We’re not doing enough to protect workers, public in construction zones

By Chris Lorenc
Chair, SAFE Roads Manitoba

A number of serious incidents recently involving unsafe driving practices by the public and commercial drivers in road construction zones have sharpened our attention on the need to do more to protect workers and equipment, as well as the public, in construction zones.

In July, 2020, a tragic and entirely preventable collision at a Manitoba road-construction project killed a 61-year-old man and two-year-old child. An out-of-province commercial vehicle struck seven passenger vehicles that were appropriately stopped at a road-construction project southwest of Winnipeg; 15 others were sent to hospital. 

More recently, a reckless driver speeding through a construction zone struck and destroyed a speed indicator sign (costing $20,000) at a construction project on the Perimeter highway.

These are just two of the tragedies or near-tragedies that we’re aware of this year. Our companies have reported many other incidents of workers being struck by passing vehicles (thankfully most are not time-loss injuries), of vehicles damaging equipment, of drivers ignoring flag-person traffic direction. Flaggers are harassed and meet with near violent confrontation from motorists.  All these incidents are unacceptable and preventable.

At the request of WORKSAFELY and the contractor after the most recent incident on the West Perimeter highway, the RCMP met with the contractor and then increased its enforcement in the area. However, this is just a single incident on a single stretch of highway in a province with thousands of miles of roads and highways. WORKSAFELY™ illustrated the gravity of the problem in this article in the September edition of MHCA’s supplement, in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Clearly, more work is needed to address a serious problem risking the safety of our workers and the driving public.

I have the privilege of chairing the SAFE Roads Committee, a group of 17 stakeholders that support seasonal public awareness campaigns each year. It advances public messages bi-annually, to help educate motorists and the general public in following safe and respectful driving practices – protecting the safety of all those who work on and adjacent to our roadways.

In response to the concerns raised above, the SAFE Roads Committee established a working group, including representation from Manitoba Infrastructure, the City of Winnipeg, the WCB, CSAM and the MHCA, to propose strategies to improve construction-zone safety, beyond the routine Safe Roads media advertising.

We expect the group to come forward with a number of ideas, including stepped up awareness and enforcement, with a view they can be implemented by government, law enforcement and others before 2021’s construction season.  We look forward to the real collaboration and leadership of governments and other public sector stakeholders to develop solutions that protect the safety of the workers on Manitoba’s road-construction projects.

The prevention of accidents at workplaces, whatever and wherever located is a collective responsibility we must, as a matter of ethics, morality and law, take seriously.