Hello, my name is Marcus Leck, and I am the KDOT Area Maintenance Superintendent in Independence. As I talk to new employees, my first line of advice is to always expect the unexpected, never take your eyes off approaching traffic and always keep a clear escape route because you will need it at some point.
As a Superintendent and a KDOT employee, there was one near miss that scared me as bad as I have ever been. It was one of those near misses that makes your stomach jump up in your throat and leaves an empty feeling that no one ever wants to feel, especially a supervisor, when the injury can involve one of your employees.
We had closed U.S. 169 highway east of Independence at the request of Kansas Highway Patrol at the U.S. 160 junction because of a fatality accident. It was extremely foggy and in the middle of the night. We had flagmen in four different locations.
Just west of the accident scene, Larry Walker and Steve Shepard were working the flagging station when an errant driver failed to stop and blew through their flagging station. As I stood with the Trooper a quarter-mile to the east at the accident scene, all we could hear was the car that did not stop, the sound of cones being run over, and the uncertainty of knowing if that sound was one of our coworkers.
The Trooper and I took off running towards the flagging station where we were met by an oncoming car rolling to a stop just short of the Troopers’ car. I continued on towards the flagging station where I was met by a very upset Mr. Walker. Larry was quick to explain what happened and that he and Steve were fine. I will never forget the feeling I felt at that time as it was bitter sweet, scared to death still but such a relief knowing your employees were OK.
The driver had gone past all the work zone warning signs and all the cones and even ran over part of the cones and still gave a statement that neither she nor her boyfriend saw any warning signs. Luckily Steve and Larry expected the unexpected, never took their eyes off approaching traffic and always kept a clear escape route to get out of the way.
We constantly receive complaints from stopped motorists after they about run over us that we ought to have signs out, or why we didn’t have warnings for them of the closed road back at the junction, etc. As part of our jobs, we always act professionally explaining you must have missed the six signs that you drove past, or the 15 cones along the center line, or you drove past a variable message board at the junction explaining to you that the road was closed ahead but we will make sure all of them are still in place and have not blown over.
On the flip side of some of our complaints, occasionally we will have the public offer a hand wave and say thanks. These types of gestures sure make the job seem worthwhile and make the day go by much faster.
Providing safety to EVERYONE inside the work zone is the most important job we do daily. And awareness is the best form of safety that anyone can display in keeping everyone safe.
As I close, please remember no matter which part of a work zone you are in, PLEASE always expect the unexpected and pay attention – at the end of the day, we all want to arrive home safe.