Reducing the risks

With excessive speeds identified as a common issue for road workers, safety solutions specialist Saferoads has introduced an innovative rumble strip product – the RoadQuake – to address the issue.“We had a death in our team last year,” states Fiona Glancy, Director at Superior Traffic Management.

“If we had a product like the RoadQuake rumble strips on that site, the lady who had blacked out and hit our traffic controller may have been jolted back to reality.

“We need to use every available product to keep our guys safe on the road, and I think these rumble strips will be a real asset to our industry. We did a trial on site with the rumble strips and it’s obvious how much the vehicles slow down.

“If a product like this can help save one life, it’s worth it 10 times over.”

The harsh reality for Australia’s road sector is that the employees with their boots on the ground work in a high-risk environment every day, where a number of safety measures, from large warning signs and flashing lights, aren’t necessarily enough to stop tragedy from striking.

Superior Traffic Management undertook a trial of the safety solutions provider Saferoads’ RoadQuake product – an audible early warning rumble strip system. Mrs. Glancy’s response to the product, off the back of the tragic death of one of her team members, puts the effectiveness of the product into perspective.

For Saferoads, the incident rate on Australian road construction sites is a major issue that needs to be addressed.

“Many construction workers will testify to the fact they’ve seen excessive speeds through a workzone and many will have witnessed speeds of up to double the posted signage. People just don’t slow down,” says Trent Loveless, Saferoads National Rental Manager.

“For everyone on a worksite – it doesn’t matter if they’re a small or large contractor – these dangers impact them all, especially when a death occurs.”

After hearing numerous anecdotes about excessive speeds at worksites, Saferoads sought to introduce a new and practical method of deterring the behaviour. This came in the form of the RoadQuake system.

A physical deterrent

“The RoadQuake is a little bit different and we haven’t seen anything like it before in Australia,” explains Paul Thompson, Saferoads General Manager – Roadside Products.

The RoadQuake is a temporary portable rumble strip system that was developed in 2009 and was adopted first for US roads in an effort to help reduce fatalities.

Mr. Thompson says speed signs, flashing lights and the other protection measures typically used on site have become the norm, and drivers are somewhat immune to the warnings.

He adds that work zone speeds are an increasing safety concern for road authorities and civil companies, who record near misses and fatalities on site frequently. “I usually hear about incidents from a third party, usually a supervisor,” he says.

Mr. Thompson asserts that measures such as variable message signs and flashing lights, in a number of combinations, are still not enough.

However, a physical deterrent deployed downstream of a work site, such as the RoadQuake, has the potential to catch a driver’s attention well before entering the site.

The rubber rumble strips are ideally deployed in a three-piece array in the lead-up to a road worksite. The RoadQuake is non-invasive to the pavement and is designed so that the faster a vehicle is going over the RoadQuake, the less likely the strip will move.

They’re easy to roll out and involve little manual handling on the road workers’ part. In the US, workers have employed a crib system where the units are stacked on the back of a vehicle and simply slide off the crib and onto the pavement.

Mr. Thompson likens the product to the rumble lines used on the roadsides to prevent drivers from veering off the road, except the RoadQuake is used on the approach to a workzone instead.

“We want this to add to all the other safety measures used on sites at the moment, and the workers on site will likely want it too,” says Mr. Thompson. “Workzone safety systems will be better if we can get this on the road and to get people to pay attention.”

An ideal application for the RoadQuake is in a multi-lane situation, where one lane on a busy network needs to be closed so roadworks can be undertaken. “The whole deployment process can be risky if it’s in live traffic,” he adds.

Mr. Thompson says that current practice in deploying signs, truck-mounted attenuators and other safety measures to set up a workzone site in such an environment can expose workers to fast-moving and high-frequency traffic.

As an alternative, three RoadQuake strips can be placed 500 metres from the start and end of a roadwork zone where a lane has been closed.

With a physical deterrent in place, complex roadwork safety setups may not be necessary, thus reducing the amount of items crowding a workzone.

The RoadQuake has been tested and approved on the road up to 110 kilometres per hour in a number of US states to date, Texas being the most recent region to mandate the system.

However, it’s a different story for Australia.

The product is approved for use in South Australia and New South Wales, but Saferoads is still in the process of getting it approved by other state road agencies, to enable it to get the product onto Australian roads to help prevent tragedy from occurring.

A necessary safety measure

For Andy Boyd, Chief Operations Officer at Evolution Traffic Control, the RoadQuake is a simple but unique product that the company is eager to use on its worksites as soon as possible.

“It’s easily deployable, and a simple but effective solution to calm speeds and alert traffic to workzones,” says Mr. Boyd. “It doesn’t use any mechanical parts or major electrical components – it’s very low maintenance.”

Evolution is headquartered in Queensland and services all of Australia and New Zealand.

With a wide variety of traffic projects on the go at any one time, Mr. Boyd says the company is constantly receiving feedback from its traffic controllers about the near-misses they encounter on road worksites around the country.

“Because we measure speeds on some major projects we work on, we know it’s not just anecdotal; there’s data on our sites that support that feedback,” he says.

“Workers are in the line of fire, and we’re at the point where we’re seeing what you’d call ‘sign fatigue’ – drivers aren’t paying attention to these warnings. The RoadQuake is a physical means of regaining their attention.”

The RoadQuake piqued the interest of Evolution when Saferoads approached them several months ago. “There are some unique benefits to alerting traffic on lane closures and to calm the traffic speeds,” asserts Mr. Boyd.

While it is not approved in Queensland yet, Evolution is liaising with the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads and is pushing for the product to be given the green light in the company’s home state.

“It’s approved in NSW and we want to push hard to get it approved here,” says Mr. Boyd. “It’s proven technology. It’s been trialled and works in the North American market – it’s not a fad.”

As Mr. Loveless from Saferoads surmises, speed is the number one issue for Australian workzone environments and the RoadQuake is one step towards mitigating those well-known dangers.

“Road authorities and civil contractors need to address more in this area, as it not only helps to improve safety for its workers but could help reduce public liability,” he says. “As a physical deterrent it will work.”

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