The Road Worker Safety Problem

Britain’s roads are some of the busiest in the world. They are also some of the safest. In terms of overall road safety, current national figures show casualties are at their lowest level for over 40 years. Although this is promising, overall injuries to the 4,000 road workers on the UK’s roads have risen.

In today’s traffic conditions, the live carriageway of any highway is a very dangerous place to work. An Oxford University study ranked it as the 16th most hazardous occupation in the UK. In 2005 HTMA reported 5 deaths and 12 major injuries – more than twice the number of fatalities of any of the previous five years. And all the fatalities were caused by workers being struck by oncoming vehicles.

Between 2003 and 2008, 11 road workers were killed and 104 were seriously injured on motorways and major routes in England (Source – Highways Agency)

HTMA’s Goals for Road Worker Safety

Since the launch of the HTMA in April 2005, one issue has dominated the roads maintenance sector – safety. We are dedicated to reducing road worker accidents. Our goal is simple – zero injuries, zero fatalities.
HTMA has long-term goals to make the working environment safer include:
• Design for maintenance/operation, which has the added benefits of whole-life cost savings, less interventions and less congestion
• Reduce road workers exposure to live traffic and lessen the risks to road workers when on the network
• Highlight the importance of road workers and their safety to the public by raising awareness and the industry
• Improve road user awareness and behaviour by improving driver education

To download the latest guidance documents HTMA has produced, visit the Health Safety & Welfare Working Group page.

Read about the Road Worker Safety Leadership Summit.

HTMA Health Safety & Welfare Work

HTMA Health Safety & Welfare Working Group members are actively involved within industry working groups such as the UK Road Worker Safety Forum (RoWSaF), Chapter 8 Technical Board and Sector Scheme 12. Decisions made by these working groups have an impact on our Industry and the people who work in the Industry, so it is vital that we influence their decision making process.

Improving occupational health benefits to the industry is another key area for the Safety Forum to develop. Having a better understanding of the occupational health risks associated with our works will make the industry a healthier place to work.

One of the projects delivered by the HTMA Safety group and in conjunction with Working Well Together, has been the production of a Safety DVD, Breaking New Ground. The DVD raises awareness of the dangers road workers are exposed to when digging to gain access to utility networks and offers essential advice that is useful for and can be incorporated into safety training programmes. The DVD has been a huge success and generated much interest in road worker safety issues. The DVD can be purchased by contacting the Secretariat.

Road Worker Abuse

A road workers’ workplace is amongst one of the most dangerous and vulnerable places to be. The types of activities our contractors do includes:

  • Salting and snow clearance during the winter
  •  Emergency repairs after accidents and incidents
  •  Maintaining the condition of fences, barriers and road markings
  •  Resurfacing and repairs to the road surface
  •  Building new carriageways
  •  Cutting grass at junctions and central reservations
  •  Clearing drainage systems
  • Clearance of litter
  •  Replacing bulbs on street lamps

Not only do oncoming vehicles pose a threat to road workers, but the behaviour of drivers in passing vehicles is a growing problem. Abuse to road workers should not be overlooked, and HTMA continues to work hard to raise awareness of the work road maintenance workers carry out, in order to change the public’s perception and behaviour towards them.

A survey released by the RAC Foundation (2007) found:
• 80% of road workers have been physically or verbally abused by motorists
• 40% of workers are abused on either a daily or weekly basis

Road workers often experience: the throwing of missiles (often food and bottles), verbal abuse, personal injury caused by road users’ vehicles. But one of the most worrying and dangerous factors is the speed at which the drivers pass through road works, resulting in collisions and many near misses. They will often ignore the temporary speed limits, leaving the workers even more vulnerable with very little to protect them from approaching vehicles. Campaigns such as the Highway Agency’s award-winning ‘Respect our Road Workers’ campaign in 2009 highlight the risks road workers face and remind drivers to take care when driving through roadworks.

The HTMA Health Safety & Welfare working group have developed a toolbox talk and poster to help improve reporting of incidents with an aim to reduce the number of incidents and to change the culture and eliminate road worker abuse occurring.