While there are many issues to consider in terms of safety on construction work sites within Australia, a critical area of consideration revolves around traffic management and the creation of traffic management plans.

Depending on the site in question, traffic on or near construction sites can include cars, trucks, forklifts, excavators, motorcycles, cyclists and pedestrians such as workers, visitors or those passing the site on footpaths. Injuries can happen when vehicles enter, exit or move around within the workplace, and are common when reversing, loading and unloading.

Indeed, in the five years to June 2013, no fewer than 2,945 construction workers throughout Australia made serious claims for workers’ compensation as a result of hitting or being hit by moving objects according to Safe Work Australia statistics (the number of those specifically relating to collisions with vehicles was not given). Sadly, over the 12 years to 2014, 49 workplace fatalities occurred within the sector as a result of collisions with moving objects, 20 of which involved collisions with cars or trucks. These figures relate to workers only and do not account for injuries or fatalities caused to pedestrians, cyclists, motor cyclists and vehicle occupants.

Moreover, implementation of adequate control measures to prevent injury by collision with moving vehicles are part of broader workplace responsibilities under OH&S laws to provide a safe working environment as much as possible. A critical part of this effort revolves around the traffic management plan (TMP), which documents and explains how risk will be managed.

So what are the challenges in traffic management? What are common mistakes and what does a good TMP look like?

Trevor Waugh, co-founder of Melbourne-based traffic engineering outfit onemilegrid, said some of the biggest challenges come with loading zones at CBD sites, which are characterised by multiple users, tight space, higher volumes and various forms of traffic, the obvious need to retain access to adjoining sites and a need to create a plan which adequately catered for the safety of all users. In such environments, he said, sensible compromises are sometimes needed in terms of roadside guidelines standards in areas such as pre-advance warning signs, where the existence of things such as intersections in the immediate vicinity of the site, for example, could mean that giving the full distance of prior warning to traffic specified in the guidelines was not always a workable option.

“Whenever we develop a traffic management plan we consider all the road users and all the users in the area,” Waugh said. “So if I was developing a traffic management plan within the CBD or from within any site really, I would first look at what is required from the construction zone, loading zone or work zone area from the viewpoint of the actual construction workers or the builders.

“Then, you also need to look at what is required in regard to roadside safety to make sure that the construction management plan provides a safe operating environment for the public traffic that might be driving alongside that site.

“The biggest challenge that I find is making sure that you consider all the road users so pedestrians, cyclists, public transport, trams within the CBD, and then obviously the construction vehicle traffic and making sure that any conflicts between any of those users are appropriately addressed as part of that traffic management plan.”

Less complex sites, Waugh said, were typically greenfield sites in fringe or outer urban areas where site paths were not constrained and traffic volumes were lower. In such situations, ‘out of the box’ style TMPs are often adequate.

Asked about mistakes that can be made, Waugh said problems can occur in a number of areas. Use of generic designs which are generated without actually visiting the site to assess existing conditions can cause problems where unexpected issues crop up, such as the existence of after-hours bus services. Dangers can also occur where signs or protective barriers are not installed correctly according to the plan, possibly because of stock problems or because signs were not able to be prepared in time.

Different stages in a construction project, too, can cause challenges, especially where modification of plans during smaller sub-stages in between major stages or for one-off deliveries is done ‘on the fly’ rather than re-checked with consultants. This situation could result in issues associated with correct delineation with signage, for example. Detour routes are not always adequately managed and signed, resulting in traffic being sent off on detours without an adequate continuation of signage on those detours. Replacement of treatments such as extensive barriers or bollards as documented in consultant plans with alternatives in an effort to save money can be problematic where appropriate treatments have not been put in.

In terms of what constitutes a good TMP, Waugh said the plan should provide a safe environment for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists as well as workers, and that a key challenge was avoiding increasing the risk to one group over another (hard sorts of areas which prevented traffic from entering work zones, for instance, often hurt motorists if they run into them.) Where for practical reasons – such as space limitations – plans do not accord with guidelines and standards, it is imperative to ensure they deliver the most practical safe treatment which accords as closely to the guidelines as possible.

One final interesting point Waugh makes about mistakes and problems in traffic management revolves around potentially forgetting to put work zone signs away after hours to indicate that the work zone has ended.

While that oversight does not cause immediate danger, it could lead to longer-term issues, he said, in terms of broader attitudes about work zones among motorists.

“If people get this sort of feeling that they are driving through these construction zones all the time and that these speed zones are empty and they can’t get going, it can lead to them not conforming to those speed limits when there are actually people working there,” Waugh said.

“It’s important that construction zone signs are covered or removed outside those hours of operation so that people continue to obey the speed zones and any instructional forms of signs. Otherwise, people will get complacent, think ‘there’s no one here’ and continue through at 60 kilometres per hour.”

Key Safety Issues in Traffic Management on Construction Sites

According to Safe Work Australia, the following are critical steps to managing traffic safely on construction sites:

  • Keep pedestrians and vehicles apart, including on site and when vehicles enter and exit the workplace
  • Minimise vehicle movements
  • Eliminate the need for vehicles to reverse or minimise the risks
  • Ensure vehicles and pedestrians are visible to each other
  • Use traffic signs
  • Develop and follow a traffic management plan

What Your Traffic Management Plan Should Include

Again, according to Safe Work Australia, traffic management plans should document how risks will be managed at the construction workplace, and could include:

  • Designated travel paths for vehicles, including entry and exit points, haul routes for debris or plant and materials, or traffic crossing other streams of traffic
  • Pedestrian and traffic routes
  • Designated delivery and loading and unloading areas
  • Travel paths on routes remote from the workplace, including places to turn around, dump material, access ramps and side roads
  • How often and where vehicles and pedestrians interact
  • Traffic control measures for each expected interaction, including drawings of the layout of barriers, walkways, signs and general arrangements to warn and guide traffic around, past or through the workplace or temporary hazard
  • Requirements for special vehicles like large vehicles and mobile cranes
  • Requirements for loading from the side of road onto the site
  • The responsibilities of people managing traffic at the workplace
  • The responsibilities of people expected to interact with traffic at the workplace
  • Instructions or procedures for controlling traffic including in an emergency
  • How to implement and monitor the effectiveness of a traffic management plan