Caution urged in construction zones as crashes injure 1K in work areas

An average of nearly one crash occurred in state construction zones every two hours on Ohio roadways last year, leading to more than 1,000 injuries and 17 deaths.

So two state agencies teamed up Monday as part of an effort to keep road construction workers.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jerry Wray said. “These project sites and roadways are our employees’ offices and … we want to make sure everyone stays safe during the work day so they can make it home safely to their families.”

Wray was joined on Monday near a construction zone by the Enon Road and Interstate 70 ramp by ODOT District 7 Director Randy Chevalley and Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation Administrator Steve Buehrer.

Construction crews are adding a third lane in each direction between Enon Road and U.S. 68, one of the work zones where crews have been hit by vehicles recently during their work day.

Work should be done on the ramp within the next month, according to District 7 officials.

In 2014, more than 5,100 crashes occurred in ODOT work zones. Last month a construction worker was killed on I-70 in Englewood following a semi crash.

The work that road crews do is dangerous, Wray said, and they must be vigilant, have the right equipment and take safety precaution to ensure employees stay safe.

Locally, District 7 seeks better, safer ways to work, officials said. Its safety and health committee holds quarterly meetings focusing on topics such as mowing, construction zones, and snow and ice safety.

Along with the meetings, new safety items such as LED lights for hard hats and reflective arm and leg bands are being added to increase visibility and protection while crews are working.

But at the same time, Wray and other state officials said motorists must eliminate distractions while driving such as texting, and slow down and move over when they travel through construction zones.

“Be patient and be aware that this is a very difficult and dangerous situation,” Wray said. “One of the things that I’ve experienced and Randy has experienced and a lot of our folks have experienced is being on a construction site and having nothing between you and the traffic but some barrels or some barriers. When an 18-wheeler goes by or even a small car goes by at 45 or 55 mph, that is a scary thing.”

Buehrer said BWC is pleased to work with other state agencies on the Keep Ohio’s Workers Safe project as Gov. John Kasich has encourage more government entities to team up.

Everyday Ohio workers are injured daily working on a bridge or roadway, he said. Every year, two or three of them are killed on the job.

“One of the priorities Gov. Kasich has given to us is to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to bring people … home safe at the end of the workday,” Buehrer said.

The state has tripled the safety grants available to public and private employers to buy safety innovations and equipment to keep employees safe, Buehrer said.

“We’re seeing an incredible decrease in the number of accidents that are being reported to the Bureau of Workers Compensation … Just a decade ago, there were over 200,000 injuries getting reported to BWC on an annual basis, the last two years that number has fallen to 97,000, more than half. We need to continue to drive that number down and drive fatalities down,” Buehrer said.

He and Wray said the Move Over law, which was expanded in 2013 to include construction, maintenance and utility crews, has been effective in improving safety for workers.

District 7 has had several crews hit by motorist, Chevalley said.

“These crews are working in dangerous situations every day and even with the top training and safety equipment we need the motoring public’s help to keep them safe,” Chevalley said.