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Accounting for Pedestrian Safety and Accessibility in Construction Zones

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As we’ve covered previously, construction companies are responsible for providing their workers with a safe and hazard-free work environment. In addition to accommodating their own workforce, construction companies must account for bustling crowds, absentminded onlookers, and speeding bicyclists. These groups and others pose a serious problem for any construction site not prepared to manage pedestrian traffic.

In this article, our Naples construction lawyers will be discussing the federal standards for pedestrian and worker safety as stipulated in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). For help prioritizing safety in and around your work zones, consult a Naples construction attorney at Cotney Construction Law.

Just Passing Through

Pedestrian deaths have been on the rise. With 6,227 pedestrian deaths in the United States, 2018 was the deadliest year for pedestrians in almost 30 years. Pedestrians may be passing by your jobsite for any number of reasons. They may be out for a jog, seeing the sights, rushing to meet a friend, or attempting to access their home or business. While it is a challenge to accommodate pedestrians with different walking speeds and destinations, it’s a challenge that construction companies must meet if they want to be compliant with state and federal laws.  

Construction companies working on both public and private construction projects must take particular care when planning for groups that are at an increased risk of injury, such as children, the elderly, and disabled individuals. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals and stipulates that they be accommodated in areas where there is construction. A disabled pedestrian passing through your work zone may be blind, deaf, wheelchair bound, or otherwise physically or mentally impaired. Failure to accommodate the needs of at-risk individuals could leave your company vulnerable to a costly lawsuit. If you are facing litigation following an injury on or around your work zone, contact a Ft. Myers construction lawyer immediately.    

Planning for Pedestrians

As with so many other potential issues, conflicts can often be avoided in the planning stage of a construction project. When planning for pedestrians, be on the lookout for areas that will generate high foot traffic, such as schools, office buildings, shopping centers, and bus stops. During site visits to future construction sites, take a moment to study the routes that pedestrians prefer to take. This is crucial for not only planning for pedestrian traffic patterns, but also for planning material deliveries and how construction vehicles will safely move in and around a construction site.

The Path of Least Resistance

As the MUTCD states, “Pedestrians should be provided with a convenient and accessible path that replicates as nearly as practical the most desirable characteristics of the existing sidewalk(s) or footpath(s).” This means that if you alter an existing path, you must provide a desirable alternative. Just like water taking the path of least resistance, pedestrians will take the path that is the most convenient and accessible to them. Make no mistake, a pedestrian would rather take a potentially dangerous midblock dash across the street than have to turn around or be otherwise inconvenienced.

Pedestrian Facilities

When normal routes are diverted, restricted, or detoured, you must post signs and directions to adequately inform pedestrians of the route changes in advance. Online posts regarding construction detours can be very helpful to pedestrians but are not an alternative to on-site guidance. Pedestrians should never be led into the path of vehicles, equipment, operations, or traffic. Tape, rope, and plastic chains are not adequate for controlling pedestrian movements. Additionally, cane-detectable barriers and audible information devices must be utilized to prevent visually-impaired pedestrians from being injured. These standards echo the regulations in the ADA.

Any temporary pedestrian route must be a smooth, continuous hard surface. Curb ramps will need to be utilized if wheelchair-bound pedestrians cannot otherwise proceed. Additionally, pedestrian pathways should be a minimum width of 60 inches. When that is not possible, a 60 x 60-inch passing space must be provided at least once every 200 feet to accommodate wheelchair-bound pedestrians. If pedestrian traffic is diverted onto crosswalks, consider having crosswalk times altered to allow additional time for pedestrians to cross the road.

Mitigate Tripping, Falling, and Slipping Hazards

Pedestrian routes around your construction zone should be regularly inspected and cleared of any debris that could cause a tripping hazard. Holes and cracks that could cause a fall should be covered up. However, anything placed in pedestrian paths must not present a slipping hazard when wet. Large, open holes and trenches should be cordoned off with barriers, channelizing devices, enclosed walkways, or fencing. Additionally, there should be no abrupt elevation or terrain changes that could present a tripping or falling hazard.

Physical Separation  

Contractors must also physically separate pedestrians from potential hazards. This can be done with fencing, continuous barricades, and overhead protection. However, fences should not themselves be a hazard if struck by a vehicle. Barriers should start from ground level and adequately guide pedestrians along routes. Inadequate separation could lead to a pedestrian accidentally entering your construction site and putting themselves at risk of injury.

Overhead protection should be utilized if there is any risk of pedestrians being hit by falling debris. These canopied walkways must be adequately constructed and well-lit at night.

Worker Safety

The above standards are to the benefit of your workforce and pedestrians alike. Workers on your construction site should be adequately trained on how to safely work near traffic. Whenever possible, your workers should be separated from moving equipment and vehicles, including construction vehicles. Proper training, temporary traffic barriers, and reducing the speed of traffic could mean the difference between life and death on a construction site. Partner with our Ft. Myers construction attorneys to ensure that your workers remain safe while you maintain compliance with all state and federal laws.

Ignorance Does Not Excuse Negligence

While a contractor may not feel responsible if a pedestrian glued to their phone screen trips and falls in their work zone, it is nevertheless a contractor’s duty to familiarize themselves with proper safety procedures to ensure pedestrian safety. A construction firm that fails to follow the above standards could be held liable for a pedestrian’s injury. State and federal laws regarding jobsite safety are complex and constantly changing, but this does not excuse a construction firm from responsibility in the event of an injury. If a pedestrian or worker is ever injured on your jobsite, immediately consult with a Naples contractor lawyer at Cotney Construction Law.   

If you would like to speak with one of our Naples contractor attorneys, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.