Cornell Local Roads Program

Road Work: Never Forget Safety

When working within the Right-of-Way (ROW) of a roadway, the safety of the workers is always a concern. When a safety related event occurs and someone is injured or killed, it is more than just a statistic, it is a co-worker or a friend; it is personal. In NYS injuries and deaths related to road maintenance are real and do happen. To reduce the occurrences, several steps have been implemented on both the state and federal level focusing on both the work site and the driver.

CLRP Pavement Testing in Cranberry Lake, NY
CLRP Pavement Testing in Cranberry Lake, NY. Source: Wes Yang, NYSDOT

For many years, the enforcement of DWI laws has helped reduce the number of crashes occurring nationwide. More recently, concerns over distracted driving has become a major safety issue. While no crash is intentional, activities such as adjusting the radio or eating can result in momentary lapses of attention, which can be fatal if they occur at the wrong time, such as approaching a work zone. While human activity and education may not be 100 percent successful, it is helping.

To enhance the safety of those who use the roads, specifically road maintenance crews, several steps have been made to provide increased notice and enhanced visibility of these workers. The National Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices combined with the NYS Supplement to the MUTCD (collectively referred to as “MUTCD”) include several requirements to protect personnel working within the ROW. The MUTCD also discusses fire and rescue personnel, police, and school crossing guards working within the ROW.

Worker Safety within the ROW is covered in Part 6: Temporary Traffic Control of the MUTCD. Part 6 discusses the elements of a temporary traffic control work zone, which includes the fundamental principles, control elements, pedestrian and worker safety; Flagger Control; types of control devices; applications; etc. Part 7: Traffic Control for School Areas, discusses the general requirements, sign specifics, markings and Crossing Supervision for school zones.

Section 6D.03 of the MUTCD discusses Worker Safety Considerations and includes several Guidance elements that should be considered:

Section 6D.03 addresses Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as a requirement for everyone working within the right-of-way. This section states that “All workers, including emergency responders, within the right-of-way who are exposed either to traffic (vehicles using the roadway for purposes of travel) or to work vehicles and construction equipment within the TTC zone shall wear high-visibility safety apparel that meets the Performance Class 2 or 3 requirements of the ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 publication entitled American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear” (Note ANSI/ISEA 107-2010 is the most current version). This section continues by including these requirements to Law Enforcement officers, that are used to direct traffic, investigate crashes or to handle lane closures, as well as firefighters or other responders working within the ROW.

ANSI/ISEA Class 2 T-shirt and hard hat
ANSI/ISEA Class 2 T-shirt and hard hat

Flagger requirements are discussed in Section 6E: Flagger Control. Often the Flagger ends up being the new guy who gets ‘stuck’ with the boring job of directing traffic. Unfortunately, this is contrary to the approach that should be taken. Since the flaggers are responsible for the both the public and worker safety, flagging is one of the more important positions on a job site. Because of this a flagger needs to be trained and competent to receive and communicate instructions clearly, firmly and politely. They should be able to move quickly to get out of the way of errant traffic, and be able to recognize a dangerous situation to provide adequate warning to the workers so they can respond to avoid injury, as well. In addition, they need to know and understand how to apply safety traffic control and the use of signaling devices. Guidance in part 6E.01 of the MUTCD covers the Qualifications of Flaggers.

Flaggers are also required to wear Class 2 or 3, high-visibility apparel. It is suggested that to better distinguish the flagger from the background and the workers, the use of different retroreflective colors, such as a lime green for workers and orange for flaggers will provide better visibility and be more noticeable to the motorist.

Section 6E.07 discusses the proper procedures for effective traffic control by a flagger. Some suggestions include that flaggers should not stand in the travel lane of approaching vehicles; they should stand either on the shoulder or an adjacent closed lane, be clearly visible and stand away from the other workers well in advance of the work site to provide warning time in the case of danger. Flagger station location from the work site is a function of the speed of the approaching traffic to allow adequate stopping distance within the work zone before the work site, should the flagger be missed. Table 6E-1 is provided in the MUTCD for these distances at varying speeds.

Use of hand-signalling devices by flaggers
Use of hand-signalling devices by flaggers

When dealing with any type of work within the ROW two of the most important steps to improve safety are in the planning and the set-up of a work zone, appropriate for the situation. Whether work is off of the shoulder or in the center of the roadway, how a work zone is set up is important for the protection and safety of the workers. A work zone plan is also very important for moving maintenance procedures such as filling pot holes. Work zone plans for these situations do not have to be elaborate, but should be prepared and followed for the safety of everyone, worker and motorist.

The preparation of a work zone plan, known as a Traffic Control Plan (TCP), for work zone safety typically consists of five areas, each serving a specific function. These areas include:

General layout of a work zone
General layout of a work zone
Source:Traffic Sign Handbook for Local Roads CLRP Report 11-07

A TCP must address both directions when traffic interruption occurs in both directions. Moving operations will vary slightly in layout to account for the movement of the project.

Often night work must be scheduled to minimize the interruption of traffic or is necessitated by an emergency. In such cases several items should be kept in mind. Flagger stations must be illuminated, and if a flag is used it must be reflectorized red. In emergency situations when a flagger must use a flashlight, specific directions are provided in Section 6E.03 for the best results. Class 3 high-visibility apparel that clearly identifies the wearer is recommended for night-time flagging operations.

NYSDOT work truck with amber flashing lights
NYSDOT work truck with amber flashing lights

Amber lighting requirements for municipal vehicles is a topic that comes up often. Specifically, there are no set requirements for the number and brightness of amber lights on a vehicle. However, the NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law, the NYS Labor Law and the MUTCD address this topic with specific guidelines. In compliance with these requirements the NYSDOT has issued Safety Bulletin SB-12-17, dated 03/05/12, which is based on studies published by the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and accepted by the Transportation Research Board and Federal Highway Administration (2008), and designated to uniformly address the need for vehicle visibility while engaged in highway work. Following this Safety Bulletin may be the best way to be certain your vehicles comply with the legal requirements.

The safety of the workers within the ROW will always be a concern and an issue. Improving work zone safety is always a good idea. By developing a traffic control plan, a work activity plan and providing training to address the project safety concerns that could be expected are just a few ideas to improve ROW safety. Following the guidelines and recommendations in the MUTCD and Safety Bulletin SB-12-17 provides useful information that can greatly improve the level of safety for all workers within the ROW. For more information please refer to the references below.


Work Zone Safety

Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, 2009: Federal Highway Administration.

Safety Warning Lighting Standards (pdf)

NYS Supplement to the MUTCD (pdf)

Cornell Local Roads Program:
Work Zone Traffic Control for Local Roads, CLRP No. 08-01 (PDF)
Traffic Sign Handbook for Local Roads, CLRP Report 11-07 (PDF)

Summer 2012

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This work by the Cornell Local Roads Program (CLRP) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.