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Safety, safety, safety. With advances in technology and the tightening of purse strings, it can be tempting, at times, for companies to adopt one man crews. However, this practice can lead to some serious safety issues. While one man crews can be easily justifiable in certain environments, it is truly dangerous to operate a one man crew when working on roadways.
The One Man Crew and the Distracted Driver
The biggest safety problem associated with operating a one man crew may be the distracted driving epidemic currently happening nationwide. Even with laws being enacted against using cell phones while driving, there are people that continue to use their phones while operating a moving vehicle. How many times have you been sitting at a light and continued waiting after the light turned green because the person in front of you was checking their phone? It happens all the time.
"Motorists engage in secondary behavior during more than half of their time spent driving–an action that is a factor in more than one million national car crashes and 16% of fatal accidents annually. And texting is the number one distracted driving activity by a long-shot. With technology at drivers’ fingertips, drivers are becoming more and more tempted to send and read quick text messages that they by-and-large assume to be harmless. The truth is, texting while driving takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds and increases the chances of a crash by 23 percent. To put that into perspective, if a vehicle is traveling at 55mph, the average driver doesn’t look at the road for about the length of an entire football field while sending a text." –Kiernan Hopkins: distracteddriveraccidents.com
So, a driver is looking down at their phone wheeling around town on the streets that they have driven for years. They assume they know what is around every corner and where every straight away is located. What they do not count on, however, is that a land surveyor might be in the middle of the road with his head down looking at a data collector. Maybe not even looking at a data collector, but looking down at a monument or in a manhole. Sometimes making eye contact with every driver is impossible and, even when a surveyor attempts to make eye contact, the approaching driver might have their head down looking at their cell phone. In that case, the surveyor may have a chance to move out of the way of potential calamity. But when both the driver and the surveyor are looking down, it is a recipe for disaster. This is why it is imperative that the survey profession begin using two man crews whenever working in the street.
Cell Phones and Drunk Drivers
In preparing to write this article, I found several pieces of research detailing the similarities between drunk driving and cell phone use while driving. The first research I found was from the following site detailing the similarities between the two: http://goo.gl/yZMEfQ
It is important to keep in mind that this research was done in 2006, long before the advent of our modern smart phones, which can be even more of a distraction with their ease of access to the internet, social media, email and other applications.
As the charts above indicate, drunk drivers were applying greater force to their vehicles’ brakes, when necessary, as compared to cell phone users (slower to apply their brakes). Based on the research conducted, cell phone drivers showed delayed responses to events while driving and were more likely to be involved in an accident than drunk drivers. This is a disturbing fact, especially considering the fact that there are far more people driving while using a cell phone than people driving while drunk during the day, when a surveyor is more likely to be in the street. This research also indicated that drivers using cell phones had slower reaction times and were involved in more accidents than drunk drivers. As I indicated previously, this research was performed in 2006 when cell phones were primarily used for phone calls and text messaging wasn’t nearly as prevalent.
This same 2006 study also indicated that hands-free devices were not any less dangerous than regular cell phone usage.
"Between 2005 and 2012, the number of drunk driving fatalities per person decreased 28%. In the same time period, the percentage of people observed "visibly manipulating" their phones while driving increased a staggering 650%. The number of fatalities caused by distracted driving increased 28% between 2005 and 2008 alone. In 2012, 3,328 Americans died in crashes involving a distracted driver, while 10,322 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes."
As you can see from the quote above, instances of distracted driving that contribute to fatalities have increased at the same rate that drunken driving fatalities have decreased.
California Fines for Using a Cell Phone While Driving
While fines and other penalties for driving while using a cell phone have increased over the years, it does not appear that is has stemmed their actual usage with drivers. California fines for using a cell phone while driving are relatively low with $20 for the first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense. These fines don’t do much to stem the use of cell phones while driving.
California also allows for GPS usage while driving, as long as the driver does not have the cell phone in hand while doing so. Blue tooth or hands-free cell phones usage is also permitted while driving. There are also statutory loopholes stating that if you read, enter, or select a phone number or the name of a contact on your phone with the intent to (a) communicate with this person through a hands-free device, or (b) deactivate your device, you are not violating California law.
The disturbing part about these exemptions is that, even when using these functions, the driver is still distracted. An unintended consequence of these laws is that drivers will now hide their cell phones in their laps while texting and driving to avoid detection from authorities, causing their eyes to focus even further away from the road ahead.
Land Surveyors Are Already In Danger
In this Newsletter https://goo.gl/7yn61C, I included an article about a driver involved in a hit and run in Houston, Texas. In that case, the land surveyor wasn’t even in the road, he was on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, the surveyor died from the accident and the details have not come to light about the exact cause. Nevertheless, I would not be surprised if a cell phone played a part in the surveyor’s death. Even if a cell phone was not involved in this instance, it brings to light the fact that, had the surveyor not been working alone, he may have had warning from another party member that a recklessly driven car was approaching.
In that instance, there were witnesses around that reported the event. What would happen if a surveyor was working alone, without bystanders nearby, and was hit by a car and then the driver decided to run? This is another reason why it is so important to have a two party crew whenever working in streets.
Another instance involved a lone surveyor in Orlando kneeling to mark a spot on the street. The surveyor was subsequently hit by a utility truck. http://goo.gl/Mc3wd5
The Majority of Fatal Work Injuries Were Caused By Transportation Incidents.
In a news release from February 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ("BLS") released data on fatal work injuries in California for 2013. By far, the most fatalities were caused by "transportation incidents". The 2013 number increased by 10% from 2012.
Transportation accidents were the most frequent fatal events in the United States in 2013. Fortunately, California is below the national trend.
Death is not the only thing to be considered. Injuries, from transportation incidents, have steadily risen over the past three (3) years as reported by the BLS. Nationwide, there have been:
• 41,140 injuries in 2011
• 42,610 in 2012
• 44,410 in 2013
Even though nonfatal, these cases undoubtedly led to loss time and OSHA violations the damage done to the worker cannot be discounted. Time away from work can lead to financial stress and, certainly, the health of the worker after the incident could lead to them being unable to return to work at all.
What Can Be Done?
The most important thing to do is always be aware of your surroundings. You may have surveyed a million streets and been on the very street you are surveying plenty of times, but the behavior of drivers cannot be predicted. Distracted driving can lead to very dangerous situations. Using a two man crew to warn the other members of the survey party is necessary to help abate some of the dangers presented by distracted drivers.
• Effective use of radios is also necessary when working in the street. Be sure that your radios are properly charged and that all crew members are on the correct channel.
• Hand signals are good but they cannot warn someone while their head is down looking at a data collector. Sometimes the sounds of traffic can become background noise lulling the surveyor into a false sense of security. Remain vigilant and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
• Safety vests, cones and signs should all be used in conjunction while performing survey work in the roadway. It is imperative to use these safety measures, especially when working on hills, around curves or other obstacles to warn drivers of the surveyor’s presence in the road.
• A job walk before starting each job should be conducted to identify potential hazards in the areas that work will be performed.
• Finding safe places to park survey vehicles and set up sites should be decided based on both safety and effective usage. Considering how to safely get into and out of vehicles with equipment should also be a factor.
• Consider the weather as well. Is there fog rolling in? Was there rain in the forecast? These factors can be extremely dangerous.
Since publishing this article in January, 2016, I have found three other instances of surveyors being struck and killed in roadways:
• Samuel Pagano, 22, of South Wales, NY, was hit and killed by a car that crossed the center line. http://goo.gl/aN2ve4
• Russell Scott Atchinson, 58, of Modesto was alone and on his hands and knees over a manhole in Stanislaus, CA when he was hit by a GMC Sierra pickup. http://goo.gl/Wlw27Z
• 59-year-old Enrique Diaz, was wearing a reflective vest and was in a striped area just on the highway which separates the inside lane from the traffic merging onto 95 when he was struck and killed. http://goo.gl/g9uOxy
Micah Paulk is a Virginia native currently living in Orange County, California where he works in Marketing for D. Woolley & Associates, Inc. Mr. Paulk also serves as Safety Manager, Chainman, IT guy, Notary Public, and is the Newsletter Editor for the Orange County Chapter of California Land Surveyors Association. When not fixing computers, improving worker safety, writing proposals or compiling newsletters, he enjoys volunteering at local hospitals and camping with his girlfriend and their dog, Ruger.
A 1.919Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE