Solutions for traffic control in highway work zones

By: Mark Stromme

Publication: Construction Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 07/19/2019

Road construction sites and highway work zones can be dangerous. According to the Center for Construction Research, 609 workers lost their lives between 2011 and 2015 in road work zones, which breaks down to 122 workers on average per year.

Even if you’re well versed in the Manual on Uniform Control Devices (MUTCD), it can be easy to overlook safety protocols for highway construction work zones. To support safety and health in such a work zone, implement the following traffic control tips.

Use standard traffic control signs

A preliminary step to ensure highway traffic control safety is to utilize proper traffic signs. “Work Zone Ahead” signs warn drivers of traffic restrictions. Additional signage, such as “Stop,” “Do Not Enter,” “Caution,” and “Reduced Speed Ahead,” direct traffic in how they should move safely through the work zone.

Select standard signage that represents what the driver is accustomed to seeing. For example, a “Stop” sign should utilize the red octagon and “Work Zone Ahead” should be the standard orange sign for work zones.

Utilize traffic control barriers

Utilize traffic control barriers

Orange cones, drums, barrels, or barricades should be utilized to establish your work zone perimeter. These barriers will signal to traffic that a work zone is ahead. Barriers also direct traffic on when to merge and indicate dangerous areas, such as ditches and high shoulders, within the work zone. Generally, allow no more than 20 feet between barriers that indicate merging or mark the work zone perimeter.

Train and protect flaggers

Flaggers are one of the best accident prevention methods for construction crews. They help to direct and monitor traffic to keep it moving, especially when only one lane is available for traffic to funnel from two directions.

Use appropriate signage to indicate that flaggers are ahead. Flaggers need to be dressed in high-visibility safety apparel that meets ANSI/ISEA Class 2 or 3 requirements, that ensure they are visible from a minimum  distance of 1,000 feet. In additions, equip them with communication devices so they can communicate with each other.

Utilize proper lighting

At night, use work zone illumination on highways and roadways to control traffic. When equipment operators and workers are on foot in a work zone area, OSHA requires a minimum 5-foot candle of lighting. Flashing LED lights on signs, flares, and ground reflectors along barricades also support traffic control safety. Flaggers are especially at risk of being struck by a vehicle at night, so be sure proper lighting is secured around them.

Promote pedestrian safety

If your work zone encompasses a pedestrian walkway or crosswalk, ensure that the walkway is equipped with proper signage and traffic control “Stop” and “Walk” signs to support pedestrian safety. Depending on the area and level of traffic, you might choose to have a flagger stationed at the pedestrian walkway, as well.

Refer to the MUTCD

Download the current version of the MUTCD and refer to it frequently. Keep it handy to support developing your highway traffic control checklist and to effectively train your construction crew.

Create a work zone checklist

Keep your highway work zone safe by developing and using a work zone health and safety checklist for your construction crew. Ensure that it is used and modify it as needed when you start work in a new work zone.


Key to remember: Incorporate the best practices outlined above, and you’ll be well on your way to increasing safety awareness and reducing the risk for your employees in a highway work zone.

About the author
Mark Stromme - EH&S Editor

With a background in monitoring Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, he currently specializes in the OSHA 1926 construction and 1910 general industry regulations.

Expert Help Icon

Have a compliance question for Mark? The J. J. Keller Expert Help tool provides you direct access to Mark and other trusted experts to help answer your toughest compliance questions.



You may also enjoy the following articles:

Training Blueprint — Make sure authorized employees have LOTO training

Serious injury reports continue to drive OSHA inspections

LOTO training violations can be cited on “per-employee” basis, OSHRC says

View all workplace safety-related articles...