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How to Practice Work Zone Safety

Traffic accidents are the biggest threat to workers in roadway work zones. In honor of Work Zone Awareness Week, which took place April 20-24, we’ve rounded up the most crucial safety measures and tips to keep workers and road users safe.

Steps to Create Safer Work Zones

Like any construction project, you must design a job site safety plan. In a work zone, the strategy will need to include a plan for traffic control, protective safety measures and worker visibility.

1. Design a Traffic Control Plan

Roadwork will inevitably interrupt the flow of traffic. At the very minimum, motorists need to slow down in a work zone. Depending on the nature of the work, part or all of the roadway may be blocked from public traffic. In any work zone, you need to direct traffic safely. You’ll need to have an understanding of traffic safety and how your construction will interrupt the flow. This knowledge allows you to place appropriate traffic control signage and take other precautions.

A traffic control plan should include provisions for four key areas of the work zone:

  1. The advance warning area: Before entering the work zone, drivers need to know there is road work ahead. You’ll need to decide where along the route to notify motorists and what signage to use. The distance from the work zone for advance warning depends on the speed limit. If the speed limit is low, multiply the speed limit by 4 feet. For example, if the speed limit is 15 MPH, the first warning sign should be at least 60 feet in front of the work zone. For higher speed limits, multiply by 8 feet. For example, in a 65 MPH zone, the first warning sign should be at least 520 feet away.
  2. The transition area: Before they reach the active work zone, drivers will be directed out of their normal path. You may have to use a combination of safety cones, barriers, flaggers and signage to direct vehicles.
  3. The activity area: You will also need to designate the exact area where road work will occur. The activity area makes up the workspace, the buffer zone and the space for oncoming traffic.
  4. The termination area: After leaving the work zone, drivers can return to their normal path. You might use signage, flaggers or cones and barriers to direct drivers and indicate the roadwork has ended.

2. Identify Risks Specific to the Job Site

The nature of road work can pose unique hazards. For example, bridge maintenance can make redirecting traffic challenging, resulting in a smaller work areaWorking at a high height, such as removing nearby branches, can pose a fall risk, requiring fall protection gear. Working at night or during inclement weather can reduce visibility. Both high and low volumes of traffic present different dangers, and every situation requires unique precautions
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Work Zone Operations Best Practices Guidebook includes a cross-referenced list of best practices for road work. Use this resource to identify risks and develop procedures for your particular conditions. You can find best practices by:
  • State
  • Project life cycle stage
  • Nature of the work
  • Traffic conditions
  • Geographic and demographic conditions
  • Roadway characteristics

3. Organize Protective Safety Measures

Positive protection safety measures create a buffer zone between traffic and the work area. These devices may include a physical protective barrier, such as movable concrete barriers, water-filled barriers or vehicle arresting systems. Other ways to define a buffer zone may consist of traffic drums, rumble strips, electronic signage or pavement markings.

There are several circumstances where a positive protection barrier is required, according to the ANSI/ASSP A10.47 standard:

  • In a work zone that provides no means of escape from traffic intrusions, such as tunnels and bridges.
  • Whenever the work zone will be in place for two weeks or more.
  • When oncoming traffic is at least 45 mph, especially if the zone will see more than 20,000 vehicles per day.
  • When the buffer zone places workers within on-lane-width of active travel lanes.
  • When roadside hazards, such as unfinished bridge decks or ditches, will remain in place overnight or longer.

Automated flagger assistance technologies can further enhance work zone safety. These systems direct traffic and alert roadside workers if a vehicle infiltrates the work zone. 

4. Improve Worker Visibility

Improve Worker Visibility

The further away drivers can see workers, the easier it will be to avoid them. The FHWA’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways requires all roadside workers to wear high-visibility safety apparel that meets ANSI/ISEA’s Performance Class 2 or 3. Florescent colors and reflective materials can alert motorists that workers are present.

When doing nighttime road work, use proper lighting to illuminate the worksite. Lights ensure workers can safely operate all equipment and allow drivers to see all workers.

Tips for Safe Work Zones in Different Weather Conditions

You always need to take the forecast into account when planning safety procedures. Different weather and times of year can each pose unique hazards.

Rainy Conditions

A rainy day doesn’t always have to halt construction. Follow these tips to stay safe when it rains:

  • Wear rain-ready gear: Getting wet is uncomfortable, which can be distracting for workers. Rain jackets and pants keep everyone focused on the job. Further, slippery conditions call for waterproof footwear with increased traction. Remember that high-visibility clothing becomes even more critical when fog is present.
  • Use waterproof equipment: Rain can pose a hazard to your electrical equipment. To prevent malfunctions or electric shocks, be sure all your machinery can withstand wet conditions. Hold off on using any tools that may cause issues when wet.
  • Move with caution: Wet conditions can motivate workers to rush to finish a job. Remember that rainy weather can make walking areas slippery. It is essential to move slowly and stay aware of nearby traffic during the rain.

Hot and Sunny Conditions

The biggest threat to outdoor road work in the summer sun is heatstroke. Keep an eye on your team, stay hydrated and follow these tips to keep workers from overheating:

  • Wear breathable gear and sun protection: Breathable mesh vests meet visibility standards while keeping you cool. High-visibility SPF clothing and sunshade hard hats can also keep workers safe and comfortable in direct sunlight.
  • Use shade to your advantage: If your work zone has an area with tree cover, use this natural shade as a rest area. If there is no shade nearby, you may have to set up a temporary sunshade to keep workers out of the heat. Always remember that frequent breaks are vital to preventing heatstroke and similar conditions.
  • Time your work schedule: Whenever possible, try to schedule work outside the hottest part of the day. Pushing start times to earlier in the morning can help you get work done before the sun gets too hot. Likewise, evening work can help keep everyone cool. If rearranging the work schedule isn’t possible, be sure to schedule frequent breaks.

Cold or Snowy Conditions

Cold or Snowy Conditions

Cold-weather health conditions, slippery roads and malfunctioning equipment can all pose dangers. Here are a few ways to avoid these risks:

  • Wear insulated and waterproof gear: Low temperatures and snow can cause hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot. It can also cause discomfort and slower reflexes, impacting your workers’ ability to focus and stay safe. Winter-ready construction gear can keep workers warm and comfortable in the harshest weather conditions. Look for high-visibility winter coats, gloves, lined hard hats and waterproof boots.
  • Inspect vehicles: Cold weather can cause issues for construction vehicles and heavy machinery. Making sure everything works properly can also ensure workers do not get stranded during cold weather.
  • Monitor weather alerts: Blizzards, extreme wind chill and icy conditions can all delay road work. Keep a close watch on changing weather patterns. Temperatures can also dictate how often workers need to take breaks on the job.

Shop Our Safety Equipment and Traffic Control Products

At D.E. Gemmill Inc., we’re a knowledgeable team here to help you find compliant safety equipment and assist you with all your pavement and road work needs. Browse our collection of signage to redirect traffic and high-visibility clothing. You can also learn more about our temporary traffic control rentals. Let D.E. Gemmill Inc. help you promote work zone safety for your entire team.



Craig Adams, Inc. has used D.E. Gemmill exclusively for our Line Painting and Signage needs since the 90’s.  We have always been very pleased with the quality of work performed, jobs completed in a timely fashion, and at competitive prices, on all size projects.  A great company to do business with!

— B. Keller , General Manager    , W. Craig Adams Inc

It has always been a positive experience working with D.E. Gemmill. It all starts in the estimating department where I can always count on receiving a proposal that is accurate and thorough. Then we have the tough task of scheduling on tight time frame jobs where Cary and Dave always seem to work us in when we need it. The field guys always do their best to bring to our attention possible conflicts that could present problems if they notice something that isn’t quite right.

I would recommend D.E. Gemmill’s services for anyone looking to have professional and quality workmanship on their projects.

— W. Stevens , Project Manager , Mainline Excavating

We wanted to send you a thank you for the great job. The men working were very good and completed their job very professionally. I really like when you have a great team to work with. Again thank you and your crew, we would recommend your company to anyone.

— W. Willders , Westminster Place At Stewartstown

I would like to let you know that the line painting crew (Donnie, Albert, Scott, Tom, and Possum) did a fantastic job this week. It was a pleasure to work with them and the respect they showed me while I was riding along. Please pass my appreciation along to them.

Also if you can get Donnie into singing lessons that would be great.  My ears still feel the pain.


— S. Walker , City of Lebanon – Traffic Shop

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