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Highway Sweeping -- Pitfalls and Safeguards

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by Scott Cerosky

It goes without saying that highway-sweeping operations pose much greater risks than that of sweeping secondary roads and parking lots.

The purpose of this article is to address the most common highway sweeping hazards and to point out some practical safeguards that can be implemented, all in an effort to reduce potential accidents.

Statistics show, not surprisingly, that there is a direct relationship between the speed, size and distance that an object travels at the time of impact and the resulting property damage and/or injury sustained as a result of this sometimes-deadly combination.

Unfortunately, working on highways invites all three of these components. In addition, other factors such as limited visibility during night operations, driver fatigue and, even worse, motorists operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are often contributing ingredients for disaster.

What to do? Outside of working within closed highway sections i.e., construction sweeping where usually, concrete barriers separate the work vehicles from the general flow of traffic, moving traffic patterns for open highway sweeping poses a whole new set of problems.

Depending on the entity that owns the highway, i.e., State DOT, local or federal agencies, the rules for moving pattern requirements range from quite strict to very little. That's why it is vitally important that the contractor performing the operations always takes the lead in safeguarding, to the best of their ability, their crew, passing motorists and their equipment.

Let's start with things that are in your control: In the general order of what is typically most important, heading the list is proper vehicle maintenance. This includes effective lighting, properly trained operators to perform the work at hand, and vigilant, onsite supervision by someone capable of monitoring the ever-changing environment of the highway and then directing the crew accordingly.

Remember that a safe sweeping operation is a profitable one! Never sacrifice $ for lives.

In most cases the biggest problem is controlling the actions of the motorists operating by the moving pattern of the sweeping work. Although we can't alter the habits of these motorists, we can at least attempt to control when, where and how fast they can operate when passing your crew.

Putting yourself in the shoes of passing motorists, and given the situation in which your crew is sweeping, do you believe that having a properly lighted and positioned arrow board and the crash attenuator vehicles on the job are enough to slow down them down?

In your analysis you need to include the worst case scenario, which is often tractor trailer rigs, that might be present when they're passing a sweeping operation that is moving at approximately ten miles per hour. Not factoring in the extremes is often the cause of the severe incidents that occur over the course of each year when this type of work is being performed.

It has been proven that, psychologically, when a motorist views emergency lights like those of police cruisers on the highway they have a tendency to reduce their speed more than they do if just viewing general yellow flashing lights. Don't you?

That's why it is so important that, at ANY COST, police units are present in addition to the standard use of arrow board and crash trucks spaced at a correct distance. What you must strive for is a complete safety vehicle package that will slow the flow of traffic to the same pace as the sweeper crew when they pass them.

With highway sweeping, in most cases you are the ones being hit by passing vehicles, as opposed to the frequency of your vehicles hitting others. Moreover, the vehicles that hit a sweeping convoy can either be grossly underinsured or even worse have no insurance at all. This scenario leaves you and your insurance carrier at a disadvantage for potential recovery of injury and damages.

Hopefully the outcome of these practices will be an operation without incident. When you take the steps necessary to promote incident free work, the results come back to you in lower claims. This, in turn, results in lower insurance costs, both for your automobile and your workers compensation premiums.

Remember that a safe sweeping operation is a profitable one! Never sacrifice $ for lives.

We are diligently working with the insurance industry and NAPSA members to create a best practices program for highway sweeping. We encourage and welcome any contributions that the readers of this article would like to make.

Good Luck and Safe Sweeping!

Scott Cerosky is a risk management specialist with many years of experience in the pavement maintenance insurance field. He is founder and President of the Pavement Maintenance Insurance Agency, as well as a current Board Member with the North American Power Sweeping Association, where he is also Chair of the Environmental Committee.

You may reach Scott Cerosky via email sent to His phone number is 914-714-0787.

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