With at least a dozen roadside workers being killed while on the job since 2011, the RCMP is ramping up its presence on local roads to remind drivers to slow down in the cone zone.
Now in its 11th year, the B.C. Cone Zone Campaign focuses on reminding drivers, employers, and workers to do their due diligence in preventing death and injury to roadside workers on the province’s roadways.
“One of the greatest risks to a roadside worker is a motor vehicle being driven through their workplace,” said Louise Yako, spokesperson for Cone Zone campaign.
“Campaigns like this are immensely important because they’re the one of the only ways roadside workers really have to communicate with road users in a more unified approach,” explained Karesse Desmond, who works as a flagger in roadside construction zones, and also trains flagging professionals.
“A lot of our interactions (with drivers) are non-verbal or limited,” Desmond continued, and it’s “hard to work with drivers who are distracted, who are not looking for us, or who are completely distracted while operating a motor vehicle.”
“Dangerous driving behaviour like speeding and distracted driving puts these workers at risk of (not only) injury, (but) death. Until the number of fatalities and injuries is zero, we will continue to take action to protect roadside workers,” Yako added.
Supported by the Work Zone Safety Alliance and managed by Road Safety At Work, the Cone Zone campaign also partners with the RCMP Fraser Coast District Integrated Road Safety Unit, and hopes a continual police presence on roads will create a visual determent to dangerous driving.
As spring turns to summer, many areas of the province, including the Eastern Fraser Valley, are expected to see a rise in roadside construction work, so from now until the end of August, police will be targeting those driving in an unsafe manner.
We hope “nobody gets a ticket and that we work ourselves out of a campaign,” said Yako. But, hope as they may, the reality in B.C. is 23 workers died as a result of a roadside injury last year alone.
And while the campaign is always important, Yako says it’s vital this year “because we have a lot of pent up demand in people wanting to travel, especially within the province, and they don’t (necessarily) drive as carefully as they should through work zones.”
To have the biggest impact, the safety campaign will also include a traffic enforcement blitz at roadside worksites throughout the Eastern Fraser Valley. There, officers will target unsafe drivers near and in cone zones, issuing tickets from $196 for disobeying a flag person, to $483 for speeding.
There are also a wide variety of work zone types to be on the watch for, says Yako. “Most people are familiar with road maintenance, but there are a variety of categories of roadside workers: police, tow truck drivers, even landscapers by” highways are considered roadside workers, and all depend on drivers to respect the Cone Zone to keep their workplaces safe.
That said, “there are some situations where cones can’t be physically placed, and are harder (for drivers) to recognize,” continued Yako. “So it comes down to being alert, paying attention, and moving over into another lane—if there is one” to maintain a safe worksite parameter.
“I always look for a driver’s eyes,” explained Desmond. “If I can’t see (their eyes), that tells me that they’re otherwise occupied and that puts me at risk and makes my job twice as hard.
“They’re (almost) all short sites,” she continued. We’re just asking for “two minutes of attention, not two hours. Putting down the phone, looking up (and) looking for us can make a world of difference.
“Even if you’re hands-free, you’re not mind-free,” said Desmond. “You’re still talking, listening to music, or yelling at your kids. Both hands may be on the wheel, but your mind isn’t on the road, (where) your focus (should be).
“I just need you to focus on me for two minutes, and when (that time is up), you’re welcome to go back to driving (as you wish).”
“Just be extra diligent and careful this year,” the social and economic consequences resulting from a loss of life or serious injury are costly, Yako said.
Also, under B.C.’s “Slow Down, Move Over” legislation, drivers should be prepared to reduce speed and, if safe to do so, move over to an open lane when approaching a vehicle with flashing amber, red, or blue lights (tow, fire, police).
Employers and workers can also access online tools and resources at ConeZoneBC.com.
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