As the largest hot-mix asphalt producer and asphalt paving contractor in the U.S., Oldcastle Materials Inc. has about one-third of its workforce out in the field dedicated to roadway projects.
As a result, many Oldcastle employees are exposed to higher risks related to work-zone safety. Oldcastle, which also is a prominent presence in the industry for both aggregate and ready-mix production, implements a variety of best practices that go beyond rules and regulations to maintain and maximize work-zone safety. According to the company’s website, safety is its No. 1 guiding principle and core value, emphasizing that there is no better goal than zero fatalities and zero incidents.
“Work-zone safety is one of our high areas of exposure that we pay a lot of attention to,” Lee Cole, vice president of Environmental, Health and Safety for Oldcastle, told Roads & Bridges. “We know what’s required of us by the different rules and regulations, but we also realize that compliance alone does not guarantee that everybody goes home safely every day; so we [have] a beyond-compliance philosophy.”
Additional reflectivity and lighting is implemented in work zones at night to maintain safety.
A bottom-up approach
According to Cole, who has had nearly 40 years of experience in the industry, the past decade has shown a significant improvement in Oldcastle’s injury rates. The company’s website states that its accident frequency rate has been cut in half over the last decade. Though these years have not been completely devoid of safety incidents, the near misses have been taken as opportunities for employees to offer input on making adjustments to the company’s best practices.
“Over the past 5+ years, we’ve been more proactive in paying attention to our near misses or just creating an environment where our employees feel free to bring up new ideas,” Cole said. “Basically our approach to work-zone safety is a bottom-up approach, listening to our employees, those closest to the risk, tell us things we can do better, differently, change or improve to really provide a safer work environment.”
According to Cole, the company is prioritizing employee contributions, even going as far as to offer incentives for safety innovation. Every year, Oldcastle offers up innovation awards to employees who come up with new ways to make work sites safer. Employees are also encouraged to report any near misses in work zones that pose potential safety hazards. This increase in near-miss reporting has fostered a company culture that is more vigilant in reducing work-zone safety risks.
Mobile equipment is expected to be parked at an angle when not in use to deflect intruding vehicles.
One of the key ways the company maintains safety in work zones is to increase visibility, particularly during night work.
One of the ways that increased visibility is achieved is through personal illumination of the workers. Oldcastle employees can be seen wearing bright, fluorescent clothing in work zones at night. Hard hats also are adorned with illumination during night work, allowing Oldcastle employees to be as visible as possible after sunset. Workers put in charge of flagging traffic may have additional reflectivity on their clothing, and reflective tape can be found on the mobile equipment in use during night hours in order to be identifiable to the motoring public.
Some more simple practices that are implemented to maintain safety include keeping mobile equipment parked in a particular way if it is not in use or not moving. When it is parked, in order to avoid incidents as a result of work-zone intrusions, the vehicles are parked at angles against the flow of traffic in case a motorist does make their way into the work zone. Those particular parking angles assure that any intruding vehicle would be deflected from workers.
Other practices may involve keeping workers out of certain areas in work zones, such as away from backing trucks. According to Cole, maintaining a certain distance from any mobile equipment (i.e. a 10-ft rule) is usually implemented to maximize safety, whether it is a paving machine, truck or milling machine. These practices were created from within the company, and Cole said they have been life saving, giving credit to the employees for being conscientious about safety.
An advanced warning system can alert workers to an intruding motorist in work zones.
On Oldcastle roadway projects, some of the biggest risks to employees are work-zone intrusions, instances where motorists outside the work-zone intrude onto the jobsite.
“Work-zone intrusions are probably the highest and most uncontrollable risks that we [face] with our Oldcastle family out there on the jobsite,” Cole said. “Drunk drivers, people texting, people on the phone—that coupled with speed is really a formula for disaster, both for the traveling public and for our employees.”
Recognizing the high risk of intruders in work zones, Oldcastle developed a publication of its various best practices in place to respond to those incidents titled “Best Practices in Mitigating Work-Zone Intrusions,” a collection of solutions they have shared with others in the industry.
In order to combat the risk of work-zone intrusions, one of the main steps the team at Oldcastle took was partnering with a defense contractor who introduced technology to them that could identify incoming threats to soldiers in combat zones, such as a missile. This system also possessed the ability to destroy the incoming threat before it reached soldiers or their motorized vehicles.
Oldcastle adapted that technology to identify and deter threats coming into its work zones. “We took that technology and further developed it into giving our workers an extra amount of time to take evasive action,” Cole said. Calling it an advanced warning and risk evasion (AWARE) system, the team at Oldcastle tailored the technology to alert employees as well as the intruding motorists with an external warning that, according to Cole, buys Oldcastle workers an extra five to 10 seconds of warning time that could mean the difference between life and death.
AWARE also has the ability to record an incident on video when a particular event triggers the system. “Whether it be triggered by high speed or by the trajectory of the vehicle coming into our work zone, it’s based on not just the radar technology but also a stopping distance formula that tells the system there is an actual intrusion,” Cole said. Based on video that has been triggered by incidents of intrusion, Oldcastle has seen promising results of the impact of the AWARE system. Video footage shows incidents where the external warning was triggered and caused not only the driver to either stop or slow down, but also alerted the workers in time to keep them out of harm’s way.
The team at Oldcastle is currently in the final stages of development for the AWARE system. “We’ve got about 12-13 paving crews across the U.S. using the technology,” Cole said. The plan is to have more of their crews use the system throughout 2017. Once the system is fully developed, Oldcastle will explore the appropriate avenues to ensure that the entire industry has an opportunity to benefit from the attributes of this system.
Educating the public on the dangers of work-zone intrusion has been a collaborative effort for Oldcastle in association with Granite Construction, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) and Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) for the past three years. Sharing its best practices with the industry and always looking for new ways to think beyond regulations are company qualities that make Oldcastle a role model for work-zone safety in roadway construction.