Sixty orange traffic barrels line the east lawn of the Capitol Campus in Olympia this week.
Each barrel represents one of the Washington State Department of Transportation workers killed on the job since 1950. They’ve been placed as part of National Work Zone Awareness Week, but the need for work zone safety exists all year long.
Transportation work zones are dangerous places. Vehicles often zoom by just inches from workers — who are there making improvements to keep all travelers moving. And in addition to the tragic loss of the 60 WSDOT workers, there are also countless workers injured each year — some with life-changing injuries.
Trent Galusha knows those dangers first hand. He works as an Incident Response Team driver, responding to stranded motorists and helping with traffic control at crash scenes. Six years ago, though, a passing motorist thought it would be funny to throw a 64-ounce Slushee at Galusha on the side of Interstate 5, striking him in the head.
He suffered a traumatic brain injury, struggling to remember even basic things. It took months of treatment and pain before he returned to work and two years before he felt fully himself again.
“It took a long time before I could drive by that spot again,” he said. “And we’re just out there trying to do our job. … It can be scary because people are not focused on their driving. … I bet I see 30-plus people still to this day texting and driving or watching videos and driving.”
It’s not just workers at risk in work zones either. Statistically, 96 percent of people hurt in Washington state work zones are motorists, passengers or passing pedestrians.
“It is in everyone’s best interest to be safe around work zones,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “National Work Zone Awareness Week is a reminder to motorists to give crews — no matter what agency or assignment — room to do their work. This helps keep our workers safer.”
A newly signed law should make that a bit easier. House Bill 2087, signed by Inslee last month, extends “Move Over and Slow Down” protections to roadside transportation workers.
Just like police and fire vehicles, drivers should now move over a lane if possible whenever approaching highway construction and maintenance vehicles with warning lights. If that’s not possible, drivers should slow down as they pass the area. These simple steps give crews space to work and help keep everyone safe on our roadways.
What else can you do to keep workers like Galusha safe? Here are four steps WSDOT is asking all drivers to do whenever approaching work zones:
1. Slow Down — Drive the posted speeds. They are there for your safety.
2. Be Kind — Our workers are out there helping to keep you safe and improve the roadways.
3. Pay Attention — both to workers directing you and surrounding traffic. Put your phone down when behind the wheel.
4. Stay Calm — Expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible. No meeting or appointment is worth risking someone’s life.
If you’re in Olympia, please visit the barrel display this week and reflect on the sacrifice each family faced with that loss. And, no matter where you drive, please help keep everyone safe on our roadways.