No Compromise

Roadway Work Zones Are Hazardous for Surveyors

You cannot afford to forget that you work in a hazardous profession! Surveyors work alongside professions that the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Safety Council deem as some of the most dangerous jobs to have, including construction, mining, and oil and gas drilling. Potential accidents range from being clobbered by a piece of heavy equipment falling off a New York City scaffold to being mauled by a bear in the wilds of the Rockies. One common safety concern the majority of surveyors face is working around roadways—places often congested with impatient drivers, where the breeze of a tractor-trailer can cause a surveyor to grip his total station and just hang on.

According to, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded 576 fatalities in roadway work zones as a result of motor vehicle crashes in 2010, the latest year figures were available. In an effort to minimize accidents, federal and state governments and their agencies have rules and regulations to improve safety in work zones. The Federal Highway Administration sets the standard safety requirements, and states also include these mandates in their legislation.

In Florida, for instance, Marilyn Evers, executive director of the Florida Surveying and Mapping Society, said, “The Florida Department of Transportation requires Maintenance of Traffic training, including where to put signs and cones. There’s a whole science to it.” Crewmembers also are required to stand out, wearing brightly colored vests. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established specific rules, including the wearing of high visibility garments, that can be found in the OSHA Act under 29 CFR 1926.201(a).

Maryland’s State Highway Administration requires that enough crew be on site as lookouts or flagmen. Washington state’s Department of Transportation mandates that, “If there is an accident, the survey crew is required to have at least one member possessing a first aid card, and the crew rig must contain a first aid kit.” Some safety advocates have said, however, that having just one member trained in first aid is insufficient—what if he or she is the one who is injured?

Several years ago, the Kansas Department of Transportation issued a “Standing Permit Policy for Land Surveyors” working within the state highway system right-of-way that “will be strongly enforced,” according to the regulation. Parts of the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is included in the Kansas policy, such as having a rotating amber light atop survey vehicles and not allowing unattended vehicles closer than 30 feet to the edge of the pavement. Not knowing about the requirements is no excuse, and the regulations state, “You will be ordered to leave” if you’re in violation.

The Texas Department of Transportation found that “the two leading causes of work zone crashes are excessive speed and the failure to remain alert while driving. As a result, one in three work zone crashes is a rear-end collision.”

Ginger Walker, executive director of the Surveying and Mapping Society of Georgia (SAMSOG), reported that a surveyor in her state had to be life-flighted to a hospital following a roadwork accident in which the driver of a truck hit his brakes and the driver behind him swerved and spun out, the rear end of the car hitting the surveyor. Walker said his injuries were serious, but he was expected to survive.

“I’ve been with SAMSOG for four years and this is the first surveyor hit in my tenure,” Walker said, an enviable record given that “Georgia typically has on-going roadwork, especially around Atlanta.”

Just like with other surveying organizations, an emphasis on safety is ongoing with her society, she said, whether it’s articles in their magazine or training sessions such as one two years ago run by the state not only for surveyors, but also utility workers and others who work alongside highways. “Probably it’s time to do it again,” Walker said.

Websites with more information on highway safety

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)

American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA)

National Work Zone Safety Information Clearing House

American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA)

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  

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