of the project.”
The 2003 study looked at the lighting around the work zone and considered portable towers, balloon lighting, roadway luminaires and factory-installed lights on equipment. But what it failed to consider was wearable lighting for individual workers, adding safety lighting configured to each work zone, and the ability to easily move and adjust the lighting locations and functions to better accentuate work zone illumination and safety conditions.
More recent data from CPWR’s 2017 Struck-by Injuries and Prevention in the Construction Industry report suggest that “to prevent construction workers from struck-by injuries, specific hazards and working environments should be taken into account for safety and health intervention programs.”
The report noted that of the 384 struck-by vehicle construction injuries between 2011 and 2015, 77.6 percent occurred in the work zone, or near the roadway of the work zone. Passing-by trucks and passenger vehicles accounted for nearly 60 percent of the struck-by deaths during the study’s time frame. Highway, street and bridge construction workers suffered nearly double the number of struck-by vehicle injuries compared to all other areas of construction combined. There were 207 struck-by vehicles injuries in the highway, street and bridge construction sector alone between 2011 and 2015. The next highest ranking construction sector was site preparation at 40 incidents.
With these stats in mind, it’s clear that more research is needed to update worker apparel standards and improve worker visibility. The most recent edition of the FHWA’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices was published in 2009, with minor edits in 2012. Although this seems recent, the updates were only to connect the 1988 research-based OSHA standards to the ANSI standard.
For instance, flaggers, who were deemed to “make the greatest number of contacts with the public of all highway workers,” are required to meet the Class 3 requirements of the ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 standards for apparel and headwear. Regardless of the mandated reflective material and specific high-visibility color combinations required, these items are designed to only be seen from 1,280 feet, a distance that a vehicle traveling 65 mph can cover in only 13 seconds.
The effectiveness of a vest or other reflective wear at this distance depends on multiple conditions: The reflective wearable must become illuminated at just the right angle and brightness, and the driver must immediately see the worker and then react quickly enough.
Sounds simple enough, but many work zone conditions have elevated the risks since these recommendations were first written in 2009 (e.g., the increase of nighttime construction to alleviate traffic congestion, higher roadway speeds and increased driver distractions).
Based on the data, construction leaders must push for new safety regulation updates to keep workers safe. The technology exists today to provide affordable, wearable and portable personal safety lighting that can be seen from a work zone—in some cases up to 2 miles away. If OSHA and FHWA require these personal illumination devices to be worn by workers and utilized throughout a work zone’s footprint, struck-by injuries and deaths could be greatly reduced.
Chadwick Keller. Reprinted from ConstructionExec.com, July 18, 2018, a publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.