Road Safety near Construction Zones / Roadworks

Road Safety near Construction Zones / Road WorksIntroduction and Overview

Increased infrastructure spending and funding for road construction have led to a significant increase in the number of highway construction projects around South Africa. The safety of road users and workers is a concern on roads and highways worldwide.

Thousands of people are killed when traffic has to pass through road construction or maintenance works every year. The numbers of construction zone injuries and fatalities are predicted to climb even higher.

According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the annual number of persons killed in motor vehicle crashes in work zones in the US has increased 45 per cent over the last 10 years. The majority of these fatalities are drivers or occupants; however, 15 per cent are non-motorists - including pedestrians, bikers and construction workers.

In this section, we will discuss the threat to road safety at construction zones and provide advice to enhance the safety of motorists and road construction workers.

The Risks to Road Safety at Construction Zones

Road construction zones present a deadly hazard for workers, motorists, and pedestrians. This hazard is brought about by high-speed limits, impatient drivers, and widespread traffic congestion.  To this we can add heat, driving stress, and long stretches of highway under construction - creating a recipe for extreme driving hazards for motorists and road workers alike.

The construction zones are also called “Cone Zones” - those portions of the highways marked by cones, barrels, and signs where road construction is taking place. Some work zones might have a speed-monitoring device to alert motorists of their speed before entering the work zone.  Even though they are marked and signposted as areas where motorists must slow down and drive with extra caution, many drivers speed up to get through the construction area as quickly as possible.

Construction or maintenance zones will have roadway signs in advance to warn motorists that road work is being done. Active work zones are designated as such to notify motorists when they enter and leave the work zone.

The main causes of deaths and injuries at construction zones are:

  • Speeding traffic - the number one cause of death and injury in highway construction work zones.

  • Inadequate signposting and lighting and drivers failing to notice road workers. 

  • Drivers do not pay attention to work zone signs or flaggers indicating they should slow down or come to a stop

  • Drivers are distracted by cellular phone calls, conversations, and activities at the roadside and are not merging properly. 

  • Drivers are driving right up to the last second and then try to force themselves in - if the other driver doesn't let them get in, they enter the work zones and endanger the lives of workers.

National awareness campaigns are one way to convey the message that out on road, orange-clad workers and orange cones mean "slow down”. Experts say that an elementary grasp of colour-coded signs is crucial. Drivers should also be encouraged to follow the rules of the road through construction zones across the country. 

Traffic enforcement is another way to improve safety. Many states in the US have greatly increased penalties for speeding through work zones. Tough new measures are implemented to encourage drivers to slow down and avoid the potentially deadly consequences of reckless driving through work zones. 


Road Safety near Construction Zones / Road Works Road Safety near Construction Zones / Road Works

Managing the Construction Zone

Roadworks operations need to be carefully planned and administered to avoid accidents. Most accidents with minor plant and equipment are caused by improper usage and poor maintenance. Management guidelines of construction zones are very comprehensive - we would, however, like to focus on a few examples of how effective management can limit the risk of accidental road accidents:

  • Signs must be kept clean and well maintained if they are to be effective. 

  • Press and radio releases are often a valuable means of warning drivers of what to expect at a site, thus minimising impatient and dangerous behaviour. [This is also good PR!] 

  • Workers who control traffic must be properly trained. 

  • Traffic controllers must know where to stand, how to slow or stop traffic, and how to coordinate public and construction traffic movements.

  • Controllers should use two-way radio communication when visual contact between traffic controllers is not possible. Where the site is suitable and they are available, arrangements should be made to use temporary traffic signals to control traffic.

  • Traffic controllers and general road workers should wear suitable conspicuous clothing to ensure that they can be seen by motorists

  • Unnecessary traffic control signs or road markings must be removed as they tend to confuse motorists and make them careless. 

  • Where vehicles are held up in queues, a worker might be appointed to talk with motorists, apologise for delays, estimate the length of the delay, and generally keep people informed.

  • Speed limits should be consistent with safe site operations and traffic movements. 

  • Compliance with reasonable speed limits will then be more likely - If motorists perceive a speed limit to be unrealistic, they are likely to disregard it.

  • A variety of devices and technology can provide information to motorists, including brighter, bigger electronic signs. 

  • Trucks which are regularly used for transporting workers should be closed, have seats which are attached to the vehicle and have a safe means of access and egress. Drivers of trucks carrying passengers should be alert, dependable and careful. 

  • A systematic preventative maintenance programme should be established for all trucks, plant, and vehicles. 

  • All-access points leading to the area where construction blasting works are carried out must be manned to prevent entry during blasting. 

  • Etc.

Road Safety for drivers/motorists at construction zones/ roadworks

Perhaps the best way to avoid long delays, frustration, and the potential for an accident is to avoid construction zones whenever possible. If a construction zone is unavoidable, drivers should allow extra time in their schedules in case there are traffic delays. Every safe driver has a responsibility to exercise caution and good judgment in construction zones. Consideration for the safety of construction workers and other motorists can help turn highway construction areas into “safe zones” for everyone.

Before embarking on the road to the construction zone it is advised to schedule enough time to drive safely and to check the radio or internet websites for traffic information. Expect delays and leave early so you can reach your destination on time.

Safety professionals recommend several precautions to help make construction zones safer for everyone:

  • When approaching a construction/maintenance situation exercise caution and slow down. 

  • Observe warning and caution signs before entering a construction zone. 

  • Observe these posted signs until you see the one that says you've left the work zone.

  • Turn on your lights to make your vehicle more visible.

  • Expecting the unexpected is a golden rule when travelling through construction zones.

  • Avoid abrupt driving manoeuvres.

  • Always be aware that vehicles ahead of you may stop unexpectedly. 

  • Maintain a safe following distance. Rear-end collisions are one of the most common types of construction zone accidents.

  • Drivers should slow to the posted speed and move to the proper lane as instructed. 

  • Traffic and road conditions may dictate an even slower speed. 

  • Keep -up with the traffic flow. Motorists can help maintain traffic flow and posted speeds by merging smoothly and not slowing to "gawk" at road work and equipment and crews.

  • Obey road crew flaggers! The flagger knows what is best for moving traffic safely in the work zone. A flagger has the same authority as a regulatory sign, so you can be cited for disobeying his or her direction.

  • Drivers should not wait until the last minute to merge to the correct lane.

  • Use correct merging techniques when changing lanes - use your indicators.

  • Narrow lanes and restricted shoulders make construction zones a commonplace for lane-change accidents.

  • Regular traffic lanes are often shifted to temporary lanes and shoulders that may not provide the stability regular traffic lanes offer.

  • Stay alert for aggressive drivers. If another motorist is aggressively jockeying for position, drivers should let them move on. Challenging another driver encourages road rage and endangers the safety of other motorists and workers in the area.

  • Avoid distracting activities. Remaining alert for unexpected hazards is critical when travelling through construction zones. Talking on a cell phone, tuning the radio, eating, reading, or other similarly distracting activities can quickly lead to an accident. 

  • Watch for construction equipment and workers. Construction equipment entering and exiting a work zone without warning, equipment extending into traffic, and construction crews and flaggers working dangerously close to moving traffic are a few of the hazards to expect.

  • Stay alert for obstacles and debris. Construction equipment, signs, and barriers may be located close to the edge of the roadway. Debris from work projects, especially dust, dirt, and gravel, may cause added disruption. 

  • Be patient, cautious, and courteous. Remember, the work zone crew members are working to improve the road and make your future drive better.

Road Safety near Construction Zones / Road Works Road Safety near Construction Zones / Road Works

Road Safety for workers at construction zones

Construction and road workers confront not only the threat of oncoming traffic but a constant barrage of bottles and abuse from enraged motorists. It is important to understand the importance of road work and maintenance and respect the road workers and their right to safety.

In addition to the ever-present danger of traffic accidents, road workers are prone to heat stress, hearing problems, and occasional respiratory distress. Working on sites packed with roaring equipment can take a heavy toll on these workers.

Several safety measures are taken to protect both workers and motorists alike.  These include modern flagging operations; use of concrete median barriers; bright orange cones and barrels to separate traffic from workspace; highly reflective sheeting on orange work zone signs; rumble strips to alert motorists to road conditions; and reduced work zone speed limits with dedicated police enforcement.

The safety and well-being of road workers can be improved with the following guidelines:

  • Wearing sunscreen, a hat, and long-sleeved shirts to protect from sunburn, dehydration, and overheating. 

  • Drinking a cup of water every 20 minutes or so in very hot weather to help prevent dehydration.

  • Managers should ensure that new employees are prepared to work in all types of traffic - They should feel comfortable using flagmen - workers who use flags to signal drivers and warn them that they're approaching a worksite -and have enough road sense to never turn their back to oncoming traffic.

  • New workers should be taught how to manoeuvre around massive pieces of equipment and to safeguard a site for optimal security 

  • Use protective equipment and personal protective gear (such as hard hats and steel-toed shoes). 

  • Reflective clothing is also crucial, especially for night shift work. 

  • Noise levels should be monitored at all times to prevent hearing loss - it is suggested that workers wear earmuffs or earplugs to shield their eardrums from high decibels. 

  • There should be training in how to set up a safe work zone - You can't just get out there and flag and yell, 'Slow down,'".There's a way to properly instruct vehicles to slow down and away to set up a work zone.

  • Workers should be constantly reminded to remain vigilant and alert!

Road Safety near Construction Zones / Road Works Road Safety near Construction Zones / Road Works


Many motorists view road construction workers as an inconvenience, but they should rather look at them as a service. Road and maintenance workers are doing their best to minimise motorist inconvenience. No matter how it seems to the motorist, road workers and flaggers are striving to improve traffic safety conditions, and it is up to the driver to be alert, aware, and responsive.

Also view

Construction Safety

Safety of workers and flagmen in areas of road construction

Sharing Roads and the Zipper Merge in Traffic

Safe Driving Techniques

What to do in Case of Emergency

Accident Scene Safety

Roadworks and Road Safety