Hydrovac and utility work can take you all over the province. It’s quite common that you’ll be working on the side of a busy road or highway, with cars whizzing by at break-neck speed.
It can be easy to take working on the roadside for granted when you’re eager to get going on a hydrovac job, especially on rural roads. We tend to want to spend as little time as possible setting up controls like cones and signs, and rush to get the truck set up for excavating.
But that can be a deadly mistake.
Roadside work sites are extremely dangerous. The truth is every work situation is different and it takes time to assess how to set up a work zone to best minimize hazards, both for your work crew and the public.
Working on rural roads and highways can be very dangerous. According to Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation, 70% of fatal crashes occur outside of city limits.
As utility workers and hydrovac operators, the time spent working alongside traffic is probably the most dangerous part of the job.
Roadside work safety matters because of its very human and personal implications. Work-related traffic accidents can have a profound impact on employees and their families, your business, your reputation, and your bottom line. The personal and financial costs of a vehicle hitting you or your equipment can be enormous.
As a hydrovac operator, you are responsible for the health and safety of workers under their supervision, as well as being knowledgeable about the regulations that apply to the work being supervised. You’re also responsible for making sure everyone on the work site is aware of foreseeable hazards, including those associated with working alongside traffic.
Minimizing the risks
Hydrovac trucks are designed to work off the passenger side, which helps shield operators from the flow of traffic. However, there are quite a few steps you can take to ensure you’re minimizing the risk to your crew.
Start with wearing hi-vis clothing. Hydrovac crews wear hi-visibility coveralls. Everyone else on the job site should at least be wearing a hi-vis vest.
Park the truck as far off the road as possible. Have lights and beacons flashing. Set up warning signs far enough along up the road to warn approaching motorists.
Stop and have a pre-dig safety meeting with everyone on the job site. Identify risks and hazards. Write up a JHA (Job Hazard Analysis) or FLRA (Field-Level Risk Assessments) including an emergency plan.
Be especially aware of any visibility problems for the public. Are you around a bend or on the other side of a hill? Are trees obscuring you from approaching drivers?
Realize that traffic hazards can change during the course of the job. Traffic volume can increase during rush hour. The sun can set, decreasing visibility especially during winter months here in Alberta. Sudden rain or snow can make roads slick and might put you in a more dangerous situation than when you started.
Have a plan in mind before setting up at the work site. The foreman generally takes on the responsibility for the traffic control plan if a lane needs to be shut down.
On really busy roads and highways or in situations where the hydrovac truck is blocking an entire lane, it might be necessary to have traffic control people stopping or rerouting traffic and creating a barrier. Make sure you’re communicating with your traffic control personnel when you move from one dig location to the next so that everyone is on the same page regarding stopping traffic, moving cones and signs, and walking on the traffic side of the truck.
Finally, if you’re working at night, it might be necessary to bring in industrial flood-lights.
Summary: Hydrovac work on the side of the road can be dangerous. By taking proactive steps to minimize the risks, operators can ensure motorists know what’s happening and work crews are on the same page.