Pavement Maintenance for Highways—Pitfalls and Safeguards: An Insurance Perspective

Pavement maintenance on highways poses much different, and in most cases, greater risks than that for parking lots, driveways and even secondary roadways.

Here are some practical tips that will hopefully help to reduce the chance of having an accident and therefore keep your insurance premiums from increasing. After all, premium determination for a large part is predicated on prior loss history. This holds true for all lines of insurance. Insurance companies that write policies for businesses engaged in highway operations require that their be a formal set of safety guidelines in place for this type of work.

It is a proven fact that there is a direct relation between the size, speed and distance that an object travels at the point of impact and the resulting property damage and/or injury sustained, as a result of this sometimes-deadly combination.

In addition, factors such as the inability to control the driving habits of passing motorists is probably the most frustrating. Other factors like driver fatigue, operating under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, speeding, limited visibility during night operations and volumes of large trucks and trailers are all compounding issues.

Unfortunately, highway work usually invites all of these factors and could be the ingredients for disaster.

What to do?

Outside of working on roadways that are closed to general traffic, the contractor must implement all of the necessary precautions it can to protect it’s employees and equipment as well as others around them.

Beginning with things that are in your control: proper employee training, regular vehicle/equipment maintenance, effective night lighting and vigilant on-site supervision to monitor ever changing conditions on the highway and to direct the crew accordingly should be implemented. These should be minimum in-house standards and are required by most insurance carriers.

Now to address the larger problem: How to control the actions of passing motorists. Although it is next to impossible to control the personal habits of each motorist, you can at least attempt to control when, where and how they pass your crew.

Because most pavement maintenance operations (sweeping, line striping, sealcoating and paving) involve moving traffic patterns as opposed to fixed patterns for construction operations, the safety procedures can differ.

Depending on what entity owns and operates the highway, (state, local or federal DOT’s) there is usually lane closure procedures included in their scope of work specifications. These procedures can vary from being very specific in nature to very vague.

With this said, it is recommended that the contractor at least comply with the minimum required procedures and implement other safeguards that will further protect their crew, equipment and others.

Accident investigations have traditionally determined that speed is the major cause of severe injury, property damage and death. Compounded by the other factors previously mentioned, the contractor needs to do everything possible to reduce the speed of passing motorists.

It appears that the standard use of lane closure arrow board and crash attenuator units, in most cases, are not enough to deter motorists who are intent on ignoring these devices and are selfish to their own desire to get from point A to point B the fastest way possible, regardless of who or what is in between.

Maybe we all, at some point, have been guilty of this. Therefore, what more can be done?

One recommendation is the use of police services. It has been proven that when motorists view emergency vehicle lights in addition to safety vehicle lighting, there is greater initial reaction to slow down. Although there is usually an additional cost associated with the use of police services, it can speak volumes for the added safety value. However, the important part of this feature is to provide the necessary distance from where the police and other signal indicators are located in conjunction with the actual work crew. This is critical in effectively and safely slowing traffic as it passes. This ultimately will allow your crew and motorists to have more time to react to any situation on the roadway.

Even though you do everything mentioned above and more, there will always be that inherent danger of working on the highway. So never sacrifice dollars spent on safety for the lives of your workers and others.

A proper highway safety program can lead to profitability and reward you with lower insurance costs. Good Luck and Work Safely!

Submitted by Scott Cerosky, President, Fairmont Speciality Insurance/Crum & Forster Insurance Group