Each morning the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) maintenance and construction crews leave the safety of their home and report to work to ensure the state’s transportation network remains in the best possible condition. However, the nature of the work puts those crews in harm’s way every day.
Every spring, National Work Zone Awareness Week is held to bring national attention to motorist and worker safety, and mobility issues in work zones. Since 1999, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has worked with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the American Traffic Safety Services Association to coordinate this observance. MDOT is recognizing this week, April 8-12 as 2019 National Work Zone Awareness Week.
“MDOT has over 3,000 employees across the state,” said Melinda McGrath, P.E., MDOT executive director. “Almost 75 percent of these employees work in the field alongside traffic as part of their daily job responsibility.”
MDOT crews work only feet away from vehicles traveling at high speeds. Highways are the “office” of MDOT’s maintenance and construction crews. These crews work as safe as possible, but their work environment can be unpredictable.
“MDOT crews undergo extensive safety training before heading out into the field, and they follow strict federal, state and agency guidelines to ensure they are performing their duties safely,” McGrath said. “However, our crews work in an unpredictable environment. Even when they are following safety guidelines, the traveling public plays a huge role in keeping MDOT workers safe.”
In an effort to drive down the number of deaths on roadways in the state, MDOT, along with national partners, has adopted the Towards Zero Deaths vision as a part of its highway safety plan. In 2017 there were seven fatalities in Mississippi work zones. To honor the fallen workers, MDOT is conducting a Wreath Laying Ceremony on Tuesday, April 9 at 1:30 p.m. to recognize the lives lost while working on the roads in Mississippi.
While MDOT says this is a way to honor those who died, they are also calling attention to the importance of safety out on the roads.
The job of an MDOT highway worker is a dangerous one. Just take it from Doug McKinney, who recently had a close call with a distracted driver. Help keep everyone safe by always paying attention in work zones. #NWZAW #WorkZoneSafety 👷♀️👷♂️🚧 pic.twitter.com/kPV1qmym8V
— MDOT (@MississippiDOT) April 8, 2019
“National Work Zone Awareness Week is a great way to get the public talking about the safety of highway workers,” said Commissioner Dick Hall, chair, Mississippi Transportation Commission. “But, this is an issue that needs to be at the front of people’s minds the entire year.”
A work zone is defined by the Federal Highway Administration as:
“That part of the highway being used or occupied for the conduct of highway work, within which workers, vehicles, equipment, materials, supplies, excavations or other obstructions are present.
“Our highway workers see a lot in work zones, and in some cases, they are only separated from the traveling public by a plastic barrel, concrete barrier wall or nothing at all,” said McGrath.“Just one error can change a driver’s, passenger’s or highway worker’s life forever, that’s why knowing how to navigate a work zone is so important.”
But it can be difficult for the drivers as well. McGrath said they understand that traveling through highway work zones can be frustrating and dangerous because work zones present many drivers with unfamiliar driving conditions.
Work zones are set up according to the type of work being performed. Whether it’s a major interstate or a rural highway, knowing how to identify and follow advanced warning signs for the type of work zone motorists are about to encounter can help prevent crashes.
“Regardless of the work being performed, each MDOT work zone has advanced warning signs alerting the traveling public of the work they are approaching,” said Commissioner Tom King, Southern Transportation District. “One of the best ways to stay safe when approaching and traveling through a work zone is to pay attention to advance warning signs.”
One of the most common work zones that Mississippi drivers encounter is the mobile work zone. This work zone moves continuously or intermittently for work such as pothole patching or painting pavement markings.
Other common work zone types are the single-lane closure on a two-lane highway and a single-lane closure on an interstate or four-lane divided highway. Drivers should recognize that these are only some of the most common work zone setups encountered on Mississippi highways. Paying attention to advanced warning signs is the best way to know exactly what the changing conditions will be.
“Highway workers make their ‘office’ as safe as possible by wearing proper equipment, having in-depth knowledge on handling machinery and following guidelines on how to properly and safely set up a work zone for the type of work being performed,” said Commissioner Mike Tagert, Northern Transportation District. “It is up to the driver to continue to keep that work zone as safe as possible by doing their part to take the same kinds of safety precautions as our workers.”