Thursday, May 5, 2022

KDOT crews aid after Andover-area tornado damage on U.S. 54/400

View of KDOT traffic control set up Monday morning at Santa Fe Lake Road,
on the east end of a U.S. 54/400 closure caused by tornado damage. 
 

By Tim Potter

KDOT District Five crews began around-the-clock work on U.S. 54/400 after a tornado caused major damage in the Andover area Friday night.

Area Five Maintenance Superintendent David Lechner recalled what he saw just after daylight Saturday where the tornado tore across the highway through Andover: “just a big field of debris as it went across 400 and took out the high lines on the north side of the road.”

For a time, all lanes of the highway were closed so KDOT could clean the highway and utility workers could do repairs.

Closer to the west end of the closure, Area Five crew members manned the Yorktown intersection at the highway since 1 a.m. Saturday. That is close to where a YMCA sustained severe damage.

On the east end of the approximately 6-mile-long closure, Area Two crew members directed by Maintenance Superintendent Tom McCartney had barricades up at Santa Fe Lake Road  and were diverting traffic to the north. Area Two workers cleaned up the highway with a power broom and loader.

On Saturday, KDOT set up a portable message board on westbound U.S. 54 at the closure and one at 21st Street North to help drivers follow a detour. Later Saturday, KDOT placed a message board at Leon, farther east in Butler County, to alert drivers to the westbound closure.

“I just appreciated our people being out there around the clock,” said District Five Engineer Brent Terstriep.

KDOT announced Saturday that eastbound lanes had been reopened. Westbound lanes remained closed over the weekend so utility crews could continue repairing power lines. As the work progressed, KDOT reopened one of the westbound lanes Monday morning.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Work zone safety is everyone's responsibility

Clarkson Construction employee Bob Fry speaks at a safety lunch at the shop.

 By Bob Fry 

KDOT and contractors have come a long way with safety and safety procedures since I graduated from K-State in 1985. When I arrived at KDOT fresh out of school, safety was rarely discussed on projects. In fact, as a young EIT, I used to work shirtless while inspecting work so I could work on my tan!

In 1991, I went to work for Clarkson Construction Company, and our safety culture at Clarkson was not much better. Although we did require hardhats, safety glasses were rarely used, employee’s exposed to falls over six feet were not required to tie-off, excavation safety was rarely if ever discussed, etc.

The good news is - safety was focused on more through the years and has become a top priority. The construction industry and KDOT have put so much more emphasis on training, teaching and requiring individuals to work safely.  One of the tools to changing the safety culture at any company is enforcement of safety rules and procedures. Clarkson has invested time and money over the years in an effort for employees to work safer. We have received many safety awards in Kansas and Missouri. But that doesn’t mean incidents can’t happen.

In October 2020, we had one of our worst accidents since I have been at Clarkson.  While redecking the I-435 bridge over the Missouri river, we had an ironworker fall 75 feet into the Missouri River.  Miraculously, he was able to swim to the north bank, basically uninjured. We estimate that his speed at impact to the water was 45 to 50 miles/hour. 

How did this happen?  All of the safety lifelines and tie-off locations were in place.  Every individual exposed to a fall was wearing the proper PPE that was required as per our job hazard analysis. Our safety procedures had been discussed with all crew prior to beginning each operation.

During our investigation, it was uncovered that this individual has been seen earlier in the day unhooking a lanyard at one location before being hooked off at another location.  A clear violation of the safety procedures.

When I spoke to the individual who fell, he admitted he knew what he was doing was unsafe, but he felt it was just for a second, so he didn’t feel he was being unsafe.  After our conversation of the incident, I asked him to tell me everything that happened, from the time he got out of the water Saturday afternoon until Monday morning.  His story was amazing - his wife and kid’s reactions and emotions as well as the calls and visits he got from his fellow workers over the weekend.  The one statement that stuck in my mind was his daughter’s statement on Saturday night, “Dad, who would walk me down the aisle on my wedding day if …?” 

When I spoke to his coworkers who witnessed the unsafe procedure and did not say anything, they said they could not sleep Saturday night because of the guilt they felt for not stopping the unsafe procedure. It became obvious to me that we needed to make everyone understand they are part of the safety culture, and what could happen if they did nothing or said nothing when witnessing unsafe working conditions. 

The following week, I gathered the entire Ironworker crew and told them we are all at fault for what happened.  I told them if Clarkson is going to change to a company where everyone feels responsible for safety, I needed them to tell this story – from how the incident happened, to his family members’ responses, to no one reporting the unsafe actions and the guilt they felt. It was personal, it was emotional, it was real and it was a story from people everyone knew.  It was from a teammate.

In the summer of 2021, an employee survey of how people perceived the safety culture at Clarkson had the best results we have ever received from a safety survey.  I believe that incident was a wake-up call, and it will help Clarkson and all its employees to strive to have zero incidents in the future.

 

Bob Fry is the Field Operations Chief at Clarkson Construction in Kansas City, Missouri.

 

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Two families changed forever, and not for the good

My name is Scott Gofourth and I have been with KDOT as a Safety Specialist for a little over a year now. My previous career was in law enforcement. I retired from law enforcement and have tried to leave many of those memories in the past.

Scott Gofourth

I have seen the results of pedestrian/vehicle accidents on numerous occasions. I have been the individual hit at a traffic stop and while directing traffic. I have to say it didn’t matter to me whether it was on purpose or an accident, there was a moment of sheer terror to begin with, followed by anger, disbelief and relief I was not severely injured.  I have delivered the ominous message of those results more times than I ever cared to. One time or one hundred times, that message never gets any easier to deliver.

The other aspect of that is it didn’t matter if the victim was that of an accident. It didn’t make the family feel any better that the individual didn’t mean to take their loved one’s life. The result is still the same - a family lost a member.

Someone they loved, someone they depended on to provide a living, someone who brought joy to their life, someone they called Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, Son, Daughter Husband or Wife. Someone they shared good times, bad times and in between times with, not to mention dreams and hopes. That is gone forever and cannot be changed, no matter how sorry we are.

And what about the person responsible for the accident? They just lost a lot of those same things that were lost by the individual who died. Their life and their families’ lives have changed forever.

They may be facing prison, astronomical lawsuits and legal bills as well as the drama and persecution that social media can bring for a family. I only mention this because I have seen this be the case many times. Again, delivering that message is not easy. All of this because we wanted to answer that text or take our focus from our driving. Because we were in a hurry and just couldn’t wait. Because we have driven through there a thousand times, and nothing has happened before.

The sad part is two families have been changed forever, and not for the good.

Now for a work zone to be safe, it takes both the workers as well as the drivers passing through the zone to be aware of what is going on. I have seen the aftermath of a worker thinking the driver will stop, or the driver thinking the worker will move. The worst thing a driver or worker could do in this situation is assume.

Complacency and lack of situational awareness in a work zone is a recipe for disaster. I have seen too many altered lives that did not have to be. If only we hadn’t looked at the phone or messed with the radio; if we had been attentive to our surroundings, wore the proper safety equipment and kept our mind on the task at hand and our surroundings.

I do not believe anyone gets out of bed that day and wants to be part of a tragedy that injures an individual for life or ends someone’s life, possibly their own.

Don’t be that person. Be patient, be aware, be attentive, drive without the distractions.

 

 

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Screeching halts happen all too often in work zones

 My name is Chris Collins and I’m the District Maintenance Superintendent in Hutchinson. I started with KDOT in June of 1994. Most of my experience with work zones has been in mobile work zones on the District Five Striping Crew.

Chris Collins

During my career here at KDOT, our work zones have dramatically changed for the better over the years.  The addition of message boards and truck mounted attenuators on our shadow vehicles has made great improvements to our mobile operations. The general public can see us better and understand what we are doing on the highway. 

Striping mobile operations travel around 8 mph and can surprise drivers, especially ones who are pre-occupied or distracted. Over the years, I have seen the start of the texting while driving era. In my opinion, this has caused much more distracted driving than in the past. This can cause more dangerous situations to highway workers in work zones.  

One of my experiences with a driver who most was likely distracted by a phone was while I was on the District Striping Crew, I think it was 2005. The crew was striping U.S. 281 southbound, about 5 miles north of Pratt. The typical mobile work zone we were running involved the striper leading with two shadow vehicles with attenuators following. 

It was late in the day, and I had pulled over in my pickup onto the shoulder to check our glass bead coverage.  (Glass beads provide retroreflectivity in the highway paint so it ca be seen at night when vehicle headlights hit it.) The rear shadow vehicle was approximately 1/8-mile in front of me. A large truck passed me at highway speeds headed toward the mobile work zone. I got out to check the bead coverage and looked toward our rear shadow vehicle and thought, this guy is not slowing down. 

The truck ended up striking the attenuator square in the middle, no brake lights or defensive steering. I jumped into my truck, drove to the scene and went to check on the driver. He was fine, just a few cuts. I checked on my driver, and he was fine as well.  I reported the accident to law enforcement and had the crew start flagging. 

The individual asked me why we were going so slow and that we should not be able to do that on the highway. I explained why and kept the rest of my thoughts to myself. He said he needed his cellphone, and I helped him look. He then told me it was in his hand right before the accident. As I said earlier, in my opinion, this accident was probably due to the cellphone. This is just one example of not paying attention to your surroundings. 

I have seen drivers drive through wet traffic paint and come to screeching halts behind our shadow vehicles. I’ve also seen drivers pass our work vehicles in no passing zones, which pushes oncoming traffic to the far shoulder. 

I think all this could be avoided if you as a driver would pay attention, read work zone signs and be aware of your surroundings. Overall, using caution any time you see flashing lights or work zone signs will make it safer for you, the workers and other drivers.

 


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Slow down and let’s get there

 

By Clint Shepard

Clint Shepard

This isn’t your typical work zone incident story. Our crews are the ones on the scene when an incident happens to help with traffic control and keep things moving safely through the area. But the same rules of slowing down and paying attention in a work zone apply to an incident area.

 Last July I was doing traffic control just north of El Dorado Lake for an accident that had happened earlier. It had been raining all day so there was a lot of moisture still on the road.

 I had been there for about 15 minutes when a kid who had cruise control on hydroplaned as he approached me. Because we were on a curve, I don’t think he saw me until the last second which caused him to crank his wheel and spin out. As he spun, his passenger side hit my back passenger side bumper practically ripping the side of his car off.

 After we made contact, his car went into the ditch. But because his cruise control was still on and he was unconscious, he came back up on the road and hit the barrier wall, which finally stopped him.

 He was incredibly lucky it happened the way it did. Lucky he was the only one in the car. Lucky his airbags deployed.  Lucky he was able to walk away from two collisions with only a concussion when nothing was there to protect him when he hit the barrier wall.

Driver's vehicle
I feel lucky too. I was only thrown into the steering wheel of my truck and had some back pain. Had he hit me square in the back of my truck, he probably wouldn’t be here, and it could have been worse for me too.

When he came to a stop, I got out to check on him and a lady came running up who happened to be a nurse. She was able to stay with him while I began traffic control again to keep oncoming traffic moving through the area. It was definitely a right place at the right time moment.

With my truck wrecked on the outside shoulder, his car against the barrier wall and being on a curve, it was really important to keep traffic moving carefully through the area, especially since I didn’t have my typical lights to alert approaching drivers. It was a dangerous situation until a trooper was able to arrive and assist with his lights.

Shepard's truck
The reports later stated that based on the skids, he was probably going around 80 miles per hour. When you’re going that fast, things can happen in an instant. One curve can change everything. 

This incident isn’t as unique as it may seem. Our guys talk all the time about how people aren’t paying attention to the road, whether we’re shutting down lanes for road work or working an incident like this. People are more focused on filming an incident or what’s on their phone than slowing down and driving safely. We’re out here risking our lives and don’t want to get hit or work an incident you were involved in.

People overestimate their ability to multitask while driving – whether it’s in weather conditions, a work zone or even on a normal day. I don’t know when the last time I truly saw people’s eyes instead of the back of their phone. My biggest message to drivers is to just pay attention and use good judgement. We all want to get home. So slow down and let’s get there.

 

Clint Shepard is the Highway Maintenance Foreman for the Kansas Turnpike in Cassoday.

 

Monday, April 11, 2022

Life can change in an instant

My name is Tony Phillips. I have been an Equipment Operator Senior at the District One, Area Two, Shawnee Subarea Shop for 10 years. As a highway maintenance worker, we are tasked with a wide variety of jobs. Every day keeps you guessing as to what the day will bring.

Tony Phillips

On an early fall day - the skies were sunny, and it was a good day to be outside. Our office had a citizen complaint about potholes on K-10. This was a typical assignment that had been safely completed more times than I could count.

After lunch, another Equipment Operator and I traveled the entire stretch of K-10, from K-7 to the Douglas County line, checking bridge decks for any trouble spots and performing repairs as needed - something we were both experienced with. We were wearing our safety attire and had all emergency lighting activated to alert drivers of our presence and advise them to move over.

As we were conducting our operations, everything was going well. Traffic was moving over and/or slowing down. We even received a few waves of the hand as some drivers passed by. If traffic couldn’t move over, we waited until after traffic cleared to perform our tasks. Law enforcement was in the area, and a Kansas Highway Patrol vehicle was parked on the opposite side of our location on an entrance ramp.

While on the bridge over Edgerton Road, we observed a moderate- to large-sized pothole on the bridge deck. I stopped the vehicle, leaving room for my co-worker to exit the vehicle safely by the bridge wall. We both began the tasks to clean out and repair the pothole. Then as he proceeded into the lane to place asphalt, I saw a pickup truck in the right lane approaching us.  

The vehicle was passing the exit sign to Edgerton Road, which was well before our location. I was standing at the white line, on the shoulder, and directed the driver to the left lane by pointing and waving my arm to get his attention. I alerted my coworker that a vehicle was coming and continued motioning to the driver to move over, but the vehicle was not moving over or slowing down. As the vehicle came closer, I saw the driver was not looking forward, but instead had his head turned to the right. There was no traffic around this vehicle to impede a safe merge away from us.

The driver kept getting closer to the white line and my coworker said, "He's not moving." The vehicle was now on us, and the driver still not looking forward. I side stepped to the left onto the shoulder further, as the vehicle was about to hit us and/or our vehicle. I raised my arm to protect my face and body in a blocking motion, and the approaching vehicle’s mirror struck my right forearm. The impact caused me to spin toward the bridge wall, and I was able to stop myself before falling over the side of the bridge. Pieces of the vehicle had scattered onto the highway.

I held my right arm with my left hand bracing it, unknown if it was severely injured and/or broken. My co-worker called our supervisor and I alerted the KHP officer on the ramp. Highway Patrol, Johnson County Sheriff’s Department, KDOT staff, EMS and fire all arrived on scene very quickly. I was checked out and transported by my supervisor to the hospital for assessment.

Luckily, I had no broken bones, just a contusion to my arm. It’s still hard to believe because the best way I can describe how it felt is like a baseball bat hitting my forearm. I was extremely uncomfortable but felt blessed it wasn’t worse. After the fact, reality hit and it played over and over in my head on what could have been, how just a few more inches could have changed my life, changed so many other lives.

I had long talks with my loved ones after this incident. I was told that this job is too dangerous. I was told that the traveling public has become too complacent and careless. But I told them that someone needs to do this work, it is necessary for so many reasons. Not just to maintain a roadway so that one can travel to work, but to also see loved ones, family, friends, to go fishing, see a game, to support your household, etc.

I love what I do, and my crew members are some of the best I have ever worked with. All the crews in Area Two and the rest of Kansas are outstanding, I work with a great bunch of operators. And whether we say it out loud or not, we take pride in what we do and we try our best to make these roads safe for our friends, families and ourselves.

But please always remember, life can change in an instant. Please keep your eyes open, be aware of your surroundings, watch for one another and be safe. Please educate the people close to you, to spread the word to be aware, don’t be distracted, move over and slow down for highway maintenance workers. One second can change so many lives.

 

 

 

Friday, April 8, 2022

One moment can change many lives

National Work Zone Awareness Week starts next Monday. It's important to be safe and pay attention when traveling through highway construction zones all year long, but this week focuses on raising awareness and teaching people ways they can improve safety.

As part of the safety campaign, there will be stories all next week from highway workers and contractor employees on this blog series. Their experiences help illustrate why work zone safety is so imperative.

We are reprinting a blog today from 2015 as an early start to the series. It's a reminder that one moment can change many lives forever.

Thank you for you support and efforts to improve safety for all in work zones.


You will always be loved

By Shirley McDonald

Before you turn on the ignition of your vehicle, take a moment and a deep breath.  Focus.  Clear your mind and think safety for yourself and others.  Engage your seat belt, forget the cell phone. 
Before entering a work zone, pay attention to the alerts that are given well before entry into the zone.  Think about those whose lives depend upon you.  We have all heard these admonitions, unfortunately many do not really listen to the message. Save a life, it may be your own.
 
In memory of Scott McDonald
killed in a work zone June 1, 2005:
A fraction of a second, a different decision, more awareness, and response ability and you might still be here with your family and friends.  A horrific work zone accident on highway 75 took you away from us 10 years ago and our memories, dreams and plans with you and for you all changed. 
Now you are immortalized, frozen in time while we go on living.  You are missed every second of every day. Your loss created a hole that cannot be filled.  A piece of each of us left behind died with you. Thankfully, you gave so much to us during your life that we can hold on to who you were and who you were becoming, but we will never know who you would have become. 
Your enthusiasm for life, your constant dreaming that life would always get better, knowing that effort and direction in life could get you where you wanted to be are sorely missed. Your commitment to caring for and about others is a precious memory. Each holiday, birthday, anniversary, special shared event becomes a time of sadness and memory of you and your lack of presence in our lives today. We have had to learn to get beyond constant grief and focus on today and what we can do to honor your name. 
As we have said goodbye to other relatives and friends our grief for your loss has swelled again and threatened to overtake us, but that grief has also proven to us that life goes on and that even with grief there can be joy as we commit to other relationships taking the risk to lose again knowing the benefits of being connected.
No one knows what happens when we die. But my mother's belief is that heaven exists and that you are there at peace and with those you have loved who have gone before you. I believe that you can see those of us left behind and serve as our angel. You will always be loved.

Shirley McDonald is the mother of KDOT employee Scotty McDonald, who was killed in a work zone crash in 2005.
This story is reprinted from KDOT's National Work Zone Awareness Week blog series that was published in 2015.