Most drivers know to slow down or move over when approaching an emergency vehicle on the side of the road. They understand that police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel are putting their lives on the line for the public’s safety. Unfortunately, the same is not always done for the utility and construction workers repairing our roads and restoring our electric and natural gas service, even though these crews are also putting their lives on the line for the public good.
The safety of workers restoring electric and natural gas service along roadways is in the public’s hands.
Working next to roadways, where a lot of utility lines are located, can be dangerous. Cars speed by, drivers may be distracted, and then there’s the hazard of working with electricity, too. According to the Federal Highway Administration, 842 people were killed in work zones in 2019 – up from 757 the previous year. Worker fatalities in construction zones also increased to 135 in 2019 from 124 in 2018. There is no margin for error when driving in a work zone; drivers must dedicate their full attention to keep everyone safe.
“Utility work can be a dangerous job,” said Kellen Schmidt, an Xcel Energy lineworker in Minnesota. “I used to tell people that electricity was the most dangerous part of my job, but now it’s traffic.”
Most states have passed move-over laws protecting workers by requiring motorists slow down and merge away from a vehicle working on the side of the road. Unfortunately, many drivers are unaware that the law in their state protects utility workers (including most states where Xcel Energy operates), and they could receive a ticket for not moving over or reducing their speed significantly when passing them. The safety of the essential workers who ensure we all have reliable electric and natural gas service is in drivers’ hands.
Xcel Energy workers have unfortunately experienced a lot of close calls working alongside roadways. So many that Schmidt and his co-worker, Scott Knight, worked with their colleagues to push for changes to a Minnesota law in 2019 to provide more protection. Hear how they did it by viewing the video telling their story below
During National Work Zone Awareness Week, April 26-30, Xcel Energy and the American Traffic Safety Services Association are educating the public about this important topic. This annual spring campaign, held at the start of construction season, encourages safe driving through highway work zones. Workers are encouraged to wear orange on Go Orange Day, Wednesday, April 28, to provide a visible reminder and to show support for the families who have lost loved ones in work zone incidents.
“Several of our employees have sustained significant injuries after being hit by vehicles,” said Gary Lakey, vice president, Safety and Workforce Relations. “Consistent with our Safety Always approach, we want to increase awareness around this critical safety issue so that everyone can go home safely to their families at the end of each day.”
So, when you see an Xcel Energy vehicle (or other emergency, construction or maintenance vehicle) working on the side of the road, please give them a break and follow these safe driving practices:
- Slow down as you approach the work zone
- When possible, safely move over to provide workers with a clear buffer lane from traffic
- If you can’t move over safely, reduce your speed to 20 miles per hour below the posted speed limit as you pass the work zone
- Never use your mobile device while operating a vehicle