NARANJITO, Puerto Rico -- A crew from Fluor subcontractor MasTec lifted a 30-foot wooden utility pole for use in electric power restoration on a winding road in Naranjito, Puerto Rico, Jan. 6, under the watchful eye of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Task Force Power Restoration Safety Manager Bill Pioli. His focus on this day was traffic safety.
According to the Puerto Rico Traffic Safety Commission, an average of 200,000 traffic crashes occur annually in Puerto Rico. With hundreds of restoration crews working across the island each day, the risk of a traffic mishap is high, said Pioli. To help reduce the risk, the task force safety team implemented a Traffic Control Zone intervention.
Fifteen safety and quality assurance teams inspected 50 Corps contractor field crews against a traffic control zone checklist that follows the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, published by the Federal Highway Administration.
"It's good engineering practice," said Pioli. "We put it in our accident prevention plans and the contractors sign off and agree that's what they'll do."
The manual defines the standards used by road managers nationwide to install and maintain traffic control devices on all public streets, highways, bikeways, and private roads open to public travel. It ensures motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians are guided in a clear and positive manner while approaching and traversing traffic control zones, and include advanced warning, a transistion area, the activity area, and a termination area.
Challenging conditions specific to the island, with winding, one-lane mountain roads, often preclude full implementation of MUTCD, said Pioli. Rather than ignore the guidelines, he asked the contractor crews to 'just do something' to perform the mission more safely and efficiently.
"We noted instances in mid-December when contractors didn't establish a control zone and traffic was zipping right by them," said Pioli. "Even something as simple as one cone dropped the risk, qualitatively, from high to medium."
To make the intervention more effective, Pioli said, he needed to gain the support of key stakeholders doing the power grid restoration work; the safety managers of PREPA, the industry contingent and the Corps contractors. He developed the plan, pushed the details to the safety managers, and then conducted training for supervisors, crew foremen and field crews.
"It was kind of a fast schedule; we had two days for awareness, two days for training, two days to get our quality assurance personnel up to speed, and then we took a week to reinforce everything," said Pioli. "The culmination is today; an island-wide traffic intervention day!
"These guys have a difficult job. They're focused on their work, so traffic control zones isolate the workers from the traffic and give them the chance to execute their work."
The safety manager said the task force has been fortunate to not have had any serious incidents, but acknowledged there have been some near misses, where a car came through the cone zone, a car hit the cone, or somebody disregarded a flagger. He wants the public to understand that traffic control zones can save lives.
"When you see these cones, they mean something," said Pioli. "Stay away; protect yourself and protect us. Let us get the work done and let us get the power on. That's what it's all about.
"A traffic control zone, properly set up, according to MUTCD codes is great, until somebody ignores it and drives through it. We're doing everything we can do to protect the mission, the workers and the public."