Winter Work Zone Safety
Road work never stops, especially not in the winter! During these months, roads may need emergency repairs from frost heaves, potholes, and water damage in order to continue operating for winter driving. Our traffic flaggers are here to help local communities with their work zone needs, even though snowy conditions make it quite dangerous. The four simple tips below protect traffic flaggers and road workers from wintertime hazards.
Dress in Layers
Dressing warmly is crucial for traffic flaggers in cold weather. When work starts before the sun comes up or ends after it goes down, the temperature can drop fast. You may find yourself wearing every layer you brought with you. But, as the sun rises, it’s surprising how quickly you can become overheated and start sweating in your many layers. While it’s good that you’re warm, excess sweat can cause your body to cool down and lose heat faster than when it’s dry. So, it’s important to take off layers quickly.
What you choose to layer with is just as important as choosing to layer at all. Your outer layer should be weatherproof and able to protect you from wind and rain. Even on a dry day, there could be puddles of slush on the roadways that a winter driver can splash towards you. If your layers become wet, they’ll only cause you to lose more body heat.
Your middle layer insulates you from the cold. The best insulating material is either down or polyester, though there are some fleece options available if you don’t enjoy the puffiness of a down jacket. If you choose fleece, be sure to have a windproof outer layer, as the wind will blow right through fleece and wool.
Your innermost layer adds some warmth, but its main purpose is to wick moisture away from the body and keep you dry. Merino wool and thermal underwear are excellent options that will wick away the sweat, while still offering some heat. Remember, “Cotton Kills.” Cotton holds onto moisture and doesn’t insulate very well at all, leaving you out in the cold.
Break Out the Sunglasses
Most people think of sunglasses as a summertime accessory, but outdoor enthusiasts and road workers know that sunglasses are a necessity any time of year. As temperatures drop and weather worsens, the roads become slick with melting snow. Black pavement combined with a thin layer of water becomes almost mirror-like. On sunny days, the intense glare coming off the roads is a winter driving hazard that also impacts traffic flaggers. If a traffic flagger can’t see winter drivers coming around a corner, or drivers can’t see them, someone can quickly get hurt. Sunglasses cut down on glare to allow flaggers and construction zone workers to see just a little easier.
Besides cutting down on glare, sunglasses protect the eyes and prevent future health issues. UV radiation from the sun raises your risk of cataracts and could result in blindness. According to Dr. C. Stephen Foster, a professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, car windshields can reflect light directly into the eyes, almost doubling the dose of UV radiation received.
Sunglasses that are rated to block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection against radiation. If you have to choose between pairs of sunglasses, always choose the ones with larger lenses. These will stop the sun’s rays from hitting your eyes from the sides of the lenses.
Keep an Eye on the Sky
Weather can turn a safe day for winter driving into a hazardous one in the blink of an eye. A squall can cut visibility down to almost zero and cause drivers to veer off roadways. Because of this, it’s important for traffic flaggers to be aware of what’s happening with the weather in real time.
Weather reports aren’t always correct and can’t accurately predict weather phenomena like sudden storms. While you don’t want to look directly at the sun, keeping an eye on the sky is a good idea. Watch for abrupt temperature drops, an increase in wind speed, or fast-moving clouds. If you do notice that weather conditions are starting to become unsafe, move away from the road and to a sheltered area as soon as it is safe to do so. Keep in communication with your team at all times so you can all be aware of changing weather conditions that could make winter driving dangerous.
Prepare for Vehicle and Worker Safety
Winter roads are slippery with ice and snow. This environment can lead to hazardous situations such as poor traction for vehicles and work equipment, increased fall risks, and decreased visibility. With the right preparation, winter work zones can become much safer for drivers and traffic flaggers alike.
Prior to the start of the work day, a supervisor should inspect the work area for slippery pavement, downed power lines, and icy equipment. If areas of the pavement are covered in ice, they should be treated with a mixture of salt and sand to melt the ice and provide greater traction. Salt and sand should always be kept on hand in case a vehicle becomes stuck or ice builds up on pavement or equipment.
Road workers should always wear high-visibility apparel and avoid either white or dark colored clothing. Stick to the approved neon colors for optimum safety. Additional high visibility barrels and traffic cones should clearly line the work zone to provide winter drivers with an additional visual barrier and protect workers from out-of-control cars.
Before using any sort of equipment, it should be thoroughly inspected for rust or ice. Winter weather is especially hard on work zone equipment and can lead to premature rust and breakage that may create safety hazards. If conditions are not safe, work should be paused or stopped until the weather clears.
No matter the weather, Directional Traffic prioritizes the safety of our workers and the communities we serve above all else. Our traffic flaggers are well-educated on the hazards of winter driving and more than capable of creating and operating safe work zones no matter the season.