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DHR - SAFETY ALERT MEMO 97-07

DATE: May 29, 1997

INCIDENT TYPE: Near Miss

LOCATION: District 9

TYPE OF WORK ACTIVITY: Crack Sealing

THE ACCIDENT: At approximately 12:15 p.m. on Monday, March 31, 1997, a District 9 maintenance crew had a traffic controlled work operation set up to perform crack sealing. The location was State Route 6 in Mono County on a 2-lane section of road with narrow improved shoulders. The northbound lane was closed and flaggers at each end of the closure controlled traffic through the work zone. Line of sight was excellent for approaching traffic, at least one half mile in each direction. All advance warning signs were in place and functional at the time. There were two employees flagging the northbound traffic and one employee flagging the southbound traffic. One of the two flag persons for northbound traffic was receiving training from the more experienced flagger.

A motorist approached from the south traveling northbound. The two flaggers for northbound traffic didn't notice that the vehicle was approaching at a high rate of speed and was not slowing. Their attention was, at that moment, turned to the north end of the work area. They were checking on the status of a southbound semi-tractor-trailer that was traveling through the work area. The sand truck operator on the crack sealing crew noticed that the motorist was not slowing and sounded an alarm with the vehicle's air horn to warn the two flaggers. When they heard the warning blast from the air horn, they turned to see the errant vehicle coming towards them. They literally had to jump for their lives. The errant vehicle swerved into the southbound lane directly into the path of the oncoming semi truck. The semi truck drove onto the shoulder to avoid a head-on collision and the errant motorist passed between the Caltrans trucks and the semi truck. It is estimated that the vehicle was traveling through the work area at about 45-50 mph. The driver of the errant vehicle never slowed or stopped and just kept going.

CONCLUSIONS: It is miraculous that no one was injured or killed, as there were several employees on foot in the work area between the sand truck and the kettle.

Luckily, the person driving the sand truck was watching the approaching vehicle and was able to warn the employees who were flagging traffic. This action saved their lives.

Another practice that may have saved the lives of the employees that were on foot between the two work trucks was the fact that both trucks were positioned close enough together to prevent the errant vehicle from swerving back into the work lane between them. Finally, it must be pointed out that the flaggers failed to follow the single most important rule of their job: "NEVER TAKE YOUR EYES OFF THE APPROACHING TRAFFIC UNTIL YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY SURE THEY WILL STOP AND/OR ARE UNDER YOUR CONTROL AND ARE FOLLOWING YOUR DIRECTIONS."

RECOMMENDATIONS: Caltrans Publications Unit now has a Flagging Handbook available. All employees that are going to be involved in flagging operations should review this handbook.

HEADQUARTERS OFFICE OF SAFETY AND HEALTH (916) 227-2640

Released 8/1/97

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