Work Zone Mobility and Safety Program
Photo collage: temporary lane closure, road marking installation, cone with mounted warning light, and drum separated work zones.
Office of Operations 21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Reducing Exposure of Short-term Utility Work Zones Through Effective Safety Planning

Presenting Author:

Todd Belobraydich

Incom, Inc.

Co- Authors:

Glen Mudd

Louisville Water Company

Carl Griffith


Presented at:


Making Work Zones Work Better


Introduction and Background

Telecommunications, electric, gas, water and other utility companies throughout the USA are confronted daily with the need to work safely and effectively on or near the roadway. The majority of their distribution plant access facilities are proximate to roadways and right-of-ways. Utility maintenance work activities involve manholes, cabinets, control panels, poles and other operating plant features that are often located adjacent to or directly in streets, roadways, intersections and highways. With substantial increases in traffic volumes, road construction activity, driver distractions and other human factor elements impacting the road user, many utility field personnel encounter unprecedented exposure on a daily basis.

Additionally, the recent attention to repairing the deteriorating infrastructure of roads and bridges in the USA often results in a substantial concentration of activity by road contractors, DOT's, utilities, etc. on the same portion of roadway; often already overflowing with high-density traffic. The ubiquitous work zone can create road user orange overload. Users become numb to actual and present dangers based on past encounters with unreliable, inconsistent, non-uniform work zone traffic control information and consequently develop a tendency to react only as visual warnings and their actual observations indicate. In addition, thevisual noise of outside user distractions like billboards and commercial signs are densest in heavy traffic commercial areas- the same areas that require frequent utility maintenance work.

With this multitude of challenges in mind, the utility safety professional is frequently confronted with a confluence of seemingly contradictory concerns - how can we keep the road users and our workers safe, while at the same time inhibiting traffic flow as little as possible?

Utilities have always been sensitive to both the safety and the mobility of road users. The average motorist is often the utility company's customer. Unlike many businesses, the majority of public relations contacts a utility company makes with its customers are through their field technicians. This dictates that the utility will want to make a good impression on road users by limiting their inconvenience and protecting them from harm.

There are also a variety of issues unique to the utility roadway work zone environment that demand thorough consideration and proper planning. Utility construction and maintenance operations are typically ephemeral, can be highly variable and are often conducted in conjunction with existing, on-going road projects. In any given 24 hour period, the average utility worker could be working at night, in hazardous weather, in low-visibility daylight, in the roadway, outside the roadway, on the shoulder, overhead, underground or in an urgent emergency situation. This work zone exposure variability has resulted in a variety of accommodations by utility organizations to protect road users and their workers. The historical tendency among utility organizations has been to "get in and get out" as quickly as possible. Although not a bad practice by itself, utility safety professionals recognize that it will not take the place of safe traffic control procedures for even a short period of time.

Worksite location, condition and duration variability make proper planning for safe utility work zone traffic control a particular challenge. It is often impractical for a utility to create detailed, site-specific work zone plans on each and every work zone. The approach that many organizations have developed is to create a comprehensive work zone traffic control safety policy, incorporating federal and state temporary traffic control standards along with standard utility safety practices. These policies blend the best practices of the utility safety field with the best practices of the transportation engineering and safety discipline. The result can be an effective, comprehensive, customized program that affords a utility the state of the art in mobility and safety.

Two Successful Utility Programs

Two real-life examples of successful working utility temporary traffic control safety policies are described in the following section. The Louisville Water Company is the local municipal water utility for Louisville, Kentucky. TRENCH-IT, Inc. is a leading utility contractor located in McHenry, Illinois. Both of these programs have been developed and implemented by qualified utility safety professionals employed by these organizations. Their years of experience and expertise in the overall utility safety field provides them with the comprehensive background to address the unique needs of their respective utility or utility contracting organizations, in addition to the effective application of safe temporary traffic control practices. The essential elements of their two programs can serve as a basic "skeleton" model for a viable utility temporary traffic control safety program that maximizes mobility and safety for road users and workers alike.

Louisville Water Company - Traffic Control Program

The Louisville Water Company (LWC) has taken a multi-phase approach concerning the planning and implementation of safe work site traffic control. The first component is education. Employees are provided training at three different levels. The first is through new employee safety orientation. This program provides basic information concerning the principles of traffic control, regulatory requirements and examples of potential work place applications. The purpose of this level of training is to provide enough information to create an educational foundation for the employee before he or she is exposed to true occupational settings and to prepare the employee for learning more specifics in the future.

The second level of training is part of the general safety training curriculum that field employees take part in on an annual basis. The objective of this training is to reiterate the basic principals covered in orientation training and provide work specific examples that help "drive the issue home" for the employee. The third level of training is a more advanced and expanded level of training that is provided to crew leaders and supervisory level employees. This training is performed by consultants who spend more time discussing the principles and regulatory requirements of traffic control. This training is designed for the decision makers of the company and addresses the less than obvious issues.

LWC utilizes a traffic equipment contractor to set-up and take down the traffic control zones for most work site situations. The reasons for this approach are resources and expertise. The investment in equipment and necessary labor are considered beyond the scope of normal operations. Traffic control equipment requires storage and maintenance. The labor investment also includes training that exceeds what is normally conducted. The technical expertise of the contractor is complimented by the level of training provided to our field employees. The previously trained LWC employee is capable of evaluating the contractor's traffic control set-up and understanding its limitations.

The final consideration to the program is auditing. Work zones are audited routinely to monitor the performance of both the crew and the contractor. The audits are conducted by supervisors and health and safety representatives. Deficiencies are discussed and solutions are used to improve the process when necessary. The continual emphasis on training helps to reinforce the quality of the audits.

TRENCH-IT, INC. - Temporary Traffic Control Policy


The purpose of this program is to establish guidelines for temporary traffic control installation, maintenance, and removal. This program also serves to identify standard operating procedures for setting up temporary traffic control work zones.


The guidelines set within this policy will help to regulate, warn, and guide traffic through Trench-It roadway work zones. The ultimate goal of this program is to prevent employee injuries, motor vehicle accidents, and personal injury to motorists and/or pedestrians.


This policy applies to all work zones established on or near public roadways.  Each employee working in these work zones must follow the guidelines established within this policy to ensure their safety and the safety of the general public.


Safety Director

The safety director, Carl Griffith, will administer this program and ensure that the guidelines within are current with the Federal MUTCD. The safety director is also responsible for overseeing the implementation of this policy. This is accomplished through annual program reviews, jobsite audits, training, and enforcement.


The foremen are responsible for the action of their crews. They must ensure that the guidelines in this policy are followed. They will review proper work zone setups with their crews prior to starting any job. Foremen will ensure that appropriate signage and devices are made available to crews where work zones dictate their need. In the event that these guidelines are not followed, employees violating this policy are subject to the terms of the discipline policy.  Foremen must also wear orange vests, hard hats, and safety glasses at all times.

Crew Leaders

Crew leaders will follow the guidelines set within this policy and the directions given by their foremen. Ultimately it is their responsibility to physically set up the traffic control signage, light boards, flaggers, cones, etc. Crew leaders are designated as "competent persons" for temporary traffic control work zone setup. Crew leaders must verify that all required signage and devices needed for traffic control are with their crews prior to leaving the yard.  Crew leaders must also wear orange vests, hard hats, and safety glasses at all times. If these guidelines are not followed, crew leaders will be subject to the terms of the discipline policy.


Employees are responsible for coning off their vehicles appropriately with adequate buffer zones and tapers. Employees should avoid parking at intersections whenever possible. All employees must wear orange vests, hard hats, and safety glasses at all times. If these guidelines are not followed, employees will be subject to the terms of the discipline policy.


Activity Area - The area where work takes place. It is composed of a work space and the traffic space and it may contain one or more buffer spaces.

Advance Warning Area - This area informs drivers what to expect. Typical devices used are "Utility Construction Ahead", "Flagger Ahead", and/or "Right/Left Lane Closed Ahead" signs. Each of these signs must be separated by at least 200 feet from the beginning of the work zone and between each sign flowing upstream.

Buffer Space - A space that separates traffic flow from the work area and provides recovery space for errant vehicles.

Termination Area - This area is used to return traffic to the normal path.  The termination area extends from the end of the work space to the end of the terminating taper.

Traffic Space - The area which traffic uses.

Tranisition Area - This area is established when redirection of the driver's path is required. The channelizing devices are used to create a new path for traffic.

Work Space - The portion of the road closed to traffic and set aside for workers, equipment, and materials.

Set Up Procedures (Low to Medium Traffic Flow, Urban Roads)

Crew leaders will meet with their foremen to review and plan the temporary traffic control setup prior to starting any job.

The traffic control setup will be selected from the typical applications illustrated in appendix A of this policy, the typical applications within the "Guide to Temporary Traffic Control in Work Zones" or a plan devised with the aid of the MUTCD guidelines.

When arriving at the jobsite, employees will install advanced warning signs, where applicable. These signs will be installed traveling downstream, starting with the first sign(s) motorists will see. Additional signs will be installed at appropriate spacing (at least 200 feet of separation).

Next, park all vehicles within the work zone on the same side of the roadway.  Each vehicle must have its wheels chocked.

Then place cones around all vehicles in the following order: (1) create a merging taper before the vehicle (2) create an appropriate buffer zone and (3) install a terminating taper.

If needed, use a flagger during installation of devices or when traffic control requires a lane to be closed.

Perform utility work

Remove devices in reverse order traveling upstream.

** Note: All high volume multilane highways will be subcontracted for traffic control.


All employees are required to receive training on proper temporary traffic control in work zones. Retraining will be given once every two years, or when deficiencies are noted on jobsites. Update training will be given when this policy or MUTCD guidelines change.

Common Elements of the Two Programs

  1. Education / Training
  2. Clear Objectives
  3. Responsible Employees
  4. Standardized Procedures
  5. Auditing
  6. Enforcement
  7. Monitoring
  8. Training appropriate to level of responsibility
  9. Established Criteria for use of Outside Services
  10. Adherence to MUTCD and Regional Standards
  11. Written Policy/Program - Supplemental Manual or Field Reference
  12. On-going; Up-datable Program Features

A Proposed Utility Model Program

By grouping the common elements of the two programs in similar categories, a distinct framework emerges.

  1. Training
    1. Education / Training
    2. Training appropriate to level of responsibility
  2. Standards
    1. Clear Objectives
    2. Standardized Procedures
    3. Adherence to MUTCD and Regional Standards
    4. Written Policy/Program - Supplemental Manual or Field Reference
    5. On-going; Up-datable Program Features
  3. Responsibility
    1. Responsible Employees
    2. Auditing
    3. Enforcement
    4. Monitoring
    5. Established Criteria for use of Outside Services

When developed and implemented in a comprehensive safety program, these components can help virtually any utility company maximize road user and worker safety by minimizing exposure time and maintaining optimum traffic mobility.

About The Authors:

Glen Mudd is the Director of Safety, Health and Security for the Louisville Water Company, Louisville, KY. Glen is a Certified Utility Safety Administrator and currently serves as Chairman of National Safety Council-Utilities Division.

Carl Griffith is the Safety Director for TRENCH-IT, Inc., a leading utility contractor located in McHenry, IL. Carl serves as Financial Officer of the National Safety Council-Utilities Division and is a Certified Utility Safety Administrator.

Todd Belobraydich is Vice President - Sales & Marketing for InCom, Inc., specializing in the development of customized safety training, publications and other related services for telecommunications, electric, gas and water utilities.

Office of Operations