The Increase of Work Zone Accidents
Maintaining our nation’s infrastructure is vital as it impacts our everyday lives, moving goods and people from place to place. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average person drives nearly 14,263 miles per year. Road and highway maintenance crews across the country work day in and day out to create a safer, more convenient transportation infrastructure.
With the fast pace of our day-to-day lives, federal, state, and local governments are sure to increase the quality of our nation’s streets, roads, and highways. But with that comes a downside – work zone accidents resulting in injuries and deaths. Being at an all-time high since 2006, there had been 35,542 fatal car accidents in 2020, with 774 of those fatal crashes being within the boundaries of work zones. What is the reason behind this unsafe trend and in what way can we promise to reduce the number of fatalities while creating safer work zones?
Drivers Having an Impact on Work Zones
The number of work zone accidents has been continuously climbing at a higher rate. According to Work Zone Barriers, in 2018 injured or killed workers on the job consisted of workers who were participating in road work, utility work, and planning or surveying. Duties that required employees to be placed in unsafe environments due to heavy traffic.
Types of duties on the job from harmed workers included:
- Paving Operations
- Placing of traffic signs
- Repairing Concrete
- Repairing Guardrails
- Utility Work
As there are many more work activities that can be listed, this only goes to show that various types of jobs that are in place of road or highway traffic have major risks at hand. Work zone crashes and fatalities were still rising even as the volume of traffic was lower due to the pandemic in 2020. As the normality of our everyday lives started to pick back up in late 2020, risky driving started to become a more common theme on our nation’s roads and highways. Risky driving includes:
- Distracted Driving – Claiming 3,142 lives in 2020
- Calling & Texting
- Passengers & Pets
All of which have been a leading cause in many work zone accidents. If drivers are distracted in some way, work zones will remain dangerous environments for maintenance crews all over the country.
Safety Regulations in Action
Laws, regulations, strategies, and techniques, all have been implemented to create safer work zones. Varying from the U.S Department of Transportation’s Safe System Approach, state laws like Ohio’s “Move Over” law, increasing work zone fines in Alabama, implementing educational safety activities to teen drivers while rewarding scholarship opportunities, speed cameras in work zones, work crew awareness, etc. All types of rules and regulations have been put in place to remind drivers to drive safer or pay the price.
An approach to creating safer work zones for highway workers revolving around five key elements
- Safe People
- Safer Roads
- Safer Vehicles
- Safer Speeds
- Post-Crash Care
Toward Zero Deaths is a national strategy implemented to increase awareness of the urge for safe driving on our nation’s highways. As the number of fatalities continued to rise, this strategy was put in place to gather safety plans throughout the country and bring them into one vision. Safety administrations work together to address the safety issue and aim to create stronger regulations to reach the goal of reducing the number of deaths down to zero.
- The Move Over law requires drivers to move over one lane passing by any vehicle with flashing or rotating lights parked on the roadside, which had been established in 1999. In December of 2013, the law had been revisited, adding it to apply to every stationary vehicle with flashing lights, including road construction, maintenance, and utility crews.
- Across the U.S., roadside accidents kill 23 highway workers every year.
- Work crews wearing bright colors to stand out
- The placement of consistent work zone signs and notices, along with cones, barriers, lane closures, lights, etc. to ensure drivers are aware of upcoming road work.
As there are plenty of regulations, laws, strategies, and techniques at hand to create work zones for maintenance crews, could there be more?
The Future of Road & Highway Maintenance
Like many other industries, robotics and automation are being applied to the most dangerous and monotonous work in the road and highway maintenance industry. Robotics and automation are negatively thought of by many workers, as they believe their jobs will be eliminated as automation is integrated. This is a myth. Integrating robotics into the road and highway maintenance industry will provide plenty of benefits that employers and employees will have a hard time looking past.
The Stigma Around Robotics
The truth is robotics and automation create the need for more rewarding careers and can shift human workers to complete duties that are more enjoyable and still important and productive to the company, leaving robots to complete the tedious and dangerous work.
Many do not realize that workers can also be trained to work with robots that need human collaboration. This also brings in a wider variety of candidates with higher training and education to work with collaborative robots. Assigning different work to humans and leaving high-risk work to robots can also increase the total factor productivity within the workplace.
The number of industries that have implemented automation into their processes continues to rise and is beneficial as it can fill the need for employees throughout the ongoing labor shortage. Integrating robotics into the road and highway maintenance industry has many benefits aside from filling open positions, including:
The high number of fatalities to maintenance crews in work zones can be reduced with robotics. Robotics can perform in an environment that is risky and unpleasant to workers. Today, drivers are more distracted than ever, making highway maintenance even more dangerous. With robotics, workers can be removed from some of the riskiest work zones to other jobs that need attention, out of harm’s way.
Integrating robots into your road and highway maintenance work can result in more precise outcomes in jobs, without the worry of human error. Robots have the capacity to repeat the same task over and over, creating the same great result no matter how monotonous the task may be.
Robotics can perform for a longer period, keeping efficiency at a high by continuously completing work, resulting in an increase in profits for the company. When an accident occurs within a work site, this can set back the entire job and productivity.
Robotics can save money by performing maintenance in a timely and precise manner while preserving materials and time. Robotics can also save money from the risk of workers being harmed in an unsafe environment or by not having to spend a fortune finding and paying an employee.
Robotics are also useful as the labor shortage is not near an end anytime soon. Removing human crew members from dangerous work zones throughout highway traffic, placing humans in other work sites that need their attention, and possibly being in a safer environment.
The Three D’s
Many robotic and automation integrators use The Three D’s to decide and explain why automation makes sense for them.
Robotics is an excellent option to perform dangerous jobs on road and highway maintenance sites. Not only does this remove human employees from dangerous situations day in and day out, but it also brings down insurance costs for employers as well while not having to worry about workers’ compensation, especially as work zone injuries and deaths have been at a constant incline.
Road and highway maintenance isn’t the most pleasant industry of them all. Working day after day in various weather conditions, working with different unsafe materials to get the job done, such as hot sealant.
The idea and thought of having to work in unsafe work environments come off unattractive. Risking maintenance crews’ lives by standing near heavy traffic while completing repetitive tasks all day. Crack sealing and cone setting are jobs that many workers are not eager to do. Adjusting workers to a better-suited work site and integrating robotics to complete the disengaging work will open other opportunities for those same employees to fill a safer and more rewarding position.
It’s Time to Automate
Overall, robotics and automation are being integrated into many different industries to make our jobs safer and less worrisome. As industries turn to automation to ease their pains of safety, productivity, and minimal labor choices, the road and highway maintenance industry can do the same.
Automate with RMV®
With Robotic Maintenance Vehicles, robotics can now benefit the road and highway maintenance industry. The Robotic Crack Sealer is the first of many modules being brought to the market to assist federal, state, and local governments and their maintenance routines.
The Robotic Crack Sealer is equipped with productive components that promise a complete job by the end of the shift. The RMV is full truck chassis, fitted with a Stateline generator, a FANUC R2000iC, Custom SealMaster CrackPro, an AI vision system with cameras and lasers, and an integrated blow-off system, all completed with a safety rail for the robot to perform. All the components built into the RMV allow for getting the job done in a safer, more efficient, and cost-effective way.
When it comes to crack sealing our nation’s highways and roads, maintenance sealing crews are put at huge risk by being placed on the road alongside oncoming traffic that is very unpredictable. RMV eliminates the risk on workers by minimizing the crew size from the average of 4-5 workers, down to one worker. Allowing crew members to work in a safer environment and keeping crews out of harm’s way.
The safety of highway maintenance crews should be the first thing considered; therefore, safety is our priority at RMV. With our components, crack sealing is simple as the driver remains in the cab of the truck, controlling and monitoring the robot from the provided HMI screen within the cab.
While driving over weathered roads, our AI vision system detects, scans, maps out, then translates to the robot exactly what needs to be repaired. This innovation also saves money and material. With a smart vision system, the robot dispenses a proper amount of sealant, with little to no wasted material.
The RMV was developed to save lives, by moving road workers off the road and out of harm’s way.
Reach out to our team today to learn more about how RMV can benefit your maintenance routines.