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Nighttime Road Safety

Best practices for worker safety.

August 10, 2012  By Jim LaFontaine

On most weeknights and non-holiday weekends across major urban centres
throughout Canada, construction crews are busy widening or repairing the
country’s infrastructure.

On most weeknights and non-holiday weekends across major urban centres throughout Canada, construction crews are busy widening or repairing the country’s infrastructure. All will agree that heavy civil construction is dangerous and meant for daylight hours.  However, due to the impact of even a one-lane closure on a major freeway during rush hour, the provincial government’s Road Authority dictates the majority of roadwork be performed at night to minimize disruption of the goods and services moving across this great land. 


Construction companies can employ a number of controls to lessen the risk of workers being “struck by” vehicles, machines or equipment. The Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) advises struck-by injuries are the second leading cause of death in construction.  Three workers were killed in 2011 in Ontario: one worker placing traffic control signs was struck by a motor vehicle in Kitchener; a second worker was struck by a rubber tire loader on a sewer project in Windsor and the third fatality was due to a reversing skid steer at a residential site in London. Already in 2012, another tragic incident occurred when a reversing rock truck struck a worker in Northern Ontario. The MOL statistics from 1990 to 2008 illustrate the need by employers to implement controls that reduce worker exposure to struck-by fatalities. During this period, a total of 60 workers were killed which are classified as struck-by incidents and reversing equipment caused 27 of those workers’ deaths. This negative trend must be stopped.

Freeway traffic control requires pre-planning of all construction activities including the placement of fluorescent line marking for staging and ensuring proper access/egress for construction vehicles to slip on and off the live lane and into the work zone. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation has been utilizing fluorescent orange line marking on a number of projects across the province to increase awareness among motorists and alert them that they are entering an active work zone. Traffic protection plans and safe traffic control procedures must be part of a comprehensive safety management system developed by competent persons and communicated to all workers on the site. Only experienced and well-trained workers can perform traffic control. This type of work is very specialized and most employers have specialty crews whose primary task is to set and remove lane closures in freeway conditions.


Amendments have been incorporated into many of Canada’s provincial Occupational Health and Safety Acts, which prescribe that employers must follow regional manuals for uniform traffic control. In Ontario, Traffic Manual Book 7 is the required guideline to be followed mandating consistent traffic control measures and procedures. Providing motorists with positive guidance is critical to ensuring a safe work zone and ultimately better protection for workers. Active traffic control devices provide real-time messages alerting motorists of upcoming construction activity. Portable Variable Message Boards or PVMS display important information well in advance or upstream of the approaching lane closure or speed reduction zone during nighttime closures. This provides valuable information for motorists to prepare and increase their reaction time to the inevitable stoppage of traffic. A number of workers on foot have been struck by motorists after the vehicle enters the closed lane to avoid a rear-end crash. During nighttime closures, the leading factors of crashes are related to motorists who do not react to the advance warnings of the flashing arrow board indicating the driving lane is shut down. Other drivers will recognize there is construction activity and race ahead changing lanes at the last moment before striking the traffic control devices. The end of the taper for the lane closure must be kept clear of any persons, vehicles or equipment, as many times this is the area of high probability for a crash. Many employers hire paid duty officers and use the police presence to ensure all motorists abide by the rules to move over and comply with speed reductions set out to protect the public and the work crews. 

Improvements to increase the visibility/awareness of workers on the ground have been slow in development but new technology has been introduced in the past few years. The introduction of LED lighting is a major step forward. These new fixtures guarantee a 100,000-hour warranty and provide greater natural light versus the traditional fluorescent alternative. The LED wavelength is closer to the sun and creates less shadow effect. This now allows the paving crew to see transitions in the roadway with minimal glare. The LED fixture only requires a one amp versus a four-amp fluorescent bulb and reduces charging time on the equipment battery system. Further nighttime enhancements include the use of high-visibility personal protective equipment, or PPE. CSA Z96 approved safety vests provide 360-degree protection to ensure workers can be seen at all angles with proper lighting. Employers also place reflective tape on the workers’ hard hats and utilize arm/leg bands to provide additional visibility. 

Recently, radio frequency identification, or RFID, systems have been tested on equipment to detect workers who are located in the back-up hazard zones. Workers have sensors installed into their safety vest and inside the shell of the hard hat to prevent a struck-by incident. A machine equipped with the smart back-up sensor will detect a tagged worker behind the machine within six metres and alert the operator with both an audible alarm and a visual signal during both day- and nighttime operations. Companies continue to conduct pilot studies and thus far the results have been very positive. Cameras are also proving very effective for large machines such as graders, bulldozers and rock trucks, which aid the operator when reversing. 

Many cases of struck-by incidents are caused by operators of vehicles and equipment reversing when their intended path of travel is obstructed. Many provincial jurisdictions mandate that a signal person be used to assist the operator when reversing. This can compound the risk to workers providing signaling during nighttime operations if they cannot be seen or enter the blind spot of the equipment operator. Employers are required to develop safe work procedures to control the hazard of reversing struck-by incidents and post signs warning workers of the dangers of reversing equipment.  Additionally, employers are to ensure the operation minimizes equipment or vehicles reversing and develop a “drive-thru” operation.

Training of truck drivers is a key element as the statistics reveal that approximately 75% of back-up fatalities are caused by reversing trucks. Back-up beepers are effective, but on a freeway project with multiple machines reversing and the constant drone of freeway traffic noise, the back-up alarms are drowned out or ignored by conditioned workers exposed to these sounds on a nightly basis. 

Trucks working at night also increase the risk of an incident. Most incidents are caused by the raised truck box striking overhead power lines, bridges or overhead signs on freeways. Training must be provided to the drivers and signal persons to ensure the truck box is lowered before the driver begins to exit the site. Contact with an overhead power line can be deadly if anyone is near the truck when the box makes contact with the energized line. Safe work procedures and a hazard assessment must be completed and communicated in writing to all personnel with emphasis on the drivers.

Large signs warning of the proximity of live electrical lines must also be posted directly under the overhead power line. Many trucking firms have begun to switch over from the straight tri-axle dump truck to the “live” bottom units, which no longer raise the box and reduce to the risk of power line contact.

This article has been prepared by Jim LaFontaine, CRSP. Jim is the health, safety and environmental manager of Dufferin Construction; A Division of Holcim (Canada) Inc. He is also the co-chair of the Ontario Construction Provincial Labour Management Health and Safety Committee, representing the Ontario Road Builders Association.

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