Safety Talk wk.37 – Night Work: Reduced Visibility Increases Hazards

Working at night presents some special safety challenges, particularly for people work- ing in traffic areas. The biggest challenge is finding a way to cope with the reduced
visibility. At dawn and dusk, the sun is low in the sky and causes glare on a vehicle’s windshield. Once the sun has set, the distance a motorist can see is restricted by headlight efficiency, and some drivers have poor night vision.
Statistics show 25 percent of workers killed on the job when struck by a vehicle were working between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., but only 9 percent of the workforce are on duty during those
hours. This statistic means that crews working at night are three times more likely to be
struck by a vehicle than their daytime counterparts.
Even when workers are wearing reflective safety vests, motorists aren’t always able to determine that the object with the reflective tape is a human. When turned sideways, bending
over, or standing motionless, workers are often mistaken for traffic cones or other safety
markers. Motorists are less likely to slow down for a marker on the roadside than for a
worker. Safety experts also tell us that working near the road is more dangerous at night
because traffic is lighter, allowing motorists to travel faster through the work zone.
The condition of drivers at night also presents a hazard to workers. A higher percentage of
drivers at night is subject to fatigue or to alcohol or drug impairment.
Here are some things you can do to make the work zone safer at night.
■ Make sure your work clothing has an abundance of reflective material. The bright orange
or yellow that motorists can see so well during the day does little good at night unless it
is accompanied with reflective material on your vest or jacket, hard hat, and pants.
■ Line up parked equipment so it serves as a boundary to protect work zones.
■ Use floodlights to illuminate flagger stations, equipment crossings, and any other areas
where crew members will be working. Floodlights can cause a disabling glare for drivers
entering a work zone, so once the lights are set, a utility worker should drive through the
area to observe their positioning and make adjustments as necessary.

Because of reduced visibility, crew members need to slow down and work more cautiously, especially when working around excavations. Shadows and dark areas inside
trenches make the simple job of getting in and out of trenches more difficult. Footing near
trench walls may appear to be more stable than it actually is.
■ Crew members signaling and operating excavation equipment also need to take extra care
in their job duties. The glare from traffic headlights and the fact that some excavation
areas are partially hidden in shadows makes jobs more difficult.
Reduced visibility isn’t just an issue at off-site work locations; because of dark areas and
shadows created by floodlights, an area of the facility you are quite familiar with during
daylight hours looks different at night. Outdoor filter beds, stairways and ramps, equipment
storage areas, loading docks, and large water tanks are all areas that are more difficult to
negotiate in the dark. Water storage tanks, for example, may be extra cold and have more
moisture or ice on them at night, making footing or handholds more slippery and dangerous. Dew or ice may also exist on loading docks, stairways, and ramps, so slow down and
take extra time and caution when walking across these areas.
When moving around the facility grounds at night, always carry a large flashlight with
you to supplement whatever fixed lighting is available. It’s a good idea to also carry a small
backup flashlight in case the large light stops working during your rounds. Even though
vehicular traffic is minimal on treatment plant grounds in the evening, you should still wear
reflective clothing anytime you are outside the facility so co-workers and emergency personnel can see and identify you when they are on the facility grounds.
If you take the necessary precautions, your night-work duties can be performed without any
problems. Don’t get left in the dark; make the night shift safe and secure.

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