REGINA, SK. – In Saskatchewan, July is work zone safety month. To remind the public of the hazards road workers face, Shantel Lipp, president of the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association, recently spent the day at a road work zone with one of the association’s members.
“There is lots of truck traffic and having these guys plow through a work zone is like driving a tank through a sandbox,” said Lipp. “It’s pretty unnerving when you are standing in that zone, just how close these workers are to oncoming traffic. Even as someone who drive through in a car, you don’t appreciate how close these people are to injury.”
The project she visited was a 6-kilometre micro-surfacing job which she noted only delayed drivers around three minutes. Despite this, even as Lipp left the site going the work zone limit, she was passed by another angry driver who gave her a middle finger.
“I don’t think the general public appreciates the type of work these folks are putting in,” Lipp said. “They are doing 14-hour days and the work is for the betterment of everyone in the province. You are going to curse us today and praise us tomorrow.”
Lipp explained that it is a problem that seems to be getting worse. According to Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGO) there were 190 collisions in work zones last year. These incidents caused 68 injuries and one fatality.
Lipp described a recent incident where a semi-trailer rear ended a camper that was being pulled by a half-ton truck in a construction zone, about 20 kilometres west of Maple Creek on Highway 1 late last month.
According to Lipp, the truck was obeying the work zone speed limit of 60 kilometres per hour when it was struck from behind by the semi. The camper was destroyed, and the truck was whipped around 180 degrees.
Lipp said that in that case, the couple amazingly walked away without serious injuries. Other times that isn’t the case. In 2012 18-year-old flagger Ashley Richards was struck and killed by a driver speeding in a work zone during her first day on the job.
“They had driven through that work zone all week and became immune to the risks in that area,” said Lipp. “Always be aware and exercise some patience, who doesn’t have an extra three minutes to get where they are going?”
Richards, who had recently moved from Lakeside, N.B., was thrown about the width of a football field after being hit. The driver, who was sentenced to nearly two years in jail, told the court he didn’t see any of the construction warning signs and he was distracted by papers blowing around in his vehicle while passing semi-trucks.
Getting caught going through a work zone could cost you. In Saskatchewan, exceeding the 60 km/h speed limit by 20 km/h will cost you $440. If you’re going 40 km/h over the limit, that’s going to cost you $1,008. Plus, you’ll lose at least three Safe Driver Recognition points on your licence, which can lead to further financial penalties.
Police have announced that they will be stepping up enforcement in work zones in July, and some work zones will be monitored by photo radar. According to SGI, in 2018, there were nearly 1,500 convictions for speeding in work zones.
“That’s someone’s workplace you’re driving through,” said Joe Hargrave, Minister responsible for SGI, in a press release. “The extra time you might gain by speeding through a work zone just isn’t worth the risk.”