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Worksite Protection


Everyday throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts police officers working road details are put in danger by the agency or utility they are there to protect. Very often the agency or utility negligently or recklessly fails to implement measures required in work site protection guidelines and regulations. (Because many details are for utilities, I will refer to utilities as the outside employer for simplicity sake). When these officers are hurt as a result of the utility’s failures to implement work site protection, the officers have valuable actionable claims for compensation. The work site protection guidelines and regulations include an elaborate framework of measures to be taken by the person conducting road work on a multitude of road conditions. Many utilities have their own work site protection guidelines which the assigned crew is required to observe. Further, the Federal Highway Administration publishes work site protection guidelines for road work in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (“MUTCD”), which is regarded as the bible of the industry. The Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation has published the MUTCD since the 1930's. The most recent printed version is Revision 3, Part VI, Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices: Standards and Guides for Traffic Controls for Street and Highway Construction, Maintenance, Utility, and Incident Management Operations (1993). The MUTCD identifies traffic control devices to regulate, warn and guide traffic. These devices consist of signs, signals, pavement markings and other devices, which are placed on, over, or adjacent to streets and highways by agencies which have the jurisdiction to regulate traffic flow. The MUTCD sets forth the uniform standards of these devices and the layout of these devices in all 50 states. Engineers also rely on the MUTCD to develop traffic management plans, signage and markings that are consistent across the nation and that are easily understood by the motoring public.

In addition to the MUTCD and the utility’s own company guidelines on work site protection, is Chapter 9 of the Mass Highway Design Manual, Metric Edition, 1997 on Highway Safety. This chapter governs all work done on Massachusetts highways. In many places the Mass Highway Design manual follows and cites the MUTCD. Finally, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA) requires crews working on roadways to set up work area protection as well. In pertinent part OSHA (29 CFR 1910.268(d)(1)) states: “Before work is begun in the vicinity of vehicular or pedestrian traffic which may endanger employees, warning signs and/or flags or other traffic control devices shall be placed conspicuously to alert and channel approaching traffic. Where further protection is needed, barriers shall be utilized.”

To demonstrate the effectiveness of work site protection measures, I will discuss a temporary work area located on the side of the road or in the right lane nearest the curb. Traffic cones are one type of traffic control device and are referred to here as an example, not the rule. In both the Mass Highway Design Manual and the MUTCD are formulas for the distance cones should be extended alongside and before the work areas, the number of cones, the spacing of cones and the pattern of placement. The diagram included here is Figure VI-1 of the MUTCD, which is included in the Mass Highway Design Manual as well. The buffer space provides protection for both traffic and workers, as well as the officer on detail who positions to the rear of the work area inside the buffer space. The traffic cones are placed straight out from the rear of the vehicle before tapering back in the transition area to the edge of the road (to start channeling away cars approaching the work area). The MUTCD and Mass Highway Design Manual provide guides for the length of the buffer space, Table VI-1. Based on Table VI-1, for the posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour, the buffer space would be 55 feet. At the end of the buffer space, the traffic cones would be tapered back toward the edge of the road over another 175 feet. This causes the approaching traffic to move to the left, or “channel” over, before reaching the buffer space. Thus, there would be 230 feet of cones for an errant driver to pass and potentially knock over and drag before ever reaching the officer on detail, and this is on a 25 mph roadway. As the speed limit of the roadway increases the length of the buffer zone and transition area lengthens. Table VI-1 of the MUTCD is included as an example of the increasing length of buffer spaces as the speed limit of the roadway increases. Similarly, the transition areas lengthen as the speed limit increases.

In many cases where I have represented police officers injured on details, the local police officer is treated as a human cone. The utility arrives with little or no cones at all. The officer by necessity often locates behind the vehicle in flourescent garb to provide maximum protection and gain the best vantage point. In essence, the officer becomes a human cone to be knocked over by an errant or impaired driver before striking the utility vehicle or entering the work area. Injuries in such situations have resulted in broken necks and head injuries, not to mention fractures, lacerations and neck and back sprains. In one recent case, the elderly operator who struck such an officer testified he saw the utility truck on the side of the road but didn’t realize men were working there. This elderly man was so vision impaired he never saw the officer as he probably concentrated on the oncoming traffic to his left while he approached the truck ahead on his right. Without a line of cones to channel him away from the work area, the officer, who was positioned to the rear of the truck, never had a chance. The officer, while wearing his flourescent jacket and gloves in daylight, was struck by the elderly operator’s vehicle and suffered career ending injuries after undergoing two rounds of surgery on his cervical spine.

The traffic cones also provide an audible warning to persons at the work site when knocked over or when the traffic cones are dragged underneath a vehicle after being struck. In addition, the knocking over of the traffic cones and dragging one or more traffic cones provide both a tactile and audible warning to the driver to correct or alter his course. The work site protection measures outlined in the MUTCD and Mass Highway Design Manual are required regardless of the duration of the work done. Special provisions are made for so called moving operations. Utilities typically will pre survey the roadway to determine the level of work site protection necessary. In the industry what they create is called a traffic management plan. The problem often comes not from the engineer designing the project or traffic management plan, but from the supervisor or crew who are under time pressures to get work done. Either because of time pressures or sloppiness, they do not properly set up the work area protection. When proper work site protection is not set up, the crew, their equipment and the detail officer are endangered by approaching and passing traffic. One utility’s training video on work site protection, shown to all employees doing road work, instructs that without work site protection each one of the crew becomes a “target.” The presence of a detail officer does not excuse the utility from providing work site protection measures.

There is a Millennium edition of the MUTCD which has come out, but will not be ready until the Spring, 2001. You can read the Millennium edition, Part 6 on work area protection at the following link:

You can get information on ordering at this website:

You can also order a hard copy of the latest version of the MUTCD by mail from the Government Printing Office (GPO), Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250_7954. To order by telephone, call 202_512_1800. You will be requesting the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD 1988 Edition) $57, with latest revisions, Stock no. 650_001_00001_0. 9. The Mass Highway Design Manual can be purchased from the Mass Highway Department for $75.00.

Many police injury cases involve sophisticated legal issues, problems of proof, technical insurance policy coverage disputes, and issues that arise under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 41, Section 100 and Section 111F. I handle these cases on a contingent-fee basis. If I successfully collect money on the claim, the injured officer need only pay for legal services, where the fee is typically one-third of the money collected, plus out-of-pocket expenses, if any. If I fail to collect money for the injured officer, the officer will owe nothing for legal services, except, in some cases, for out-of- pocket expenses. As a courtesy, I am available by telephone or e-mail to answer all questions MPA members may have regarding this article, past or current injuries on duty and related topics.

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