SAFETY on the Front Lines

Written by  John Obr

Over the past month, I have had the opportunity to attend local AGC meetings in Abilene, Houston and El Paso. The major issue discussed at each of these meetings continues to be safety, which is my favorite topic. I appreciate AGC’s emphasis on this top priority.

We all have been saddened by the tragedy on June 25, 2013 when we lost one of our own, El Paso District Maintenance Technician Ciro Lozano, who was struck and killed in a hit and run accident while working on the site of a maintenance project.

As we enter the busiest time of the year for the highway construction industry and the time of year that the traveling public hits the roads for summer vacations, please remind everyone you know, including your families and friends, to use caution as we drive through our construction work zones. We need to set an example for the traveling public to ensure that we all exit the work zones in the same condition we enter the work zones, safe and sound.

Please understand that there is one primary reason for the emphasis on safety by the department. We want every person working on TxDOT projects to return home to their loved ones at the end of the work day. Simple enough. That includes all contractor personnel as well as department employees. As part of our effort to be the best-in-class department of transportation, it stands to reason that we are going to set the highest expectation of Safety: Mission ZERO. This isn’t a just a performance measure; this is our TxDOT family making sure that every family involved in the highway construction industry enjoys every birthday, anniversary and summer vacation together.

When the agency requires new special specifications (000-2711) for reporting injuries and vehicle incidents, it has a twofold purpose. First, we need to know exactly what is happening out in the field. If there are projects with high reporting numbers, we need to be aware and understand the causes of these incidents. When we understand the problems, corrective measures can be taken to improve safety. Secondly, we can learn best practices from our partners who are having success with reporting ZERO injuries and ZERO vehicular incidents on a monthly basis.

For example, we started a best practice of setting up “Contractor Force Account – Safety Contingencies” on all projects. This contingency allows for the department to set aside funds that will enhance the work zone safety for a project. If either the contractor or department personnel have ideas for improving the work zone safety on a project, the contingency account allows for a quick turnaround to implement the improvement on the project as quickly as possible for the benefit of all.

A recent outcome from our Joint Work Zone Safety Task Force has been the requirement of a Safety Pre-Construction meeting, where we bring together the contractor, law enforcement and the department to discuss, in detail, the work zone traffic control plan, construction phasing and any need for changes to improve work zone and traffic safety. These meetings will generally occur on the same day as our required pre-construction meeting, but will give emphasis to our work zones. It will also give all parties the opportunity to discuss the frequency of future work zone and safety meetings for the project. Any ideas for safety contingency can also be discussed prior to project initiation, in order to kick off a project with all three safety partners on the same page.

Again, a quick shout of thanks to all our contracting partners on the safety front. Your willingness to share your thoughts and ideas with TxDOT supports our charge to take our best-in-class safety program to the next level, and your efforts are very much appreciated.

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