Working on the road alongside traffic that is sometimes going 70 miles per hour or more can rattle even the most seasoned Iowa Department of Transportation veteran. Experience is a great teacher, and, over the years, we’ve learned a lot about how to keep our people safer during on-road maintenance operations.
Unfortunately, our work to keep our own team and those we hire safer is never done, as we learned last summer with the deaths of two of our own in work zone related crashes. The deaths of Lynn Roder from the Ashton garage and Jeff Arbogast of the Mount Pleasant garage sparked an initiative to develop more regular and formalized training for our on-road workers.
Matt Heuvelmann, the safety garage operations assistant in District 5, said, “Doug Swan, the highway maintenance supervisor in the Mount Pleasant garage, first brought up the idea of regular, formalized work zone and flagger training at our district safety meeting last October. Currently, the only formal training on flagging happens when a new employee is hired. That training includes being given the flagger handbook and then watching a short video. We thought all employees who work on the road would benefit from a regularly scheduled, hands-on refresher session. We threw around some ideas and got the ball rolling.”
Formalizing procedures and getting them packaged into standardized training modules has become the task of the District 5 safety committee. The group refined the training ideas into a PowerPoint presentation and three exercises geared toward the most common work zone setups. Once the five other district safety garage operations assistants heard the idea, they were on board. The first training was held in April with the help of Tim Carey, Employee Health & Safety Team Leader in the Human Resources Bureau; Clayton Burke, the work zone coordinator in the Construction and Materials Bureau; and Brad Fleming, deputy director of the Maintenance Bureau.
On a rainy day, 25 southeast Iowa garage employees gathered to go through the classroom information on work zone traffic control and flagger training as a pilot group. Heuvelmann explained, “We went through the PowerPoint with everyone. We also had a table set up with all the gear that is needed so they could see exactly what they need to be using. We provided copies of the most recent flagger handbook to make sure everyone had current information.”
Next, the class moved outside to run through three work zone scenarios. The trainers asked questions of the participants as they worked through the scenarios that included sign placement and work zone set up. The team that developed the training took notes and gathered feedback on what worked and what improvements could be made. Now that the initial training is complete, the development team is going over the information gathered and will present a formalized training package to all Iowa DOT field staff.
Heuvelmann said, “This isn’t just a job. We’re putting our lives on the line every time we step onto the highway. Getting every detail right, having our crews understand their role in keeping everyone safe, and having everyone on the same page is critical to all of our team members making it home safely after every shift.”