It’s an unfortunate fact that vehicle intrusions are one of the leading causes of death in the road construction industry, resulting in tens of thousands of work zone crashes and hundreds of fatalities each year.
What’s even more devastating is that many of these fatalities could have been prevented.
The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration estimates that 80 percent of all accidents are due to distracted drivers, looking away from the road to check a text (4.6 seconds), change the radio station (2 seconds) or search for a dropped cell phone (10+ seconds). All while their vehicles travel the length of a football field every 3.7 seconds.
Here’s another number: 6 seconds.
That’s how long it takes a worker to run five lane widths—more than enough to avoid an oncoming vehicle.
When it comes to work zone safety, every second counts.
That’s why Oldcastle Materials has developed its AWARE system. The system, which stands for Advanced Warning And Risk Evasion, tracks traffic and crew members within a work zone and sounds alarms and alerts both to drivers and to workers at risk of a collision.
Oldcastle, the largest asphalt manufacturer in North America, started to develop its AWARE system after experiencing a handful of fatalities in 2013 and 2014 due to lane intrusions.
“We were following all the regulations and recommendations at federal, state and association levels to make our organization safer, but at the end of the day, we were still having catastrophic events,” said Curt Davison, director of AWARE technology at Oldcastle Materials. “So, we asked ourselves what we could do beyond best practices and beyond regulations to make our workers safer.”
So, they began to develop AWARE with nothing more than a sheet of paper, a pencil, and an end goal: keep workers safer in the work zone.
Davison hopes to begin implementing the system company-wide in May of 2018.
How the AWARE System Works
As you can learn when watching the AWARE video in the link below, the system includes one or more sensors, a GPS-based alert unit for the worker, a number of threat deterrents, and a base station app for iPhone and iPad.
The sensors use radar to track the position and trajectory of vehicles within a range of up to 600 feet. When a vehicle is about to enter the workzone—when the sensor detects it as a threat—the sensor triggers audio and visual warnings for the driving public and individual alerts for workers who might be in harm’s way via their GPS-based units. The system will also begin recording video with an onboard camera for use in accident investigations, if necessary.
Today, there are two different types of solutions within the AWARE system, Davison said. One is a freestanding cart to set up by the flagger and the other is dedicated to safety in the work zone.
The system can be used for a number of applications, from line striping and traffic control setup, to multi-lane construction, flagger safety or lone-worker scenarios like road maintenance and sign placement.
Within the typical paving train, Davison recommends including in the system the paver and each roller. The QA/QC tech should also have one on his truck, since he’s often quite a ways back from the rest of the crew. The system can also include other operations such as milling and maintenance equipment.
When the system detects a threat, it will automatically trigger audio and visual warnings for the driving public and individual alerts for workers who might be in harm’s way. It will also begin recording video with an onboard camera for use in accident investigations, if necessary.
The system works to reduce false alarms, preventing desensitization in workers. When a real threat has been identified, the threat deterrents will activate, emitting whatever sound and strobe pattern the AWARE user has chosen.
Worker and equipment locations can be viewed in real time via the system’s companion app for iPhone or iPad. With the app, users can control basic functions of the system, including lane width, work zone type, minimum and maximum speeds, and conservative and aggressive reaction times for warnings.
Implement, Adopt and Stay Safe
Last year, Oldcastle piloted the system in eight states on 13 different crews to continue to refine it, and one of the major improvements has been in usability.
“Our crews have a hard, hot job and they’re busy doing what they’re doing,” Davison said. “So we had to make it super simple.”
Davison estimates it takes about two hours to install the system on each piece of equipment in the work zone. After that, the AWARE system is very easy to use on a daily basis. The AWARE sentry for the flagger station takes less than a minute to set up and the entire work zone solution takes only a few minutes.
Other improvements in usability include reducing the weight of the sentry to less than 50 pounds and making the user interface of the app easier to use.
Davison also conducts an hour of training about the system before sending it out with new crews. He also recommends making the system a part of each crew’s morning safety talk, to discuss the best exit strategies and other emergency procedures for the job.
“You may only have seconds to respond after the system goes off, so that isn’t the best time to ask yourself where you should go,” Davison said. The system gives between one and six seconds of notice, depending on the situation. “One second may be enough, but you have to have a plan in place.”
Although making the AWARE system easier for workers to use is important, the real proof is in the pudding.
Davison shared a story about a flagger who wasn’t sold on the system when they deployed a threat deterrent next to him on the job. Then, a semi came towards him at a high speed. As it barreled closer to the flagger, it wasn’t slowing down. The system sensed its speed and the lights began to flash. Still, the semi didn’t slow down. The system’s lights started flashing brighter. When the semi still didn’t slow down, the alarm sounded. By that point, the flagger could see inside the cab and noticed the driver’s eyes go wide as the alarm sounded, apply the brakes, and come to a stop only inches from the flagger’s original position.
“Please understand that this technology, the AWARE system, does not replace the need for safety best practices in the work place,” said Oldcastle VP of EHS Lee Cole. “Rather, the two should work together to provide the safest work place possible.”
AWARE, Beyond Oldcastle
During presentations at industry events, Davison has realized how important a system like this is to all paving operations, as well as in other industries.
“A lot of people from a lot of industries–construction, police, truck drivers–have come up to ask me if the system will be available outside of Oldcastle,” Davison said. And it will–eventually.
“We want to refine the system a bit before releasing it outside of Oldcastle,” Davison said. “Right now, the sensors are still learning and rating threats, from false alarms and alarm-no-harm situations to near misses and minor and major incidents.”
Davison expects to refine the system internally throughout 2018, but hopes to make it available to other companies and industries in 2019.