By K C Pawling, Road Safety and Loss Prevention Specialist

I’m writing this about two weeks after a local (to where I live) NDOT employee was fatally injured by a vehicle while responding to a call which involved cleaning some corn gluten off a State highway. County forces were also on the scene lending aide to NDOT.

Many of us that work with the motoring public understand that there are inherent risks when dealing with drivers. There are many circumstances that drivers could be involved in that lead to three different types of driver distractions: visual, manual, and cognitive. A visual distraction is anything that causes you to take your eyes off the road. Manual distractions are those that require us to take our hands off the road. The final type is cognitive, which is a mental distraction. It’s important to note that there are scenarios where we have all three types of distractions at once.

The focus of this article is to make you think about and understand the drivers we encounter. At any time or place on the road system drivers can be distracted. Honestly, the work we are doing out on the roads can be a distraction for the driver. We need to ask ourselves if we are doing what we can to control the risks the road crews are encountering on worksites.

First, we all know it is required that anyone working on the road right-of-way should be wearing a Type II safety vest. Is your county providing the PPE that is necessary to keep your road crews safe while meeting the requirements of the law? If you are not, I am strongly encouraging you to start. And, if need be, make a written policy for your department to wear appropriate PPE and then enforce the policy with disciplinary action.

Second, are you controlling the environment in which employees are working? Obviously, we cannot control the weather, but the environment that I am speaking about is the work zone. Do you have adequate signing for the situation? Do you need flaggers to stop and control the movements and flow of traffic? Are we communicating our needs or intentions effectively with drivers passing through the work zone?

Finally, are your crews trained for the circumstances in which they will be working? Have they had temporary traffic control training? Are they certified flaggers, and when did they last complete flagger training? Do they understand the challenges of operating equipment under the pressure of passing traffic? Are you regularly talking on the job about how the decisions they make out in the work zones will affect not only themselves, but also their co-workers and family?

If you answer no to any of the questions above, I encourage you to change your practices. Injuries or fatalities should not be part of the job. Especially when you can train, train and train some more. The way your employees feel about the PPE requirements or training should not be any concern. Keeping them safe should be the greatest concern you have!

If you have any questions about the necessary PPE or training opportunities that your departments have, please contact me. Let’s talk about any of the concerns or questions you may have. Our county road departments have some great people, and I hope nothing happens to any of you. Remember, the risk can be managed. I can be reached at or 402-310-4417. I should also mention that we do provide distracted driver training for NIRMA members. Be safe!